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In February, I joined with 500 participants from throughout Australasia at the first Divine Renovation Australasia Conference. It was held at St Declan’s Parish and Marist Catholic College, Penshurst, in the Archdiocese of Sydney.

Our contingent of 14 from the Diocese of Christchurch included Fr Simon Eccleton (Cathedral Parish), Fr John Adams (Waimakariri Parish), and members of their respective Senior Leadership Teams. Bishop Michael Gielen joined the gathering, arriving directly from the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Oceania assembly in Fiji.

The conference was a great follow-up to our Ablaze Parish Renewal Conference held in November. The theme of the weekend was “Called to More”. We are always called to more; God wants our whole ‘Yes’ and He wants us to go further – out into the deep! On day one we were encouraged to open our ears to what God wants us to hear.

Divine Renovation is a ministry focused on parish renewal and was established in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in 2016 by Fr James Mallon. His own experience of bringing the Parish of St Benedict ‘from maintenance to mission’ has seen the ministry grow massively and the ‘three keys’ approach has unlocked the missionary potential in parishes all over the world. Divine Renovation has offices now in the UK, USA, Australasia, and Germany, as well as Canada. The Ministry offers coaching for priests and parish leaders, as well as resources, prayer, and opportunities to connect with other parishes around the world who are on the path to becoming more mission focused.

Fr James opened the conference with his keynote speech, ‘The Case for Mission.’ He discussed how the world is experiencing a ‘change of era,’ where the relationship between the Church and the world has been turned upside-down, Christendom is a thing of the past, and some current parish models are for a world that does not exist anymore. He encouraged participants to reclaim their identity as a missional Church, which uses adaptive leadership and reliance on the Holy Spirit, and where evangelisation is our priority, not self-preservation.

Among the other keynote speakers was Fr Chris Ryan MGL from our host parish of Penshurst. He spoke on the importance of ‘The Best of Leadership’ and shared his own experiences (ups and downs) of leadership in a parish.

St Declan’s has joined a growing number of parishes in adopting the Divine Renovation model of a Senior Leadership Team, where the parish priest leads a small team. Fr Chris says that this has been the best thing for his parish ministry, as a balanced team with a mix of different gifts and strengths is more effective than trying to lead alone.

Fr Simon Lobo, CC, also from Canada, spoke about ‘The Primacy of Evangelisation’ and keeping a parish (making disciples) as the main thing. He spoke of the fruitfulness of parishes who encourage and train their members to be evangelisers. These parishes are full of people able to share their story of how Jesus has changed their lives. Fr Simon also spoke of the importance of having shallow water entry points for people with no faith, such as Alpha, rather than casting them straight into the deep end.

Over the course of the weekend, there were opportunities to participate in a range of workshops covering topics such as ‘Forming and Casting a Winning Vision’, ‘Raising Up Leaders’, ‘Small Groups at the Heart of Parish Life’, ‘Growing in Holiness through the Holy Spirit’, and many others. These were presented by lay
people and priests, experienced and still learning, in these areas. Carly Mulqueen and Fr John Adams from the Waimakariri Parish were among the presenters. The overwhelming message of the conference was that we can’t do this alone. We can’t renew the life of our parishes, we can’t reach the lost and unreached, we can’t reclaim our identity as a missional Church, without the help of the Holy Spirit. We must call on the Holy Spirit with expectant faith.

Phillip Bell – Cathedral Parish