The Way of the Gospel—the path of missionary discipleship—has always been adapted by every generation to fit the local circumstances. How this is arranged has varied according to time and place. How might our local communities of faith continue to address the missionary call of the Gospel into the future? How might we invite people into the fullness of the Gospel of life, and do so with a sense of vibrancy and vitality?
'It is a renewal of this vision for today that I want to explore with you over the coming months and years, so that we might walk together towards a more energised purpose for our local Church in the light of Pentecost. This will be a journey that will take time and effort, and we will need to take it together.' —Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
In April and May 2021, Archbishop Comensoli met with the clergy and lay leaders of the Archdiocese of Melbourne to begin this conversation. These initial meetings had one purpose in mind: to open up the question as to how our local Church in Melbourne might best be organised into the future, such that:
A good place to start is Archbishop Comensoli's Pastoral Letter, "Take the way of the Gospel", which was published on Pentecost 2021. You can also find below the presentations to clergy and lay leaders from earlier this year.
'Take the Way of the Gospel': Together we Pray
Archbishop Comensoli has called us to enter into a time of concerted prayer for our Archdiocese as we begin the 'Take the Way of the Gospel' journey together. This significant time of discernment begins with prayer—calling upon the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. We invite parishes, communities, staff teams, families, prayer groups and school communities to consider how they can include a dedicated time of prayer for our Archdiocese every time they meet. A very simple, 10–15 minute weekly resource is available below for you to use or adapt.
Further prayer resources
These resources are aimed at supporting your parish as it begins to explore a path of missionary renewal in light of our Gospel mission in this time and place. We hope these resources will assist you as you embark on prayerful discernment and consultation with the wider parish community.
Over many years now, our clergy and people have identified an ever-increasing sense of urgency to attend to the manner in which the local communities of our Archdiocese are arranged and function. Exploring and dreaming for a missionary way forward goes back to the earliest days of our Archdiocese. Melbourne’s first archbishop, Archbishop James Goold, organised the archdiocese into local pastoral areas called “missions”. They were of various shapes, sizes and purposes and not all missions were territorial. Some missions were to particular groups of people (e.g. to prisoners, to the port workers, and to migrants) and where individual parish structures emerged, they would identify and organise themselves as a family of communities in faith, worship and life.
Undeniably, the landscape of Melbourne—a city of cities—has changed dramatically since the time of Archbishop Goold. What has not changed is the desire of God’s people to find new and fresh ways of proclaiming the Gospel into our local communities.
What Archbishop Comensoli is inviting us to is a renewed sense of missionary purpose for our local Church. He is calling us—clergy and laypeople—to begin the task of re-imagining and re-framing how we arrange our local communities of grace, be they parishes, language communities, or movements. By virtue of our baptism, each of us is called to proclaim the Gospel and find ways to invite others into a life with Jesus Christ. There is also a need for a greater sense of co-responsibility in the Church and this invitation to shared discernment aims to facilitate this into the future.
‘We are responsible for each other, and to each other—we are stewards, not owners, of God’s grace, for the sake of God’s people; and we do this together.’ —Archbishop Comensoli
What the Archbishop is inviting us into is a re-framing of how we arrange our local communities of grace, be they parishes, language communities, or movements. This begins with identifying the various Mission areas of our Archdiocese, followed by the process of arranging the resources to bring these Missions about. In inviting us into this task, the archbishop has acknowledged that some Missions will be very readily identifiable and need to be established quickly, while others will take time to develop.
He asks that local communities embark on identifying these missions over the next 12-18 months, before moving towards a staged establishment of Missions over the next three to five years.
A Mission is a family of communities, working together for viability and vitality. It is a local area, with commonalities in history, demographics, geography and with a collaborative focus on evangelisation, worship, formation and outreach.
Archbishop Comensoli has said that each Mission will look different according to its local needs and realities. It will depend on what is discerned locally and what will work best for that area.
What the faithful of Melbourne are being called to is not new, but rather a recognition of an ever-increasing sense of urgency expressed by both the clergy and lay faithful over many decades to find new and more sustainable ways of inviting people into the mission of the Gospel.
In his first Patrick Oration (2019), Archbishop Comensoli acknowledged the challenges and wounds of recent years, but challenged the Church in Melbourne to find new life-giving ground in which the seeds of the Gospel might be planted. He reiterated this call in his 2021 Patrick Oration, echoing what Pope Francis has said about calling on local Churches not to struggle to hold on to what it has left behind but to see itself as a mission church moving outward. (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 28; 33)
Other key events have also taken place over the last few years:
2019-2021: Diocesan research, planning and discernment
Conversations with clergy and lay leaders took place concerning the present life of the Archdiocese and how best to proclaim the Gospel into our communities at this particular time. In addition to the listening, dialogue and discernment that has contributed to preparations for the national Plenary Council, reflections were sought from local parishes, especially those who had gone through partnerships and amalgamations over the years, in an effort to review the effective use of material and ministerial resources.
A research agency, Location IQ, was approached by the Archdiocese to provide some strategic insight into the current makeup of parishes and regions across Melbourne. Their research looked at demographics, geography, thanksgiving contributions, number of local schools and other pertinent data to help inform future planning for the Archdiocese.
April-May 2021: Gathering of clergy and lay leaders
Clergy and lay leaders from across the archdiocese gathered to hear about some of the initial thinking and discernment about renewing our local communities of faith. Presentations were given by Archbishop Comensoli, Fr Joe Caddy (Vicar General), Teresa Rhynehart (Director of Mission), Tim O’Leary (Executive Director, Stewardship), Gavin Duane (Location IQ), Tricia Norman (Senior Pastoral Associate for the parishes of Camberwell, Deepdene & Balwyn, Surrey Hills and Wattle Park) and Fr Gerard Keith (formerly Parish Priest of the partnered parishes of the Bell Park Cluster).
Pentecost 2021: Pastoral Letter from Archbishop Comensoli
At Pentecost, Archbishop Comensoli wrote to all the faithful of Melbourne inviting them into a conversation on re-imagining our local Church as mission communities. In his letter, the archbishop spoke of some of the initial discussions and discernment that had taken place and what the Church in Melbourne is being called to.
August-September 2021: Regional sessions with parish priests and parish representatives
Led by Fr Joe Caddy (Vicar General) and Teresa Rhynehart (Director of Mission), these regional sessions have offered a further introduction to the Missions and what parishes are being invited to discern locally. Hosted online, these sessions have included input from each of the Regional Bishops/Episcopal Vicars and an initial exploration of the Illustrative Missions by Gavin Duane from Location IQ.
Archbishop Comensoli has stated that what is being proposed is not the closure of parishes, but the establishment of Missions, into which parishes will be grouped. He has also acknowledged that each of these Missions will comprise a family of parishes/communities; that the composition of each Mission will vary according to its local needs and realities and that the number of parishes within each Mission will be discerned at local levels.
‘I hope you have noticed I have not spoken of parish amalgamations or closures. I am NOT proposing such things today. We all know that this has been attempted here and in many other dioceses, often with great pain and with little renewal. No, this is not what I am calling us all to. Rather, let us see how we might arrange ourselves into Missions, let’s see what our families look and feel and live like, before questions of the number of parishes or communities within each mission might be properly asked.’
—Archbishop Comensoli, Presentation to clergy and lay leaders, 2021
This invitation to reimagine our missionary communities is the start of a long-term journey. Archbishop Comensoli has said that parishes will remain at the heart of the gathering of God’s people locally, but that honest and Spirit-led conversations need to take place for us to adapt the way in which we resource our local communities, including the placement of clergy, catechists and other lay leaders, to form Missions that are a family of communities.
Clergy and lay leaders are being asked to begin discerning how these Missions could look like at the local level. Some clergy and lay leaders have already begun conversations with their neighbours to explore where there are possible synergies and shared ways of ministering to locals.
Archbishop Comensoli has offered these three questions to help in these discussions:
As a diocese, we are now entering into a period of discernment, encouraging local communities to begin discussions for how they might respond, organically and creatively, to this missionary calling. Below is an indication of the journey ahead:
In addition to the facilitated regional meetings, ongoing support and leadership training will be provided for parish priests, lay leaders and communities as they discern how they might come together in a Mission.
Firstly, we invite you to pray! Each of us is called to proclaim the Gospel and this work begins—above all—with prayer. At Pentecost, the apostles were huddled away in the upper room before the Holy Spirit came upon them to give them precisely what Jesus had promised: the power to become his witnesses ‘throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). We are not alone in this journey. Let us entrust this work to the Spirit, and be open to its promptings along the way. May we act with the same boldness of the early Church, and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ the best way possible in our time and place.
Secondly, we encourage you to get in touch with your local parish priest and parish leadership teams and explore ways that you might assist them in ensuring that all the lay faithful are invited into this discussion at the local level.
This is the start of an ongoing conversation. Following recent gatherings with lay leaders and clergy, a series of regional gatherings will take place from August-September 2021. In the meantime, you can get in touch with Proclaim: Office for Mission Renewal by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.