Gemma Thomson

It is hard to encapsulate the profound, transformative experience that was the Second Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council in Australia. It was inspiring, challenging, comforting, disruptive, but above all, faith-filled, because majority of the people present love the Church and most desire the best future possible for our Australian Church moving forward.

One of many take-aways of the week for me was Bishop Emeritus Greg O’Kelly SJ’s description of what it looks like and feels like when the Holy Spirit is truly at work, as opposed to our person-made decisions. When the fruits of the Holy Spirit are present and active, we can feel at peace, faith-filled, generosity of spirit etc, as opposed to when we fail to listen to the spirit in decision making and we can be left feeling heavy, flat and without hope.

For me personally, the Plenary Council journey; the formation, the connections, the new friendships, the new skills, and the experience of both assemblies has been life changing. As a young lay Catholic woman, it has inspired me to “take the road less travelled”. When many other young people are turning away from the Church, I feel that it is my calling to play a continuing role in our wider Australian Church, both personally and professionally. Being a part of the Second Assembly has confirmed this as a future vocational direction for me.

I am grateful to represent the Archdiocese of Perth and to have Bishops who are very supportive of my role within the Church and who provide me with opportunities to journey together, to learn, to advocate, to pray and who listen to my thoughts and reflections. I understood from listening at the Council that this has not been everyone’s experience. I am very mindful of keeping those on the margins at the forefront of my mind, those who often don’t have a voice, and the least, the last and the lost of our Australian context.

I extend my gratitude to all involved in the organisation of this historic event and all the thought, attention to detail, pastoral care and experiences are truly so appreciated by us all. Bringing this event to fruition is an example of synodality in itself; heartfelt congratulations to you all.

Jodi Steel

Being a part of the Plenary Council process has been challenging, fulfilling, tiring, energising, frustrating, humbling and inspiring! I served as both a Local Animator and Plenary Council Member. It has been a great privilege to hear and hold people’s faith stories – their hurts, their joys, their deep love of God and our Church, their frustrations and anger and their deep desires for how we can better bring people into God’s love; to participate in discernment on the Church’s future in Australia and especially to attend the Second Assembly in person. What happened during the Second Assembly was a profound experience that I will carry with me always. The disruption of the Spirit in the process moved us from being ‘nice’ to being more ‘real’ with each other, and the gifts of the Spirit and each person enabled us to experience a way of being Church differently, together in our diversity.   

All of this has contributed to deep spiritual growth. Being part of the Plenary Council process has awakened me to even greater diversity in our Catholic tradition and different ways in which we hold that diversity. I have become more conscious of the arc of my own faith journey and have been able to integrate it differently and more completely. I’ve greatly benefited from God’s (surprising at times!) teaching, such as finding more subtle ‘planks in my own eyes’, through interacting with a greater range of others who have different views, beliefs, gifts and experiences. I am deeply grateful.  

A prayer from Michael Leunig:

God give us rain when we expect sun.

Give us music when we expect trouble. 

Give us tears when we expect breakfast.

Give us dreams when we expect a storm.

Give us a stray dog when we expect congratulations.

God play with us, turn us sideways and around.

Amen

Peter Slack

We arrived as strangers and left as friends. The assembly hall at the Cathedral was filled with round tables, Ours was Table 15. I had never met my companions who would accompany me on the Plenary journey over a week. Over the week we worked hard as we came to learn each of each other’s faithfilled hopes for the Church in Australia.At the end of the week I was glad that I had  attended.

Claire Victory

I’m not sure I was ever truly ready for the Plenary Council – I’m not sure anyone could have been – and I’m also not sure I can really formulate yet, in words, how I feel about it now that it’s over. It was clear before (and certainly after) the first assembly that the actual motions coming out of the Plenary Council would, on the whole, not be as ambitious or definitive as many people (myself included) would have liked.

Throughout the first assembly I gained a sense of optimism that the sharing, listening and relationship-building would bring the church to a better place, and by the end of the second assembly I was affirmed in that sense that a large part of the treasure is indeed ‘the friends we made along the way’ or, perhaps more accurately, some of the barriers that were broken down.

Ultimately, as painful as many of the week’s events were, I feel a sense of gratitude that the second assembly unfolded in the way that it did; sometimes you don’t realise your full potential until you go through the tough times.

Kintsugi, the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold, strikes me at this moment in time as an appropriate metaphor for what happened last week; we embraced our flaws, were open and honest about the fear and discord, and ultimately came out the other side with something a little bit beautiful.

Cathy Jenkins

A defining memory of the assembly for me is the room of round tables with bishops, ordained and lay people, all straining to hear each other in honest dialogue. Were there tensions, yes. Were the fault lines of the Australian Catholic church laid bare – yes. Was their joy, yes. Will it make a difference – I think so.

The Church of Australia, under the leadership of the bishops, has taken a brave step into the world of synodality – the fruits of which are yet to unfold. We are at the beginning of a way of working and walking together and for that I am thankful.

Selina Hesham

We can argue endlessly over definitions of synodality, or we can simply do it. At the Plenary Council, we gave it a shot. The experience of the week was messy, rough, and painful. It was also patient, faithful, and tender. Maybe next time we will do it better because of what we have learned.

By the end, the journey of my table was precious, and I am deeply grateful for everyone’s contribution and commitment to listening to each other and engaging in the process, imperfect though it was.

I came away from the Plenary Council with my love for the Church renewed. This surprised me, because at the Plenary Council the Church was not at its finest. Our dirty washing showed our divisions, and our fault lines were exposed. And yet we were lovable. Perhaps that’s how God sees us. In all our mess and frailty and hopelessness, that’s when he loves us the most.

In his reflection on being an observer for the week, Rev John Gilmore, the President of the National Council of Churches in Australia said he wished his church could do what we did. I thought his comment strange and questioned him about it afterward. “You have synods all the time”, I said. “Yes, but we don’t commit to it the way you did, for seven days and coming to the conclusion you did, was truly commendable”. Sometimes having a perspective from the outside is helpful.

I know some members are disappointed. Others are dismissive and happy to go back into their ecclesial corner, comfortable in a church made in their own image. But I hope we can come away seeking the image of the Church that God has for us–divine, human, and glorious; made in the image of Jesus Christ, who loved us unto death, and has not given up on us yet.

Paul Fleming

First, congratulations on the operation of the Plenary Council.

Having been secretary of a parish animation team, I was there from the beginning of the process with great hopes for what the Spirit might do with us. I felt I had a good grasp of what the people were feeling. I was able to share ideas with many other parish groups and realised there was virtual unanimity across many key issues.

Despite the Coffee Conversations and the drafting of documents along the way, I felt that my reading of the landscape was at a disconnect with the developing documents and themes. Many felt the same way and even though the final outcomes were positive and promising, the range of ideas was narrowed, and they were diluted from their original substance. Better mediated discussions, more collaborative dialogue, between the various parties would have paid huge dividends at the public Assemblies. Thanking you.

Deearne Gould

The Plenary Council has been an amazing experience of examining the Catholic Church for the 21st Century

I have learnt the true meaning of Synodality – to listen….. to the Holy Spirit talking to me, then listen to my fellow Catholics and the voice of the Holy Spirit through the voices of my fellow Catholics and/ or the Community in which I live. We have so much richness in our diversity in the Church and the Holy Spirit is the cause and ‘blender’ of our diversity. My contribution in hope will be to pray and wait (for the Holy Spirit’s prompting) and “Let go and Let God” guide, guard and inspire His Church.

At the end of the Council, I felt exhausted

But Expectant

that the Holy Spirit will rouse the (Catholic) Faithful to implement the

more open and balanced,

welcoming and non-judgmental

 Church of Jesus

that we can “Go and make Disciples of all nations” Mat 28; 19 (or is it 18?)

Denis Stanley

Richard Lennan, one of the Council’s periti, wrote a book with the striking title, “Risking the Church”. God has taken a risk in entrusting his redeeming purpose to the church. We take a risk in living in the church – we experience there a community rich and varied in personalities and ideas, both sinful and saintly. Yet God is always faithful to us. I came to the Council with this thought ready for the work we were asked to do for the church.

The experience of the Second Assembly of the Plenary Council was not new to me. I have attended as an observer many Synods and Assemblies of other Christian Churches. Like the Plenary Council, these are prayerful political gatherings seeking to seriously discern a way to order the lives of their communities. I have experience in these councils wrestling over “bread and butter” issues as well as issues of tense controversy, debate, and decision-making. So I was somewhat prepared and ready for the experience of a church gathered to discern and decide.

I came to the Plenary Council of the Catholic Church in Australia fully aware of the authoritative nature of our gathering and so the responsibility laid upon us. Responsible for what? Responsible for shaping the work of the Consultation of God’s people, the writing groups and the decision making of the Council, into Decrees that would set priorities for the future of the Church in Australia. I wasn’t an observer now. I would be helping to make decisions for the church into which I had been baptised and ordained for service.

I was also fully aware of the uniqueness of Bishops, religious, priests, deacons and lay faithful gathered to discuss and to vote. I have kept my red and green voting cards as a reminder of this! Sitting at individual tables in mixed groups was an important part of the Council for me. I delighted in the depth and richness of the experience and love of the church gathered together, even though it brought with it differences.

Our daily and constant focus on prayer, key scripture texts and daily celebration of the Eucharist kept us focussed on Christ in our midst. I remember the intensity of listening to the words of Jesus from Matthew 7: 24, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise person who built their house on the rock”, when the Council encountered a moment of confusion and division.

Well what now? We know that an integral part of all the Church’s councils and Synods have been the years following these gatherings, a time to receive and implement the Decrees of the Council. This is where my concern and prayer now turn.

These years ahead will be crucial for the Church in Australia as we take these Decrees into our Church and the community around us where the Gospel needs to be heard afresh. However, this has been the Lord’s call to the church in every generation.

Bernadette Gibson

I found the whole process to be extremely well organised with great thought given throughout. I came to the Council with an open heart and whilst we hit some challenging moments which were quite distressing, we were navigated through these very well by Bishop Shane. The agility shown by the organisers resulted I believe, in a far more authentic process and was the moment when we all opened ourselves more fully to the work of the Holy Spirit.

I feel that this was a profoundly powerful moment for our Church, one which reflected the challenges and beauty of our diversity. It was disappointing at times when social media from some members and the public, were disrespectful of our hard-working liturgists.

I hope that every appreciation was conveyed to the musicians and the team who worked so hard to provide us with prayerful spaces throughout our time together. I was deeply humbled to be a part of the Council and pray that great fruits continue to bless our Australian Church as a result.

Thank you to all those involved at every level for your generosity of time, talent and spirit. At the end I was truly moved with great joy at the achievements of the Council.

John Warhurst

My experience of the Plenary Council has been memorable, and I have always tried to respond positively to requests for feedback, including the recent survey following the Second Assembly. It is fresh in my mind. This is not the occasion to repeat criticisms or suggestions for improvement. What I perhaps haven’t said was how much I enjoyed the spiritual environment, including the Indigenous environment, of the Second Assembly.

Congratulations and thanks to all involved. I especially want to thank the members of the Facilitation Team, Lana, Peter, Olivia, and Marion. They always responded quickly and generously to my requests. I am also greatly indebted to the members of the technical team. Finally, I would like to thank Bishop Shane Mackinlay for seriously and expeditiously engaging with me over the last few weeks when I raised issues with him.

Michelle Goh

I came to the second assembly of the Plenary Council feeling somewhat underprepared and uncertain about what the week ahead would bring, but at the same time open and hopeful for what the Holy Spirit would bring.

As it turned out, it seemed like the Spirit blew in and shook us thoroughly in the events of the assembly. And it felt like the Spirit also spoke through the weather that paralleled what was happening – first with the big storms and then the brilliant sunshine that followed.

The daily acknowledgment of country rituals led by the Aboriginal members of the PC, and the beautifully led morning prayers were notably powerful and moving. The opportunity to connect with so many people was amazing – old friends, acquaintances as well as new faces – faith-filled and deeply committed in their love of Christ and service of others, all with immense goodwill for moving our church into the future.

Listening to the variety of voices coming from a rich diversity of experiences and ministries both inspired me as well as challenged me to open my heart to be respectful and inclusive of differences. I come away from the Plenary Council with a sense of peace and hope, a sense of the Holy Spirit working in and through it all. I am reminded that many people throughout Australia are already doing great things in their lives of outreach missionary discipleship. This experience of being a member of the Plenary Council is one that will continue to touch my life deeply.

I am very thankful for this gift of grace. 

Marie Shaddock

My Experience of the Plenary is one of many highs and lows, of confusion and challenges: physical, mental, and spiritual and of successes and friendships. I am still struggling with putting everything into context, and getting my head around being involved in something of such a profound historical significance for us, the people of God in Australia. To have had even a tiny part in the shaping of such powerful and far-reaching decrees is both humbling and horrifying. It is something I find that I have nothing to compare with and so for now at least, it sits out on its own and remains a unique experience.

There were many highlights: the daily Masses, the morning prayer and beautiful spirituality of the ‘Welcome to Country’. I was touched by the music and the passion and courage of many speakers in their interventions; and I was in awe of the small band of committed organisers who seamlessly wove everything together.

I struggled with the physical elements of: cold, wind and rain that seemed to penetrate everywhere, as well as the suspicion, agendas and politics that also surfaced from time to time.

I came out on a high, as I think many did, happy that we had made a good start but that there was still much to do, as there is in any living organism.

I think about what differences there might have been had we been able to meet in person last October; but we will never know. There seems so many areas that could be developed further but always, the way forward  begins with a single step. 

Nichii Mardon

I offer the following short reflection on my experience of the Plenary Council, along with my thanks to all involved. I reflect on three words relating to what I have experienced in profound ways throughout the Plenary Council experience:

Participation: The Plenary Council has provided genuine opportunity for every person, parish, Catholic organisation, and diocese to participate individually and/or communally throughout the journey of Plenary. As a PC member and Chairperson, I have metaphorically both ‘watched from the balcony and danced on the dance-floor’ as this privileged and historic invitation to deep listening, genuine dialogue and bold speaking has been taken throughout the stages the Plenary Council. I consider myself to have been part of a privileged moment that has been remarkable, courageous and generous in spirit.

Community: I have been privileged to have joined with people – some previously known, others I’ve known of, and others unknown until now – who have become companions on the journey as co-members of Plenary Council, facilitators, advisors, and a range of support people, through whom the Holy Spirit has been present, and without whose commitment, the Holy Spirit could not have been so fully present. It truly has been ‘One body, many parts.’ I find this inspiring, encouraging and honouring of our diversity and faith commitment.

Growth: I have learnt so much through taking up the invitation to engage with the spirit and practice of synodality enabled through the Plenary Council experience. I feel that I have been part of a moment of significant growth as an individual, for our Australian Church community, and personally as a member of a local and broader faith community. I find this empowering, challenging and calling me into further reflection and learning.

Paul O’Keeffe

An absolutely great gathering. Full marks to all the organisers and IT people…brilliant. Full marks to Tim Costelloe and his team for their leadership and a special thanks to Shane MacKinlay for his brilliant leadership and knowledge of the documentation. Cool, calm and collected and handled pressure very well indeed! Great group at our small table to work with.

Clalia Mar

My journey as a member of the Plenary Council started as a local coordinator for our Diocese in what seems like an eternity ago. Many I encountered labelled it as just another ‘talk fest’ and I was worried that is what it would be. My journey has really brought to bear for me the joy and discomfort of co-responsibility. Engagement on the ground in the listening, dialogue, and discernment was at times disappointing due to the lack of numbers to sessions, however, I found this a particularly special time as many shared their very personal experiences of faith and this Church of ours.

The Facilitation Team was very responsive to the needs of the local coordinators as we supported our communities as part of the process. The organisation of the Assemblies and the times in between was extraordinary. The preparation of members (through Coffee Conversations and resources and the like) by the Facilitation Team and Steering Committee was critical in the lead-up to the Assemblies. A testament to the diligent organisation was a seamless transfer from face-to-face to online for me for the Second Assembly, on the very first day!  Whilst I was devasted not to attend in person, the online experience was almost as good!

The Wednesday of ‘Witnessing to the Dignity of Women and Men’ was a time of grace and pivotal. There was a deep sense of commitment by all members to listen to each other and share in the pain of many and then find a way forward, together. 

Louise Vella-Cox

The 2nd Plenary Council Assembly has been an extraordinary experience for me – far above and beyond my expectations in anticipation of the gathering. The Holy Spirit was with us each day in our deliberations and in our joys and frustrations.

Much credit must go to the organisers, the openers, writing group, volunteers and supporters who have contributed to the success of the assembly, particularly in the way they have navigated the challenging parts.

I fully believe the conversations and actions during Plenary will assist the Church to be once more, missionary. I heard many voices from people who are of faith and who feel very deeply about the direction of the Catholic Church in Australia. They spoke well, wisely and with conviction. I was blessed to be at a table of people who were honest, warm, open hearted and genuine in their discernment and a pleasure to work with throughout the week. They gave me hope for the future of the Australian Catholic Church.