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Bright future for Brighton parish

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Challenges faced by the Brighton parish over the past few decades have only served to strengthen the community, members of the episcopal visitation team were told last month.

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Referring to the closure of St Paul’s and Christ the King churches, parishioner Judy Fernandez said maybe it had been “God’s plan” to bring the three communities together at St Joseph’s Church because He knew there were tough times ahead.

“I refer to the times of Monsignor’s ill health…then there were the terrible accusations made against him in Parliament.

“But because of our solidarity, as one community it empowered us to work together pastorally, spiritually, prayerfully and physically.”

Parish priest Mgr Ian Dempsey took extended leave after Senator Nick Xenephon named him under parliamentary privilege in relation to sexual assault allegations made by John Hepworth. Several investigations into the allegations found there was no case to answer.

Mrs Fernandez said as well as being a strong community, the parish needed to be an “open community, one that can meet people at their level, and accept them where they are at”.

“It will require an awful lot of prayerful discernment and we will have to step outside of our comfort zone constantly,” she said.

Archbishop Wilson, Vicar General Fr Philip Marshall, Chancellor Heather Carey and Director of Ministry and Leadership Teresa Lynch visited schools in the parish, aged care homes and the Men’s Shed before gathering with the Parish Pastoral Council, Finance Council, school principals, youth ministers and members of religious orders for dinner.

Five community representatives gave presentations of their experiences of church and their hopes for the future.

Finance spokesman Graham Spurling outlined draft development concepts for the parish prompted by the move of St Teresa’s Primary School to Hove in 2020 as part of the merger between Marymount and Sacred Heart colleges. Mgr Dempsey said there would be ample time for community consultation on the plans, which are expected to be ready by the middle of next year.

Youth minister Dylan Barnes spoke of his work in the Southern Cluster which involved a number of primary schools, including St Teresa’s which he had attended from Reception.

“Primary schools do faith really well with young children,” he said.

Referring to his own experience, he said his faith has been strong in primary school but he had “lost it a bit” in middle school. Joining REMAR youth ministry at Sacred Heart College in Year 10 had “really stirred this fire in me” and made him want to do something with his faith.

“Then I joined Antioch and it was the best thing I have ever done…to be able to explore my faith with like-minded people has been amazing,” he said.

The Brighton Antioch group, which has grown from 11 to 50 over the past six years, helps provide the music and liturgy at the 6pm Saturday vigil Mass in the parish. About 15 members also attend the 7.30am Mass on Thursday mornings.

To celebrate the youth group’s 25th anniversary, Brighton Antioch last year formed an Antioch Junior group for children in Years 4-7 and Dylan said there were about 20 children coming to Antioch meetings on Sunday nights.

St Teresa’s principal Peter Mercer said there was a range of Mass styles and this was a “great thing” but the challenge was providing a Sunday Mass that was appealing to children who were used to a different experience of school Mass.

He said good preaching was important and he cited ‘Godly Play’ (a Montessori method of telling Bible stories) as one option for sharing the Scripture in a “powerful and wondering way”.

“Our schools and churches are great places, we just need to keep working hard to ensure the hope and promise is realised,” he said.

Brighton pastoral associate Clare Thewlis shared the many positive happenings in the parish and praised the way parishioners, including those in their 80s, were willing to take responsibility and play an active role in all facets of parish life.

“They have a strong sense of what belonging to community<” she said.

“I believe this is because they are proud of their parish.”

Mrs Thewlis also expressed her gratitude to the parish’s priests who “were very pastoral and at the forefront of their thinking is always the parishioners”.

“Mons (Mgr Dempsey) especially will listen and then make decisions, but always listening first,” she said.

“Fr Peter (Sheedy) has introduced adult formation, in which he very much instils that all parishioners are called to have a personal relationship with Jesus.”

While the retirement next year of Mgr Dempsey would be “difficult”, she trusted God would provide a parish priest who would continue his practice of “listening to the people and working alongside them”.

Archbishop Wilson thanked everyone for their contributions and said their commitment to planning for the future was a “great credit” to Mgr Dempsey.

The visitation team joined parishioners for 10am Sunday Mass and the annual parish barbecue lunch on October 29.

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