Looking back on my first year as Bishop

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling both of those responses to my first anniversary as Bishop of Sandhurst.  Looking back at photos of my ordination and hearing people reflecting on its significance for them, it certainly feels like another world – not only because of the twelve months that have passed, but perhaps more so because it’s so long since any significant gathering of people has been possible.  Seeing photos with large crowds of people sitting or standing close to one another feels contrary to all the reflexes that we have learned over these past months.  Even the scenes of the Cathedral itself feel very strange: there hasn’t been a liturgy of any kind celebrated in the Cathedral since mid-March.  Though it continues to be prominent on our skyline, its emptiness, like that of so many other buildings and offices, has been a lonely witness to the radical change in the patterns of our lives during this year. 

I had planned to approach my first year as bishop with an openness to whatever might happen as I started to learn about the geography, people and customs of the diocese.  That worked well for a few months, with many visits to schools and parishes, especially in November and February–March.  Looking back, I’m particularly grateful now that my diary was perhaps a bit overloaded then, as it led to me having at least a basic familiarity with the regions of the diocese and an opportunity to begin getting to know the priests and many of the people. Shane Ordination 350

Since then, of course, I’ve hardly left Bendigo.  That has led to lots of time on Zoom, a weekly live-streamed Mass at St Kilian’s, discovering walking paths around town, cooking for myself seven day/week, and feeling very much at home in the beautiful and historic bishop’s residence.   

I’ve been very encouraged by the regular feedback from parishioners assuring me that, though I might not have had the opportunity to visit the diocese over these months, they’ve become very familiar with me through participating from home in the St Kilian’s Sunday Mass. 
 
We’ve all discovered that there are benefits as well as challenges in working and studying from home, and it’s clear that many of the skills we have learned are ones that we will take advantage of in the ways we arrange workplaces, schools, meetings, liturgies and seminars.  At the same time, it’s very clear that there’s no replacement for spending time with people face-to-face, especially for significant discussions and reflection.  

A dramatic reminder for me of how much we have missed out on was a week-long meeting earlier this month of a commission that is undertaking dialogue between the Catholic and Methodist communions, involving representatives from across the world.  I had been scheduled to spend the week in Jerusalem, which would have been my first visit to the Holy Land, but ended up with a week of late-night Zoom meetings instead.  It’s almost impossible to compare the two experiences! 
 

I’m certainly feeling at home in the diocese now, and increasingly at home in the ministry of bishop, too.  I’m very grateful for the warm welcome and support that so many people have extended to me over this year.  I’ve got used to talking about ‘us’ when I’m referring to Sandhurst, but I’ll know that I’ve really become a local when I no longer need to rely on the GPS to navigate around Bendigo!