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Planning begins on joining parishes


The parishes of Blackwood and Aberfoyle Park are working towards becoming one parish by the end of the year.

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The parishes were advised by Archbishop Patrick O’Regan last month of the decision to commence a consultation process aimed at joining the parishes.

In a letter to the two parishes and the wider Catholic community, Archbishop O’Regan said the decision was part of ongoing pastoral planning in the Archdiocese.

“This is in light of declining numbers of clergy and lower Mass attendances, accompanied by a decrease in those people identifying as Catholic on the Census,” he wrote. “I deeply appreciate this can be an unsettling experience and urge us all to look forward to the future in hope, with our sense of mission and Jesus at the centre.”

Under the leadership of Aberfoyle Park parish priest Father Paul Mwaura and Blackwood’s Deacon Tee Ping Koh, the parishes are being supported in the process by Vicar General Fr Dean Marin, Sarah Moffatt and Peter Bierer, director and assistant director of Pastoral Life and Mission.

After an initial planning meeting on June 23, Blackwood PPC chair Julie Langman said the willingness of the Aberfoyle Park parish to bring about change for the benefit of both communities was “really heartening”.

“We are the parish without a priest and we need this,” she said.

“But Aberfoyle Park has been very generous in saying they want to really see and feel change.”

Julie said with the two parishes similar in size and geographic setting, it was a “fair marriage”.

It was also a case of “going back in time” as Aberfoyle Park had been part of the Blackwood parish before the region grew and required its own church.

“Over 50 per cent of our parishioners are over 70 and they (Aberfoyle Park) have a lot more younger parishioners so it will be great for our young people to be able to join with their groups,” she said.

Julie acknowledged that the response of parishioners had been varied and with two Mass centres (Our Lady of the Way and St Paul of the Cross) in the parish, there was a need to be “creative” about how both communities continued to flourish.

Most importantly, she said while the decision to unite the parishes “had to be taken”, everything else was “up to the parishioners now”.

Aberfoyle Park PPC chair John Giles said it was a good first meeting with strategies developed to engage parishioners including a draft questionnaire and regular update sessions. Activity audits of both parishes will also commence.

“Like any change there are many ways this can be perceived and for many parishioners of both parishes their awareness of the situation will still be taking time to become a reality,” John said. “All the human emotions that any change evokes will come into play…every feeling and emotion is legitimate and must be treated as such. What we have on our side, that not every change has, is that with prayer and devotion we will have the support of the Holy Spirit on our journey.”

John said there were learnings from other parishes that had dealt with similar scenarios, including the need for change to be “visible and timely”.

“Taking a long time to implement the change only stalls the inevitable and gives parishioners the impression that nothing is really happening,” he said. “What we learn from our journey, other parishes may benefit from in the future.”

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