by JULIE SOUTH
HAMILTON — When NZ Catholic talked to people in the pews of Hamilton city earlier this year (NZ Catholic, April 20) about the proposed new Strategic Plan 2014-2015, few people
understood what it was or how it affected them.
That response raised the question “Why”? Why were Hamiltonians reluctant to talk and/or felt
they were unable to give an informed or educated answer?
Were the “Plan! What Plan?” replies caused by a lack of clarity of information from the planning committee? Or was there information but a lack of clear expectations as to the
To shed light on these questions, Msgr Trevor Murray invited NZ Catholic to attend the Hamilton city consultation meeting at the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Msgr Murray, Fr Darren Mc-Farlane and Carole Fleming were visiting each new collegial area
within the diocese to share the bishop’s vision about the plan’s implementation.
Bishop Browne formed the three-person committee to identify a strategy to solve the diocese’s
lack of active-ministry priests.
On May 21, representatives of various ministries from within the existing Hillcrest, Melville, Fairfield and Hamilton city parishes met at the cathedral to learn how the proposed
Hamilton Central collegial area changes would affect their parish’s ministries.
Msgr Murray told the meeting the plan was inspired by Pope Francis’s call for priests to be shepherds who “smell like their sheep”.
There was concern by those who had received a copy of the document only at the meeting that they were being asked to make decisions on something they had had no opportunity to study or consider. Lack of publicly available information before the meeting appeared to have stymied
the committee’s Hamilton Central progress.
This has now been rectified somewhat as the Chanel Centre website (http://proudtobecatholic.
org.nz) was updated on May 23 with information published from Kete Korero (the official publication of Hamilton diocese), together with the announcement that a dedicated
“who is my neighbour” website would be going live “shortly”.
It appears everyone in the diocese agrees change needs to happen.
However, what is in question Central parishes get more time for many is “how”. It is feared that allocating resources according to a priest headcount will result in a shortsighted stopgap measure.
According to the plan, Hamilton diocese has about 10,000 Mass going parishioners.
The plan proposes the same number of priests (3) for the 2236 Mass goers in the new Hamilton
Central collegial area, as for the new Taumarunui-Te Awamutu collegial area, which has 537 Mass goers.
Similarly, the Tauranga- Mt Maunganui new collegial area has about 2030, with three priests allocated to it.
No priests deny the need for change. However, some Hamilton city priests question the speed at
which the changes are being implemented, together with the one-size fits-all approach. One aspect they question is the apparent inequity in distribution of priests.
Msgr Murray stressed that he and his committee knew the plan as presented was not perfect and
Bishop Browne was open to negotiation and tweaking. He also agreed that although the desired timeline was calling for completion by December 31, an extra 12 months may be necessary for Hamilton Central.
Metropolitan parishes are usually close to each other. It therefore makes sense for rationalisation of Mass times when a drive of an extra 5-10 minutes may be involved — especially on Sunday mornings when traffic is usually light. Hamilton City celebrates 11 Sunday Masses within an area of about 50 square kilometres.
Hamilton Central priests agreed that if all they did, day in day out, was Sunday Mass, baptisms, weddings and funerals, the ratio of one priest to about 800 parishioners
might work. However, “smelling like sheep” requires metropolitan priests to roll up
their sleeves and spend time in situations, places and with people where some other
folk may fear to tread.
Sometimes economy of scale does not apply. The administration requirements of metropolitan parishes are greater and support teams are already overloaded and under-resourced.
City parishes hear the cries of the poor; metropolitan ministries help ensure those on the fringes are fed and brought within the fold of agencies who can help them.
Workers and volunteers within city ministries take on an ovis-like smell every time they go looking for lost pennies or sheep when they offer drinks from the well. City priests ensure that immigrants who join their flocks are not abandoned or lost.
They help migrants settle, get jobs, find accommodation, get schooled, make new friends.
And city priests build the relationships necessary to help strengthen the future of the
Church: inside schools. Rapport with youth takes time and commitment.
Those extra ministries occur on a larger scale in metropolitan areas.
The proposed Hamilton Plan replaces its three deaneries with nine “collegial areas”. The committee highlighted the three aspects of collegiality: “listening”, “talking” and “leadership”. On May 21, representatives listened to the committee talk.
Those who listened now believe it is their time to start the leadership-listening-talking phase within their ministries. They want to go to the coalface so everyone affected has the opportunity to listen and talk.
Hamilton City parishes have the expertise, skill and wisdom to call on when it comes to taking the next step. There are men and women in the pews on Sundays who know what to do and how to do it with change and process management.
The only apparent shortfall is parish priests. There appears to be no shortfall of religious women, men or laity who are more than willing to be able to contribute more actively and thus relieve the burden priests face.
The committee agreed to give the new Hamilton Central representatives more time to consult
with those affected and to return with a solution for consideration, keeping in mind that time is much strictly of the essence.
by JULIE SOUTH