During my recent visits to Melbourne to work for a number of faith-based organisations, I have also had the pleasure of becoming involved in the life of a local Catholic parish. St. Joseph’s in Malvern is run by the Vincentian Fathers and the present Parish Priest, Fr. Laurie McNamara, has been inviting his congregation to take much greater responsibility for the development of their church community.
During 2014, in support of this process, he invited me to accompany parishioners in ‘The Micah Conversation’ – a pastoral development process that I had devised for use in Northampton Diocese in the UK. In preparation for ‘Micah’ during Lent last year, a voluntary group of parishioners undertook some training to become small group facilitators and the invitation was made to the wider congregation to become involved.
Thankfully, many chose to do so and some seventy-five individuals took part. The Micah Conversation is a six to eight week journey of faith and consideration underpinned by a deceptively simple question, “What does God require of us today?” Through a process of reflection, prayer, conversation and discernment the community decides where to focus their available time and energy.
St. Joseph’s took to it with great enthusiasm and during the final gathering on Palm Sunday, decided to undertake a number of measures to deepen their common life and their commitment to others. These included:
- creating a Parish Handbook describing parish ministries and what involvement entails.
- setting up a parish pastoral council to assist the further development of the parish.
- continuing to meet in small groups for spiritual conversation as a way of nurturing faith.
- setting up of JoCare, a pastoral care initiative undertaken by parishioners to visit to lonely and house-bound in their locality.
- renewing the commitment of the parish to a project offering support and practical assistance to asylum seekers.
It was wonderful to see their enthusiasm and commitment to building up the Church through love and service, both among themselves and to the wider community.