“We span a range of ages today but we all have a great commitment and great love of parish life.” Those were the opening words from Cathy Jenkins, director of the Archbishop’s Office for Evangelisation, as she welcomed over 160 participants to the seminar “Spirit of Adventure: Parish Life Re-imagined”, held at the Catholic Leadership Centre on Saturday 20 May.
Parishioners, priests and school leaders from all over Melbourne (some too from Ballarat and Adelaide!) attended the event, where visiting preacher and author Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP reflected on the great adventure of faith and Christian leadership in the 21st century.
The day was offered as an opportunity for parish and school leaders to be energised in their local ministries, especially around the Pentecost season. Twelve workshops were offered on a range of topics, from how to build a culture of prayer in the parish; the role of scripture in the liturgy and faith life; youth ministry programs; celebrating families and faith in the sacraments; and more. Participants were also treated to a special lunchtime performance by the Filipino Chaplaincy Choir of Melbourne, as well as emerging singer/songwriter and youth minister Genevieve Bryant, who provided uplifting music for participants throughout the day.
Fr Timothy Radcliffe invited participants to re-imagine their view of Christian leadership in today’s world. "Christian leadership is about the art of letting in the unpredictable grace of God."
He said "The first duty of every Christian leader – and you are all Christian leaders by virtue of your baptism – your first responsibility as Christian leaders is to care for the unity of the community. ... The church in the west is deeply polarised – between liberals and traditionalists. People in our church who often don’t talk to teach other. ... They read different blogs. They read different books. They’ve got different heroes; different demons. And in this polarised church one of the first duties of every Christian by virtue of his or her leadership is to make unity. And that means using your imagination.”
Drawing on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Fr Timothy offered a number of lessons based on the kind of leadership shown by the father, the son, and the older brother:
- [In the parable] when the younger son left, the father didn’t make a fuss or try to keep him and promise more pocket money. No! Life went on… Don’t over-dramatise. Keep calm. Religion can make people dramatic. Remember, ‘Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.’
- Have confidence! Have confidence in the young. We believe in the young – that is an intrinsic part of Christian leadership. St Augustine said ‘God is younger than we are!’ It belongs to leadership that you let the future begin… and that means sometimes that you have to let what now exists die. You have to open up little doors to the future. Opening up the way for a future that we can’t yet describe, that we can’t know, is part of leadership. Leadership means preparing the young to do what we cannot imagine.
- The prodigal son and the father both showed leadership. Because it belongs to leadership that you take the first step… the first step towards the other person. … God loved us even before we loved God. Pope Francis reminds us that, “An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away…” (Evangelii Gaudium, n.24) The burden of leadership is that YOU step out; don’t wait for the other. Pope John Paul II showed this in his relationship to Islam. He took the first step of approaching Muslim leaders, risking rebuke. Real leadership means you take the risk of being rejected. Jesus' leadership landed him on the cross. Every form of courageous leadership means that you dare to take the risk that you will be turned down.
- Christian Leadership means not caring for your dignity. In the parable of the prodigal son, the father – like a kid! – leapt and went to his son because he didn't care for his own dignity. Leadership means that you care for the dignity of everyone else.
- Leaders 'make merry'. They have a party. Jesus feasted with sinners. Leaders ‘lead the way’ to the party. The father looked on his son and said, "Behold my beloved son in whom I delight". All our ministry is teaching people how to "delight" in God’s children.
- Jesus told this story (of the Prodigal Son) because he had been misunderstood. If you do anything worthwhile in Christian leadership there's a very good chance that you will be misunderstood! But if you don’t ever take the risk of being misunderstood, you won’t do anything at all.
- Notice how the older brother dismisses his brother. He shows contempt. Everyone of us is entrusted with speaking well of other people. Christian leaders say words that offer life, strength, encouragement; never speaking words that denigrate, diminish or that make people feel despised.
Fr Timothy invited the crowd to take up the challenge of Christian leadership, saying that “If we can do these things – and none of us can do them all, only Jesus did them all, but if we do them as we can, then indeed we will show what it means to serve the happening of God’s unpredictable grace."