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Monday, 10 October 2022 20:16

On release of Interim Report Ruth Lawlor reflects on the consultation phase of SMPC

By Ruth Lawlor

With the release of Interim Report on the consultation Phase of the Sandhurst Mission and Pastoral Council (SMPC)  Ruth Lawlor reflects on her encounters with parishioners from across Sandhurst. Ruth writes, “The data is interesting, insightful and worth looking at. The final report, when it is finished, will prove invaluable for the creation of the new Mission and Pastoral Council ... But for me, the data and the report is only one small part of what we have gained through our travels.” 

When the Second Assembly for the Plenary Council ended, many members breathed a sigh of relief. They knew their role in the Council was, for the most part, finished. But for me there was a different feeling. Finally, we were able to move beyond the national conversation about the realities and future of the Catholic Church towards a more practical implementation stage within Sandhurst. 

So, Chris Cotter and I began travelling around the Diocese to meet with people in parishes as part of the Preparation and Consultation phase for a Sandhurst Mission and Pastoral Council (SMPC). 

An interim report on the findings of these Preparation and Consultation Meetings has been made available this week for anyone who would like to read it. It details some of the data we have gathered during our meetings so far. The data is interesting, insightful and worth looking at. The final report, when it is finished, will prove invaluable for the creation of the new SMPC and help provide the new members with a clear snapshot of what Chris and I have heard in our travels. But for me, the data and the report is only one small part of what we have gained through our travels. 

The people of Sandhurst are wonderful. They are resilient, hopeful, passionate, caring, and so many other positive things. They are also hurt, disillusioned and worried. In short, they are experiencing a wealth of human responses to the current world we live in. I have gained so much more insight into our Diocese by listening to the stories from our parishioners. Stories of pain and stories of hope. It is the stories that humanise the data. Unfortunately, the report, based on the data we gathered, has been unable to capture these stories. 

 
From one parishioner I heard the sorrow they felt after feeling they had said the wrong thing to a parent during a sacramental program. From another I heard the concern that possible membership to a council would be limited if the Diocese does not consider the real commitments people have outside of Church, particularly for those who have full-time employment or are studying. From another parishioner I heard the pain they felt for their grandchild who walked away from the Church due to being a member of the LGBTQI+ community and feeling unwelcome. There are so many stories like this in our Church community that need to be shared and acknowledged. 
 
Not everything we heard told stories of pain, sorrow or concern. There were also the stories of people finding community in their parish after the death of a spouse, or a loved one. Stories of parish communities rallying around someone when they were in need. There were stories of volunteers and parish groups sharing meals and coming together to share their lives. And that is, to me anyway, what a Parish should be; a place we can belong in both the highs and lows of our lives. These stories reminded me to not only tell the stories of hurt in our Church. We all need to share and listen to the stories of hope that exist. 
 
And this doesn’t even touch on what we have been learning from students in the Secondary Schools we have visited so far. Maybe I’ll save that for another reflection, but the responses have not been all that different from what we’ve heard in the parishes.  
So, what do all these stories have in common? Whether they are stories of pain or joy, or a combination of both, they have all reminded me that everyone who has attended one of the Planning and Consultation Meetings loves our Church. We may not always like it, but we still love it. And that love comes with a sense of hope that maybe we, as the Body of the Church, can do better in the future. It can be easy to focus on the challenges we face, but what I am hearing as I travel around and meet with people is that I need to remember to focus on the hope; I am going to continue seeking out stories of hope in our Diocese for our Church. And when I see you next, I hope that you know I would love to hear your story as well.     
 
 
Images: 
Top: Ruth and Dr Chris Cotter head off to the first Preparation and Consultation meeting in Wodonga in late July. 
 
Bottom: In Benalla with FCJ College students and teachers in early August. 
 
10 October 2022