Being signposts to God’s love in the community

The Archbishop of Perth in Western Australia, says the Church is facing huge challenges in reaching young people with the good news, but there are stories of hope springing up among their communities.

The Most Revd Kay Goldsworthy, was the first woman to be ordained to the episcopate in Australia in 2008. Now heading up the metropolitan Diocese of Perth on the far west of Australia, she oversees some 105 parishes located in a vibrant and lively part of the world.

Archbishop Kay talked to the Lambeth Conference team about the challenges she is facing including reconciliation with the indigenous people of Australia in their area and how to reach out to the next generation with the gospel.

“Part of proclaiming the good news at the moment really means working through how it is that we as a church are able to take steps of reconciliation with the first peoples of this country. In the part of the world where I live, the Aboriginal community here is the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation. We are giving thought and action about how we can further our role in being reconciled, acknowledging the first peoples of this land, and ensuring that our footprint is gentle into the future.”

“I speak from a context both of lament and repentance, as well as hope for the future. And from a real sense of the mercy and grace of God. I’m on a land which is ancient, and which has a continuous culture of thousands and thousands and thousands of years that we want to honour.” Archbishop Kay said there were many questions the European community of English speaking communities needed to ask themselves about how to say sorry, how to make reparation for past injustices and how to support and hear what they can do for a better and brighter world.

Talking about barriers to faith in their communities she said there had been a loss of trust in the Church and also an apathy from many young people.

“In Australia, one of a series of recent surveys revealed that a large number of young people don’t feel very interested in the life of the church. And a university professor has coined a new word, ‘apatheist’. I love these new words! It sums up both groups of people, if you like, the apathetic, those who couldn’t care less, and those who are strongly atheistic in their stance. The proclamation of the good news that we Christians have to give, is in that context for young people. So that’s been a very interesting challenge.”

With almost 20,000 young people in schools in the diocese, Archbishop Kay said they were focused on mission across schools in a variety of ways.

“That’s one of the ways in which we are working at a macro kind of level to reach young people. There are young people who are often living with very complex situations at home or who are living without a lot of hope.” Through various agencies and in parishes they are running programmes and opportunities to engage young people through offering opportunities such as a gaming facility in their church halls. The Archbishop said they are also reaching out to young people at risk of homelessness.

“But we are also alongside young people who are clearly going to be leaders into the future. Parishes are encouraging young people to take leadership roles, to grow in their understanding of themselves as disciples, and be equipped to be witnesses for the hope that’s within them.”

“I think that every Christian person, is a signpost to the life of Christ and the invitation that God wants to make, and is making in our lives, to know Him and to follow him into making Him known.”

“I’ve been encouraged by the different things that clergy and lay leaders are doing in parish life, including those people who are in very remote areas. One of the parishes in our diocese is a seven hour drive from the city. So, it’s a long way away.”

She explained that the priest in this particular gold mining town had made good connections into the community, writing weekly articles in the local newspaper and being an honorary chaplain in the local mining school, where students train for various roles in the mining community.

“The priest is also increasingly connected with the Aboriginal community. And with those around and alongside her, they’re able to be signs of the good news that the church is living as part of the kind of leaven, I suppose, but as the life of the church in a wider community.”

In another parish they found there were lots of young people who had come from overseas and so they decided to offer English as a second language courses for them.

The Archbishop explained, “As they did that, they discovered there were a lot of people who had been released from detention and into the community as refugees. They had arrived seeking friendship, seeking community and seeking support. As they began to learn English, and were supported by the people in the life of that parish community, they heard the good news of Jesus, and some of them converted to Christianity. Through this a Farsi speaking congregation was grown!”

“These stories are an inspiration for me. A couple of weeks ago, I was at a parish church where every Friday a community lunch is laid on. I sat alongside some people for whom being homeless had been a big part of their story.” Archbishop Kay discovered that many of those attending the lunch had come from complex situations including substance abuse or drugs and alcohol dependencies.

“This provision of care through food is the story of Jesus, who often shared food with people who didn’t know how to put a foot inside a religious space. And yet this religious space had opened itself up and faced the community, so that people are finding for themselves, fresh hope, fresh heart, and new ways of responding to God in their lives.”

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