Over the past year and a half, the Australian Catholic Church has sought discernment, prayer and dialogue around the current experience of Church and in particular, what God might be asking of Australia at this time. We were very lucky to have Ms Julie Taylor, an experienced educator and faith formation leader, explore this process with our students. Below is her report, gathering the responses of our students, which will submit to the Australian Bishops as part of this exciting stage of our Church.
From September 3 – 5 2018 a process was established to engage a representative group (selection) of students from St Columba’s College to reflect on and engage in dialogue around the key question posed by the Plenary Council “What is God asking of us in Australia at this time?”
The students generally found this question ‘too big’ and were more able to respond initially to the following 2 questions:
· What do I need / hope for / desire to nourish and strengthen my own faith / spiritual life?
· What do I need / hope for / desire of the Australian church to support me in this?
In total 128 students took part in the process (26 of these were from one class).
What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?
From reflecting on the student’s responses, they articulated what God was asking in terms of their hopes for the Church in the future:
1. Hope for the Church to be of more relevance to Young People:
That the Church needed to be more responsive to the signs of the times and be brought in to the 21st Century! As young people, they felt the Church was not responding to nor meeting their needs in any way. They felt disengaged and excluded at so many levels and that their voice was not being listened to. The church in their eyes was for ‘older’ people and not meeting their needs nor inviting them in, in any way that was ‘age relevant.’
They didn’t feel any sense of belonging to a church or Parish community but understood that the primary schools they attended were located in a particular parish and where they lived was also located in a particular parish. Since leaving primary school, connection with any sense of Parish community was tenuous. However, they identified strongly with St Columba’s being a faith community.
They gave expression of hope for a church that is welcoming of them as young girls/women who were willing to contribute if their voice was listened to and that opportunities to engage them in meaningful (and age appropriate) dialogue, prayer, liturgy and social action was afforded them
2. Hope for Gender Equality & Inclusiveness:
For the Church to be more inclusive and accepting of all (irrespective of race, gender, religion, sexual identity/preference etc) in response particularly to the belief they held dear, that God loved everyone! There was great energy around the Church accepting same-sex marriage and being open to celebrate love this way sacramentally.
3. Hope for the Role of Women in the Church to be enhanced:
That the role, status and position of women in the Church be addressed in an equal and just manner. The collaborative style of female leadership was identified as a strength and that it was critical at this time in history, to lessen male dominance in the hierarchy of the church with an openness to female ordination and a movement towards equal rights for women in the church.
4. Hope for the Eucharist to be more engaging/relevant for young people:
Students generally expressed that they felt very passive in Eucharistic celebrations and that only selected students played an active role. The selection of music was identified as not being age appropriate, lyrically or musically, and that the potential of music lifting one’s spirit in prayer was recognised as critical. The role, skill and capacities of the Presiding Priest/homilist to truly engage the students was identified as vital yet often lacking.
5. Hope for more age-appropriate engagement at the Parish-level:
Most students were completely disengaged from any form of Parish life within and beyond liturgical celebrations. The opportunity for spiritual nourishment (eg meditation, other forms of prayer and liturgy) to help them connect with God was non-existent yet desired.
The opportunity to have young people engaged in social justice initiatives at the Parish-level was seen as an area that students would be willing to participate in.
6. Hope for Religious Education that engages young people in theological/philosophical/ ethical dialogue:
While there was a mixed response to how students felt about the Religious Education Curriculum, they expressed their desire/interest in conversations around deep issues of meaning. The capacity to assist students to discern the difference between the literal and metaphoric while holding this all in an expression of faith presented them with more questions than answers.
Questions such as: ‘Who is God?’ ‘Is God male or female?’ ‘What is faith?’ were pondered and a desire for a space to be both reflective and in dialogue around such questions would be appreciated.
7. Hope for a church that responds justly and compassionately in relation to the sexual abuse crisis:
Students were abhorred by the sexual abuse scandal in the Church and felt that there was a need for a more open and honest space for this to be addressed. They felt there should be zero tolerance of such abuse, that those responsible should accept responsibility for their actions, that the church should take action against them, and that the victims should be supported pastorally and practically. Their faith and trust in the church was wavering and they hoped for a church again where this faith and trust was restored so they and others could feel safe.