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The most comprehensive parish visitation program undertaken in recent times by the Adelaide Archdiocese kicked off last month with a series of discussions, gatherings and pastoral visits in Mt Barker, Strathalbyn and Macclesfield.

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The most comprehensive parish visitation program undertaken in recent times by the Adelaide Archdiocese kicked off last month with a series of discussions, gatherings and pastoral visits in Mt Barker, Strathalbyn and Macclesfield.

The Mt Barker parish, which comprises a unique blend of semi-rural and rural communities, was the first to host an episcopal visitation as part of the next phase of the Archdiocese’s renewal process. A total of 10 parishes will be visited this year with all parishes and communities visited within a three-year cycle.

A combined Mass and parish gathering held at Strathalbyn on Sunday May 28 was the culmination of the week-long visitation to the Mt Barker parish by the visitation team of Archbishop Wilson, Vicar General Father Philip Marshall, Chancellor Heather Carey and Director of Ministry and Leadership Teresa Lynch.

The preceding Sunday Fr Marshall spoke about the visitation process during three Mass services at Mt Barker and Strathalbyn, and this was followed by a full day of information-gathering sessions and pastoral visits by the team on Tuesday May 23.

Attending many of these activities was parish priest Father Richard Morris, Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) chair Neil McGoran and St Francis de Sales College principal Gavin McGlaughlin. Fr Morris described the visitation, which followed eight weeks of preparation by the parish, as “ground breaking”.

“I think the preparation for the visit was very important and the way in which the PPC members engaged in that was excellent.
“I felt that the reflection that happened in preparation for the visitation was really good because it was a chance to be able to look at the parish and say, ‘what is good here, what are we doing well?’ and then say, ‘what could we be doing better?’ It wasn’t seen as a test so much, but an opportunity for reflection.”

Fr Morris said discussions with students, parents and staff at the college had been enlightening.

During the visitation the different groups were asked for their thoughts on questions relating to welcome and inclusion in the Church; signs of how Jesus is present in the school; and ways the college could connect more with the wider community.

“For many of the parents there they weren’t so connected with the Church and not all were Catholic. A few were talking about wanting the school to do more by way of religious education, in relation to preparation for the sacraments.

“For me, it was a moment to see where a good number of parents are, and to get a sense that ‘hey, we have got a bit more work to do here’ to try and gently draw them into what it is we are already doing.”

Members of the college board and PPC joined for an informal meal hosted by the college. Fr Morris said this was the first time the two groups had met so it was a chance to get to know each other. For all those involved in the day including those visited by the team at the Mount Barker Vinnies Centre and Southern Cross Care, the general feeling was they appreciated being heard.

Mrs Sue Eckert, a Strathalbyn parishioner and member of the Mt Barker PPC, said the discussions held on two of the eight renewal markers had been “really open and accessible” and “quite an education for the PPC about what we need to be looking at to ensure our parish is life-giving”.

She said Strathalbyn  parishioners who met with Fr Marshall and Ms Lynch were very pleased to have an opportunity to discuss issues that they would normally only talk about with one or two people.

“It was nice for us to have a hearing,” she said. “It makes people feel like they really matter.”

Mrs Eckert said it was the first time in her memory that the three communities had gathered together.

“There are differences between the communities and that’s why this is precious,” she added.

Lucie and Stephen Hendrick, who attended the Mass and gathering with their three children, said it was important for them as a family to be involved in the parish community.

Lucie said when they came to Mt Barker from Kalgoorlie in WA 18 months ago, the parish had been “very welcoming” and they had met a lot of people. Stephen, who has joined the Knights of the Southern Cross, said it was important for their children to view practising their faith as a normal part of their lives.

Ms Lynch said there had been an “amazing vibe” at the final gathering with many people saying it was their first opportunity to worship with  another community.

Fr Marshall said it was “so heartening to see the extraordinary response of the community” and their commitment to being ready to welcome people, particularly as the region was one of the fastest-growing in the State.

“It’s so wonderful for us to see the community really living their faith.”

The next parish visitation will be held in the Croydon Park parish from June 18 to 25.


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