Every organisation at some point in its history, in order to thrive, needs to grow and change in light of the needs of the time. We would probably use the term ‘pivot’ now. We’ve seen profound examples of this during this pandemic time. Who would have thought an entire state could be locked down? Who could have imagined an entire education system move to online learning in such a short space of time? Or that the most risk-averse of organisations would have their entire workforce Zooming in from home? And on a personal level, we have had to change as well. The spare room with the desk in the corner became our professional hub. We all know how to Zoom. The pandemic has forced many of us to change the way we live, and work and it has forced organisations to reassess how they lead and change.
Not everyone has a successful transformation story though – we know from our own experiences of friends and family that some have lost jobs as a result of the lockdowns, and some have less work. For some, this time of the pandemic has been traumatic and painful and many of us, I suspect, are in or have been through a period of major reassessment about our life purpose.
In Australia, we are in the midst of writing the transformation story of this ‘no longer business as usual’ Church. It is a long, slow journey toward the renewal of mission and purpose with a significant step taken last week with the convening of the first week of the Plenary Council. Last week I had the privilege of attending the Plenary Council as a member and these are four things I learned:
1. There are many spirits speaking to many people
I’d always known that there was a diversity of voices in the Church, and this was certainly evident last week. The days fell into a pattern: after the general session where all 273 members were gathered together online, we worked in small groups with each group allocated one or more of the Plenary questions for discernment. The process was one of reflection and conversation. It is one of the blessings of the process that people were able to share their thoughts freely and a reminder to me of the richness of thinking that such diversity brings.
2. Listening is hard
In writing about synodality, Pope Francis notes that mutual listening is ‘hard work; it needs patience and commitment – above all to each other.’ (Let us Dream, 130) And it is hard because it forces us to realise that the way we think is not necessarily shared by the other. It means trying to move from being someone who holds the truth to someone who holds a truth.
3. People love God and Jesus
The faith of the people with whom I spent the week was truly inspiring. We may have held different views about how this could be expressed going forward but there is no doubt that we all, in our own ways, want the Church to flourish through touching hearts and inspiring the growth of a missionary impulse.
4. There is hope
The image of the boat is often used when speaking about the Church. And even when a boat is in calm waters it is still rocking – it is never still. And so it is with the Church, I suspect. The Church, as with all organisations, can’t stand still. We must continually pray, taking this ever ancient message of Jesus into our hearts in order to inform how, as the baptised, this message of healing and hope with which we have been entrusted can inform the context of the times. It is a time for new imaginings! And last week, I think, saw the beginnings of this.
‘Time belongs to the Lord. Trusting in Him, we move forward with courage, building unity through discernment, to discover and implement God’s dream for us, and the paths of action ahead.’ (Let us Dream 148)
Let us trust that the God of the impossible is leading us forward as we now prepare for the second session of the Australian Plenary Council in July 2022.
By Cathy Jenkins