The amalgamation of three parishes to form Sydney City South Parish is proving to be a positive story, resulting from careful pastoral planning, the goodwill of all involved and the fortuitous arrival of the Sydney Archdiocese’s new mission plan, “Go Make Disciples”.
The new parish combines the former parishes of St Joseph Rosebery, St Vincent de Paul Redfern and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Waterloo. A visit to their website reflects their vision for the parish, that is, to be a Catholic community of truth, beauty and love. And, as a parish that is becoming more culturally and economically diverse, it is working hard to meet both the spiritual and material needs of the wider community in which the parish is situated.
Recently, the National Centre for Evangelisation had the opportunity to meet online with Sydney City South’s Fr Paul Smithers and members of the Parish Pastoral Council (PPC).
Fr Paul has been a priest for 19 years and has ministered in the parish since 2017. His brother priests, hearing of his task to amalgamate three parishes, expressed their concern, suggesting it would be a “nightmare” of a job. However, Fr Paul, a self-declared workaholic, had a few ideas of how to go about it.
He committed to a three-year period of transparent consultation and planning. This included surveys to gather the ideas of the parishioners, social functions, and, importantly, one-on-one conversations. As well, there was a promise to respect the individual histories, cultures and traditions of each community.
Michael Burns, who works in finance and is a member of the PPC, thought the process went “very smoothly”. He also suggested that the impact of COVID-19 forced the three original parishes to reduce the number of Masses on a Sunday, something that was on the horizon anyway because it was impossible for Fr Paul to offer the number of Masses that were previously scheduled.
A Josephite sister for 48 years, Sr Rosemary Mitchell has joined the parish as the pastoral associate. To ensure the amalgamation worked well, she was careful not to focus on any one Mass centre, but rather did her best to connect with the three communities. To encourage the parishioners to intermingle, she conducts Scripture classes, Baptism interviews and information sessions for the sacraments, including the RCIA, in a central location.
Around the same time as Sydney City South Parish drew closer to becoming a single canonical parish, the Archdiocese of Sydney, through its Centre for Evangelisation, released its comprehensive mission plan document.
Daniel Ang, the director of the Centre writes: “Go Make Disciples is the fruit of a five-year pastoral planning project entitled ‘Parish 2020’, offering parishes a theological framework and process for structural renewal.”
Martin Kelly has been in the parish for 10 years and works in research at the Australian Catholic University. While he initially saw “Go Make Disciples” as a “daunting document”, he agreed to take on the task of analysing the document on behalf of the parish. He believes the five foundations of the plan – evangelisation, leadership, community, formation and worship – have great potential to renew the spiritual and practical dimension of their parish.
As an experienced human resources manager, parishioner Linda Clinch believes the most effective way of managing such a document is to take a systematic approach by “breaking it down into manageable sections”. She also believes the timing of this offering from the Archdiocese was a real grace from God.
“Go Make Disciples” became a unifying feature within the newly-aligned parish. “It was common to all of us and provided us with new ideas and encouragement to be more collaborative,” Linda said.
Training in the use of the process was offered by the Archdiocese. Michael and Fr Paul said one of the key learnings from this formation came as a warning. That is – and according to Canadian Fr James Mallon – do not “replace activity with activity” without first asking the “why are we doing this?” question.
While the parish has plenty of positive things happening, they also acknowledge the challenges before them.
Paul Clinch suggests: “We need to grow again as we don’t have a next generation coming through as they are moving further out into areas where they can afford to live. We are custodians of our faith and it’s our duty to pass it on in whatever way we feel capable and competent of doing that.”
Linda agrees, but highlights that at the same time some parishioners are moving out, there is enormous potential for outreach to the scores of people who are filling the multi-storey apartment blocks that are being built. She recognises their loneliness and believes the Catholic community has much to offer them.
However, suggests Martin, “We don’t want our outreach to simply look like charity work. It must be more than ‘social work’. It must imbue a sense of right worship and evangelisation. And how we knit that together is going to be a challenge.”
Fr Paul emphasises that the parish will only meet its many challenges by working together in partnership. He notes the challenges as follows:
- The need to build unity and heal any hurt caused by the amalgamation.
- How to reach out to people the Church has hurt, especially the Indigenous and LGBTI communities that are prominent in their parish area.
- How to encourage families to participate in the life of the parish.
- How to remain financially viable – it is essential that we look after our buildings and the people we employ.
Finally, Fr Paul mentions the painting of a large mural of recently declared Servant of God, Eileen O’Connor, visible to all who pass by the parish. Although she lived with a severe disability, she still responded heroically to the needs of people who sought her wise advice. Fr Paul aims to promote her story, as he believes it will attract people to the parish.
Ultimately, says Michael, the parish is aiming “to be a community of Christ-minded people. Christ must be our common denominator”.
Images: Elizabeth Arblaster, Archdiocese of Sydney, with members of Sydney City South Parish. Fr Paul Smithers at construction works in the parish.
Photos by Giovanni Portelli © Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.
Words: Sharon Brewer