Two Bishops’ Dialogue

Article by Terry Horne (adapted)
Photos by Jessica Ward and Brooke Robinson
Courtesy of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

On Tuesday 23 October, Bishop Bill Wright met with his Anglican counterpart Bishop Peter Stuart, in the Maitland suburb of Chisholm, to discuss common concerns of both churches and to hear questions from the mixed audience.

Naturally there was much in common in the challenges faced by both congregations, much the same as you and I have observed in our church.

They were parish leaders from both denominations, Catholic sisters, Anglican ministers of both sexes; and men and women involved in their own parishes.  Although we were sitting in the newest Catholic Primary school in the diocese; (built to cope with growing enrolments in that area) I had no sense of being in a thriving parish. Just across the paddock sits the first stages of a brand new Catholic Secondary school.

Chisholm (the suburb) has sprung up in what only a few years ago was dairy country, between Morpeth and Thornton. Now, of course, it is home to hundreds of families. Some who are Christian, but others who aren’t.

Why are the schools thriving, but not the worshipping community?

That is the question that Bishops Bill and Peter were wrestling with that night.

Does an answer lie in what is being done or in what we are not doing?

In a dialoguing and listening kind of way, all in the room were invited to submit their opinions and ask their own questions of the two speakers.

These ranged from a growing suspicion of churches and other institutions, to the secular nature of our country today which discourages any religious instincts.

Included in the list was the tendency of whole families to avoid the church, with the result that some young people will reach adulthood with little experience of parish-based worship; and little knowledge of the Scriptures and prayer.

Needless to say, nobody in the hall was able to solve this modern dilemma, but it did focus our thinking on what was working and what was not; in the churches today.

Can this Liturgy (or Mass) that many us have grown up with, speak to a young person of today? Can they glimpse God’s presence here, through the actions and words of Jesus?

How inclusive are Catholic or Anglican parishes of those whose lifestyle is different? Of different groups in the community?

In Sunday’s gospel (Mark 10:46-52), Jesus takes great care to welcome a man whom society avoided. A man who could not see.

How sensitive are Catholics and Anglicans to people on the periphery?

Perhaps some stay away because they expect they will be rejected or branded a sinner.