St John Bosco Catholic Community, Kenilworth, Queensland
We're taking a break from our Exit Stories this Tuesday to bring you an uplifting story from a small Catholic Community, in fact now an increasingly ecumenical community, in Queensland that is too isolated and small to have a regular priest. Here a group of lay people have decided to take charge of their own spiritual life and this is what they have achieved. This report was sent to us by Margaret and Tony White on behalf of the St John Bosco Catholic Community at Kenilworth in the Caloundra Parish in Queensland. It is from addresses members of the St John Bosco Community gave to the people at one of the other communities in the Caloundra Parish at Beerwah. Is this the future shape of the church as the supply of priests continues to decline? [Note: It's not quite true that no priest is available as implied in the headline. The official Parish Priest from Caloundra, Fr John Dobson, visits monthly to celebrate Mass. He is exceedingly supportive and encouraging of the community at Kenilworth.]
Good Morning, everybody. Thank you for showing your confidence in our little community, by inviting us to speak about our vision of being Church in the 21st century.
In a recent article on the upcoming 2012 Synod for New Evangelisation, Fr Paschal Kearney, a Holy Spirit priest, who spent over thirty years ministering in West Africa, spoke of his pastoral work, which was directed mainly at the establishment of Small Christian Communities.
Since the Second Vatican Council, lay people have been more aware of their active role in the Church's life. Many, today, are very theologically literate and pastorally motivated. Committed Christians today, no longer look upon themselves as passengers and spectators.
Paschal goes on to say:
There have to be structural changes in the parishes. A parish could (or should) become an umbrella organisation, co-ordinating communities, whose focus would be sacred Scripture and Eucharist.
This is where St John Bosco Community sees itself in relation to the Caloundra Parish. We have always been a small community without a resident priest of any denomination. Caloundra Parish has a vision which will enable the parish and the local communities to flourish into the future. So, in Kenilworth, we are already up and running!
To demonstrate one way this vision may be achieved, the People of God from St John Bosco's in Kenilworth, the smallest and most far flung of our communities, who operate as a "Team of Elders", within Caloundra Parish, within the Universal Church, are here to tell their story.
Jude, Irene, Mandy and Sue, will tell you ways in which we see our community flourishing into the future.
Living God, today, we have gathered here as your People,
From Jude – Our Authority:
Many years ago members of the Kenilworth Community were faced with the challenge of doing something unusual in order to be able to continue to gather to celebrate on a Sunday as a faith community without a priest being available to celebrate the Eucharist. With the support of Fr John Dobson a small group of people with motivation and great intentions took up the challenge and began learning, preparing liturgies, giving their time, supporting each other and working together to provide a Sunday morning service.
In these early days there was the strong community feeling, but when it came to the homily — a button was pushed on a cassette player and the voice of the 'authority' (priest) came on and the whole feeling changed. Members of the community then started to share their own reflections based on the readings or some other relevant topic, and the feeling of being gathered together in Jesus' name and sharing, strengthened and touched us all. It has also deeply touched many visitors to St John Bosco's services and young people have said they return for the community aspect more than just doing the right thing and 'going to church'. We celebrate with joy rather than out of duty.
We are privileged to share the wonderful insight and diversity that comes from the thoughts and experiences of lay people in their reflections (in place of a homily), as well as input from our clergy once a month. Within our community everyone's thoughts and feelings are respected and there is total freedom of speech without fear. Reflections can turn into discussions and everyone can have their say. Wouldn't it be a refreshing and enlightening experience to have this kind of input in our mainstream churches on a regular basis?
None of those who lead and preside and reflect is the kind of person who seeks attention or likes the spotlight, rather we all do what is needed, or what we think we can do well enough to facilitate a beneficial faith experience for those present. We support each other, swap roles and fill in wherever possible. Being a small group it is often the case that everyone present has had some role apart from those already mentioned, such as reading, preparing liturgy, preparing flowers, cleaning or playing music. Just being there in our circle praying, singing and sharing the Word and the bread and wine together is an inclusive and joyful experience. Even our priests enjoy that less formal, community feeling when they come to celebrate with us. You could say we all feel like shepherds rather than sheep following our leader.
There is no question of whether we have authority to perform the roles that we do; we know that the community depends upon it and as the People of God, with God within us we know that the smaller details are not as important as being open to the overall faith experience.
We have come to value the experience of the Sacred in each other. While we maintain our Catholic structure and symbolism, we have moved away from believing in a human ability to hold the Divine or Sacred in a box to be distributed to the 'unworthy ' congregation. If there were no consecrated hosts or wine available for a service, and we shared bread and wine with respect, with love in our hearts and faith in Jesus' words — 'Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them', and 'Do this in memory of me'; we would have as strong a celebration of the Divine and as valid a Christ experience as attending Mass.
What may have started as a method of getting by without a priest has become something inspiring and enriching to us as members of the community and to visitors. Many of us who would sadly have joined the growing number of lapsed Catholics, have been enlivened and continue to grow in faith and spirit.
From Irene – Our Unity as the Body of Christ:
Our Sunday services at St John Bosco's in Kenilworth are usually attended by 10-15 people, some days a few more when we have visitors or caravan clubs in the area. I think without fail when visitors attend our Sunday Liturgy they comment before leaving the church how much they enjoyed the service. The feeling of inclusion is so different from many peoples' previous experience of church. We really do feel like ONE Body with many parts. Everyone who is part of our church community helps and participates in our liturgies. We recognise each other's strengths and weaknesses and we encourage and support each other. We choose to have our seating at church in a circle, everyone is part of that circle and all are equally important.
When I moved to Kenilworth in 2003, a member of the 'Team of Elders' wasted no time in suggesting I do a reading. The thought made me feel nauseous and I wondered how I could avoid it. I found by accepting the job of roster clerk I could simply leave my name off it! It didn't take long before another member of the 'Team' commented on my name being omitted from the roster. I eventually decided I should contribute and with the help of my "Rescue Remedy" drops I managed to do some Readings. I spoke about my concerns and nervousness and was reminded "it is not about you" and that really helped me. I thought my God won't be upset if I make a mistake and neither will my fellow parishioners because we are all on the same side! Now I am blessed to be able to Preside at our Liturgy and I give thanks to be a part of our beautiful, thriving, all inclusive community.
When we are asked how we see the Church in the future I think how much it has changed in the past fifty years. I could never have imagined how much change I have witnessed, from attending Mass when we mainly looked at the Priest's back, feeling very much like one of the sheep, to now when we do indeed feel much more like one of His shepherds.
Our community in Kenilworth recognises that the Catholic Church has changed, is changing and will continue to change. It seems to us this is the Holy Spirit at work in the People of God.
The positive leadership we receive from the Caloundra Parish reinforces our ability to act in ways that acknowledge the real meaning of our Baptism. We are anointed priest, prophet and king. Our way of being Church is not governed so much by dogma and doctrine but by Gospel values. We have learned to rely on Jesus' own teaching on Authority and Vatican ll's teaching on Ecumenism.
We are called to be Community, to be the Body of Christ.
This is our understanding of Mission and Church in Kenilworth.
We do not want to return to "the good old days" when we opened the doors of our church every couple of months when Father came to say Mass.
We come together every Sunday in prayer and unity and we remember Christ's promise to us "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them".
From Mandy – Our Inclusiveness:
For twenty years or more I moved away from the church; it was neither a sudden decision nor a conscious rejection of God or of my Catholic faith but more like a relationship that withered from neglect and, perhaps, lack of inspiration.
I moved away from my parent's home at 17, pregnant and newly married to live with my husband on a large sheep station in southwest Queensland. I had never been away from home for more than a few weeks and I had always attended Mass every Sunday with my family.
When I was finally able to visit Mass in my nearest town, I felt like a stranger in a stranger land; there was no welcome and no acknowledgement. I didn't go back and that perceived rejection stayed with me. I recall this now as a comparison to my experience at St John Bosco's Church in Kenilworth some 25 years later.
I wanted to share a common experience with my mother and decided to start going to Mass with her at Kenilworth. I wasn't fully expecting to feel called to return to my Catholic faith. My 30 minute drive most Sundays takes me to St John Bosco's where I am part of a spiritual family, where I feel welcome, where I am an active participator in a dynamic and loving community, and where I am inspired to be a spiritual and loving member of the greater community.
I don't believe I would have returned to the fold without the experience of St. John Bosco's. It is a place where God feels close, not up at the front of the church, but accessible: amongst the people.
From Sue – Our Ecumenism:
The word "ecumenism" is broadly understood to mean that movement that points to the essential unity of all branches of the Christian tradition. Ecumenism can also have a broader meaning which I will suggest later. We, as church, are one body with many parts. It has always been so and we celebrate the gifts of the many parts. In the John Bosco community we try to live this movement in the freedom of a shared baptism and our willingness to go beyond boundaries of doctrine, dogma and other legalisms.
My own ecumenical story starts with my marriage to Glen nearly 40 yrs ago. He a Roman Catholic and I an Anglican. We married in St Mary's Catherdral, Port Moresby in a concelebrated service, where both Catholic and Anglican celebrant consecrated our marriage. Move forward to 1984 when we began living part-time in Kenilworth. While living in Brisbane we quite often attended each other's Sunday celebration. Glen would usually double up if he'd been to an Anglican eucharist — just to be sure! We both carried the burden of prejudice, legalism and separation.
When it came to going to church in Kenilworth we had to travel from out of town. There was a half hour difference between the services for Anglicans and Catholics. We decided to be practical and as the Catholics started earlier I began going with Glen! Without realising the long-term impact of this decision we were stepping beyond boundaries and feeling empowered to do so and this was largely due, I believe, to what we encountered at St John Bosco through the celebration of Liturgy of the Word with Communion. There was no suggestion of converting and no hesitation to include me in the celebration. When I was approached to be a presider no-one checked my credentials, rather it was an invitation to enter deeper into the commitment of living as community. Others with different Christian roots have likewise offered their gifts and committed themselves to serving the community. "Guess the Catholic" would be an interesting quiz game at St John Bosco.
The necessity to be responsible for all aspects of the liturgy invites all community members to recognise that liturgy has to be organic and inclusive. By participating we nurture our awareness of others, we learn to collaborate, to trust and be generous. My experience suggests that a kind of ecumenical movement within starts to take flesh outwardly. Sometimes I find myself having to confront old prejudices that I thought I had put aside. This is fruitful if not sometimes a little wearying. All of this belongs to the path of maturity.
Thomas Merton wrote of our call to "attaining to maturity in Christ, that is to say, achieving the full stature of spiritual personhood, of personality and responsibility and of freedom, in Christ Jesus." Both Thomas Merton and others like the Benedictine monk Bede Griffiths see ecumenism as also being open to learning from other traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. "Knowledge of the one God comes to all human beings through the opening of the heart. This is true ecumenism." says Bede.
So we seek true ecumenism in the face of a world which is unprepared to welcome, connect and relate to difference and diversity. In our different communities there are many opportunities to prepare for and practice true ecumenism. In Kenilworth we celebrate an ecumenical service with other Christian traditions on the fifth Sunday of the month. A committee prepares the liturgy and each community takes turns to lead the service. A Christian meditation group meets every Thursday in the church and a Zen meditation group sits every Wednesday evening in the same space! The Uniting Church holds their communion service once a month — in the same space. In two weeks time an art exhibition will be set up — in the same space. I guess you could say we are practising ecumenism. But first it has to start in the heart.
Submitted to Catholica on 15Sep2011 by Margaret and Tony White on behalf of the St John Bosco Community
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©2011St John Bosco Catholic Community, Kenilworth, Queensland
What are your thoughts on this commentary?