Greetings from Sydney Australia.
Tom Corcoran and I have been here all week at the invitation of the Australian Bishop’s Conference. Sydney is a big city. But also beautiful, clean, safe, and friendly. There is, as far as I can see, nothing not to like here. Did I mention that it’s beautiful, clean, safe, and friendly?
We left Baltimore on Monday afternoon on a flight to LA, where, eventually, we boarded a flight to Sydney. The prospect of the 15-hour flight (after a 5 hour flight) was intimidating. But we brought along plenty of reading material and a determination to sleep at least part of the journey.
We arrived in Sydney at about 7am – Wednesday – and proceeded pretend that that was actually the time our minds and bodies were on. After checking into our hotel we found our way to some of the main sights of the city: the Harbor, Harbor Bridge, the Opera House, Circular Quay, the Royal Gardens. We managed to fill the day and stay awake, though a dinner that evening with our bishop hosts proved to be challenging. No trouble sleeping that night.
Thursday was time to get to work. Proclaim 2014 was billed as a conference on the New Evangelization sponsored by the Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops. We were honored to be invited to provide both the keynote as well as the final talks of the program.
The appeal of this particular conference for us is that it’s very premise expresses an incredibly important approach when it comes to evangelization; the conference’s theme is “Living the Joy of the Gospel in Parishes.” Proclaim was intended as a conference for parish leaders, lay and clergy alike, who are interested in evangelization and discipleship in their parish. It’s about rebuilding parish life and Ministry through renewed efforts in reaching the unchurched and growing disciples.
Tom and I presented the keynote address on Thursday morning, at the beautiful Concourse Complex in the Chatswood section of Sydney.
In our initial offering we underscored some of our basic approaches when it comes to parish evangelization and discipleship: taking the focus off the people in the pews and creating environments for the unchurched, emphasizing the weekend experience, especially ministry, music, and message, and motivating church people to grow, move and serve. Afterwards we spent time in the Exhibition Hall meeting attendees from across Australia, New Zealand, and Papua-New Guinea. We also did a lot of book signings, hanging out at the display booth of our Oceania distributor, the fine folks at Garratt Publishing (who knew we have a distributor in Oceania?).
Friday we provided some smaller break out sessions: I did one on preaching and Tom did another on transitioning churches through change. Friday evening provided a great opportunity to sample some of the local cuisine (though I was not very adventurous when it came to ordering).
Saturday was the highlight of the conference, with, in fact, the largest attendance. Our presentation focused on the Church as a movement that we are called to serve in our generation. It was received with an enthusiasm that we have only very rarely experienced. It was an honor and a joy to be with Proclaim and we made many new friends
Since we had plans for Sunday morning we decided to head out to Vigil Mass on Saturday afternoon. Tom went to a vibrant parish in the downtown area, with a clear outreach to young adults. I stayed close to our hotel (in a suburban community amazingly not unlike Towson); the parish there was a mixture of different generations. To my surprise, and discomfort, the priest began his homily by holding up a copy of Rebuilt and urging parishioners to read the book, which he went on to quote from liberally. After Communion I left quietly by a side door. With the conference behind us, we relaxed on Saturday evening. The bartender at the hotel lounge was typical of the easy going and friendly people of Australia we met everywhere (his name, by the way, is Thomas Michael).
Sunday morning we took off for a destination we have long wanted to see, Hillsong Church. Hillsong is the largest church in Australia, and one of the largest and most successful in the world.
Through mutual friends (at Saddleback Church in California) we were the guests of Hillsong Lead Pastor Joel A’Bell.
With Joel we participated in two different services in two of Hillsongs many, many Sydney locations. Their energy and exuberance filled us with a fresh heart to renew our own weekend worship and infuse the whole life of our parish with the joy of the Spirit that we experienced at Hillsong. And just for the record, the music was fantastic
It has been a long trip and a rigorous one, but a consequential one we’ll never forget. Both the wonderful people we met from Catholic parishes across this part of the world, as well as our new friends at Hillsong have impacted us deeply, changing our perspective and touching our heart. We can’t wait to get back home and share with staff and volunteer leaders more of what we’ve learned.