Clergy and parish leaders have been told that keeping Christ at the centre is key to growing missionary parishes of vibrancy and vitality.

Organised by Proclaim: The Office for Mission Renewal, a one-day workshop, Leading Missionary Renewal: Growing Vital and Vibrant Parishes, drew 160 people from nearly 40 parishes across the Archdiocese to the Catholic Leadership Centre on Saturday 16 July.

The day began in prayer and song, drawing from the letter of St Paul to the Philippians: ‘I pray, that your love for one another may overflow more and more’ (1:9).

Ron Huntley, an international leadership coach for priests and leadership teams, spoke on growing vital parishes, saying one way to be ‘part of the solution’ is ‘to be rooted in a vision that comes from your relationship with Jesus. It sounds simple but I think it is significant.’

You’re going to run into pushback if you are going to do something significant. If your vision is not rooted in your relationship with Jesus Christ, you will turn back and go back to where you came from.

Huntley continued by saying that vital parishes also need leaders who have an ‘unwavering commitment’ to building a future for their Church, for our children and grandchildren, and who ‘make others great’ by intentionally seeing, seeking and bringing out the best in others, giving them opportunities to lead and live God’s call.

In a panel discussion, Fr Dishan Candappa (Good Shepherd Gladstone Park), Maureen Medaris (St Patrick’s Murrumbeena and St Kevin’s Ormond), Fr Luciano Toldo (St Luke’s Lalor) and Franca Zannoni (Holy Trinity Laverton) spoke of their experience leading missionary renewal in their respective parishes.

Quoting Evangelii Gaudium (§3), Fr Luciano pointed out that ‘the Lord does not disappoint those who take [the] risk’ of renewal. His parish took the risk, he said, and now those who went through the Alpha course are leaders in the parish, serving in various ministries.

Maureen Medaris shared the story of the journey she and her parish priest had gone on in establishing a leadership team and exploring ways to reinvigorate parish life, particularly after COVID. Some of the things they have tried include hosting lunches and high teas, and engaging with the school community by inviting children to draw Christmas decorations and inviting families to Christmas Mass. Their team are exploring their mission and vision, looking particularly at ways to engage young families moving into the area.

Maureen said, ‘It’s not easy… but ultimately if you are passionate and really believe in our faith, I think through the hard times that encourages you to keep going. We are not perfect, but each activity that we do is a step forward.’

Fr Chris Ryan MGL, Parish Priest of St Declan’s Penhurst and Our Lady of Fatima Peakhurst in Sydney, spoke about growing vibrant parishes by growing authentic communities. He said that communities should aspire to be more than ‘nice’ parishioners.

‘Nice never set the world on fire. Nice never convinced anybody that the Church is the bearer of the Good News and the salvation of the human race. Nice never created an oasis in the desert where people could have their thirst quenched. Nice never stopped anyone in their tracks and made them say, “How can I know Jesus Christ?”’

He said that ‘there is no other way’ to build authentic Christian communities than through ‘self-giving love.’

‘Authentic Christian community, then, is something the Lord does—something with us and in us.’

Fr Chris explored Chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles as a model for authentic Christian community. Highlighting that we are made for communion, he said that true Christian friendship—rooted in faith, our response to the kerygma, and the Holy Spirit—is what forms an authentic Christian community.

Authentic Christian Community kicks in where true friendship—friendship in the Holy Spirit—is found, where people are loved for themselves, where they are encouraged to grow as followers of Jesus.

Fr Ryan explored a number of practical ways that his parish lives out and grows an authentic Christian community through evangelisation, life groups, welcome and hospitality initiatives, and whole-of-community events like parish feast days.

Emily Hunt, from the parishes of St Mary’s Greensborough, St Thomas the Apostle Greensborough North and Sacred Heart Diamond Creek, also shared her testimony, explaining that she did not have a real faith until someone from her parish invited her to Alpha.

‘From the outside looking in, you might say that I haven’t changed … Nothing superficial has changed, but it has changed me. I don’t know why that happened, but God called me and I accepted—I accepted God in my life—and that has changed me and made me a genuinely happy person.’

‘You can have Jesus right now,’ she said. ‘You start reading the Bible; you start learning more … You start doing things that others are doing around do … You start to become a better person… Maybe some bad habits you stop doing … And when you know that other people have your back, no matter what, it can be really changing and [can] give someone the boost they need to change their life.’

Cath Garner, Strategy Coordinator for Take the Way of the Gospel, presented the Framework for Parish Renewal, developed through consultation to help guide parishes as they begin and continue the journey of renewal. It translates the vision for vibrant, vital and viable parishes into strategies to support the transformation process.

‘At the heart of the framework is prayerful discernment, inviting the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our efforts to strengthen our parish communities,’ she said.

We are still at the beginning of the journey. Each and every parish is invited to embark on the process of renewal. And we will need to keep learning from one another if we want to create vibrant, vital and viable communities of mission that respond to today’s needs.’

Participants then shared what they had learnt. One parishioner from Doveton said it was the ‘first time [our parish team] had an opportunity to sit down together and start thinking about what we want to see in our parish. We were all fired up in a good way … We want to discern where we go from here.’

Participants ended the day by praying for one another with the words of St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (3:18–19):

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.