Reflection from Father Simon – St Francis of Assisi Parish, Mairehau – 9th September 2018
Last weekend (2nd September) St Francis of Assisi parishioners were surprised to learn that Bishop Paul Martin has announced a cessation of all church building and planning in Christchurch city while a major review is undertaken of the needs of the Catholic Church in our diocese.
I know that this was hard news to hear. For all of us. Of all our communities, St Francis of Assisi is most sharply affected because we were poised to begin our build imminently. We were looking forward to our long-awaited church and facilities rising up from the ground here at Innes Road.
I want to acknowledge the grace with which you received this news over the weekend. As I said to parishioners I have had two weeks to begin my personal work of processing this surprising development. For yourselves it was totally unexpected.
I sincerely and respectfully call on each of you to catch your breath and sit with this new reality. We need to grieve the passing of this particular dream, so that we can prepare for the new vision which will unfold before us. It’s okay to feel grumpy. We will work on understanding this, each in our own way and in our own time.
Over these days I have been drawn to think of that famous Old Testament character, Job. The author of the book of Job takes as his starting point an old folk story about this righteous patriarch who remained faithful under the severest trials which God could visit upon him. Step by step Job was deprived of all that was precious to him. He lost his livestock, then his servants, then his children died (remember this is an allegory), then his wife told him to curse God, but he refused. Even his three close friends offer no solace, in fact suggesting that his problems were probably due to him deserving them!
An interesting moment comes when Job declares a heart-felt wish that one day there might be someone who could mediate between himself and God – an Old Testament allusion to the hope that one day a messiah would come to save humanity.
In a divinely inspired moment of deep wisdom, Job declares –
‘Naked I came out of my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD’ (Job 1:21)
There’s something about the way Job let’s go of his personal plans and expectations which I’m finding helpful as I process the news that our church plans are not going ahead. It wasn’t that Job didn’t care about the events around him – he cared passionately. But he had an unshakeable trust that God would assist him to find a way forward even in the midst of his suffering and disappointments.
I am convinced that a rediscovery of abandonment into the will of God for us will bring us rich blessings. I’m not advocating a collapse into helplessness. Rather this is about seeking to understand God’s will in the context of our parish life, against the backdrop of the needs of the diocese.
Here are some questions which may be in your mind at this time, with answers as best I am able to give them:
What has happened?
The Bishop has written to our parish advising that he wants all church building projects to stop.
Bishop Paul wants to take advice on the placement of churches and facilities across Christchurch, and indeed across the diocese.
What does this mean for St Francis of Assisi Parish?
We stay here until a new larger church is built for us here or somewhere else.
What about our School?
Our school remains at the heart of our mission and parish life. If our church is built elsewhere, a small chapel will be established on the school site.
What about the donations we’ve made and pledged for the new church?
The Bishop is yet to advise how he will deal with this, but I expect he will communicate directly with givers about what’s to happen next.
What is the time frame for moving ahead?
I simply don’t know. Bishop Paul has indicated that he understands that our time of waiting up to now has been demanding for parishioners. We yearn to move ahead. Your parish council and I are deeply conscious of this. My sense is that the bishop will work hard to clarify the next steps without delay. An amount of work has been done by parishes already and this will be made available to the bishop and his advisors.
What can we do now?
Pray. Bring it before the Lord. Ask God to grant you patience and resilience as we progress through this time. I am turning to our special patron St Francis for his consolation and wisdom. He has brought us wonderfully right to this point. I know he will continue to guide us with great love, should that be our wish. And who wouldn’t wish for that. Please keep Bishop Paul in your prayers too in his leadership of our diocese.
That’s all I have for you at the moment. As further information becomes available about the bishop’s plans we will communicate directly and promptly with you.
Father Simon Eccleton