The Southern Cross

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Shifting the parish paradigm

Opinion

The global pandemic is tragic at so many levels. But what has this time meant for us, when the usual practice and rhythms of our life in the Lockleys Catholic parish have been ‘re-ordered’?

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In terms of parish ecclesial life, it is part of our paschal experience, coming to us during Lent, through the ‘celebrations’ of Holy Week and, now, as I write, in the season of Easter. There is something renewing, life-changing and invitationary about this experience for us as a parish. Three things have emerged more clearly. These concern the nature of Church, parish missionary awareness and the importance of biblical spirituality

First, it has become clearer that our parish is not the church building on Henley Beach Rd, though it is our revered place for the Sunday assembly. The parish is people. While we haven’t been able to gather in the church, we have been ‘gathering’ through social media, various modes of communication and especially through a letter, even the occasional gift (a piece of palm, a prayer candle or small container of blessed Easter water). These are reminders—especially to the many older parishioners bemused, challenged or even dismissive of the internet—that they are the heart and soul of our parish.

Second, to enable these letters and gifts to be delivered, an expanding group of energetic parishioners has emerged committed to ensure that contact with others is maintained through phone calls and letter drops. This emergence represents a sacramental and ecclesial paradigm shift. By this I mean that these parishioners are the sacramental presence to others in our streets, as we move from a focus on a Sunday ‘Mass count’ and collections, to an awareness of becoming more evangelising and missionary. This outward-looking focus gels with Pope Francis’ encouragement that ‘missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the church’s activity…we need to move from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry’ (Evangelii
Gaudium
). A small step towards this is slowly emerging.

Third, there has been a gradual recognition of the importance of the celebration of God’s Word. While it is impossible to celebrate the Eucharist in the church publicly, and not for the first time in history, Catholic faith has not died. The Liturgy of the Word, the reading and pondering over Scripture, retains its vitality and power to nurture. This virus-time has helped us to remember the centrality of the Bible to Catholic faith and parish life. The parish team is already devising ways on how we might develop a biblical spirituality as we resuscitate the gift of God’s Word in Scripture—access to biblical teaching and prayer resources through our website, initiating the Liturgy of the Hours, and daily Lectio Divina podcasts are some of those ways.

The coronavirus is a paschal event. It indeed concerns death, but also offers glimpses of the resurrection. We see glimmers of this at Lockleys.

Michael Trainor is parish priest of Lockleys and a senior lecturer at the Australian Catholic University, Adelaide campus.

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