A Church which Listens
As I write this reflection, it is Thursday morning before the Parish Summit Day. All the planning, advertising and preparation has been completed and now it’s time to gather. It’s often a challenge to write about an event which hasn’t taken place yet but being the single-most important Synodal parish event in this generation, conversing about it – us, together – is somewhat unavoidable if not necessary.
In his speech at the conclusion of the second Synod on the Family in 2015, Pope Francis declared his dream and vision that we be a Synodal Church, “a Church which listens, where listening is more than simply hearing.” Fast forward to 2018 and in the midst of researching a topic to study for my Master’s Thesis, I stumbled upon an article written by our Archbishop, Mark Coleridge, about his extraordinary reaction to Pope Francis’ speech as which he was an attendee. In his article, Archbishop Mark described the way he experienced the power of the Holy Spirit as he listened to Pope Francis share his dream about a Synodal Church. I too experienced the Holy Spirit in an extraordinary way as I read the words of Pope Francis’ speech; I too sensed the Holy
Spirit’s call to promote a greater sense of listening with open hearts in our Church.
Our Parish Summit Day is a concrete manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s desire for our parish community. I have a great sense of trust in the Lord that we are exactly where we need to be in our journey as a Synodal parish and in the journey of our Strategic Planning Process. This trust is something I have experienced both in prayer and in my research into the most effective ways of casting vision for change in a known population of people. The image below is known as the Social Change Bell Curve.
It shows how, or perhaps more accurately, when groups of people enter into the process of positive change – a challenge which our Church is facing in order to thrive and flourish – and is based upon statistical date. Our parish is made up of approximately 1000 worshiping parishioners (based upon our Mass count data in May this year). From that data, the bell curve gives us a clear indication of the different groups of people we need to reach in order to forge a new, missional way forward as a parish. Statistically speaking, if I cast a vision that we are going to change x-y-z in the way we function as a Catholic parish (for example), 25 people or 2.5% of our population will get on board the vision no matter what – these people are called the Innovators. I’ve been connecting with and working with these people already over the last few years – sometimes even without knowing it. The next group that embrace the vision/ change, as it were, are the Early Adopters – the next 135, or 13.5% of our parishioners. Together with the Innovators, these people make up a total of 16% or 160 people in our parish.
I’m excited to say that 175 people registered to attend the Parish Summit on Saturday – 17.5% of our worshiping parish. This is indeed exciting because it means that we are already heading in the right direction; it means that we are breaking through the 16% barrier into the Early Majority group (34%) on the bell curve. Statistically, the Early Majority will not embrace a new vision/change until they see and hear about the first 16% embracing the vision for change; nor will the Late Majority embrace the vision for change until they see the Early Majority embrace it – this is the way of statistically-proven change. The final 16% or 160 people in our parish will never embrace a different way of doing things according to statistical data, but that is okay; it’s simply the way of the world and statistics.
If you chose not to attend the parish summit, that is also okay. It’s likely that you naturally fall into the Early Majority or Late Majority groups on the bell curve. If you recognise this in yourself, all I can suggest is that if/when you notice that things are indeed changing in a missional way, to look for the opportunity to get on board. Let me be clear: we are not going to alter our theology or what we believe as Catholics, but we most certainly are going to take the opportunities that our own God-given gifts provide in order to be a mission-orientated Catholic Community. Let’s look forward, together, to a future with hope (Jer 29:11).
Peace & Blessings
Fr Josh Whitehead