A visiting bishop from Australia has encouraged Kiwi priests to be “digital disciples”, involved in social media.

Bishop Richard Umbers, an auxiliary bishop of Sydney, gave this exhortation at a Hamilton diocese priests’ summer gathering in Rotorua on January 30-31.

The bishop spoke on evangelisation and it was in this context that he made the “digital disciples” call.

Saying it would be a good if each parish could have a Facebook page, Bishop Umbers highlighted the need to do it carefully, with good protocols established.

But he recommended that good use be made of digital resources, such as podcasts, and that these be shared with parishioners.

Bishop Umbers, who grew up in Papatoetoe in Auckland, shared with the priests some of the aspects of Sydney archdiocese (while acknowledging it is a very different diocese from Hamilton).

He warned of the dangers in parishes in which older people in ministries becoming “cliquey” and therefore do not allow younger people to come through.

He also spoke of the need for priests to be “shepherd pastors”, even in large parishes, and also encouraged priests to read philosophy (Bishop Umbers had been a tutor and lecturer in philosophy at the Sydney campus of the University of Notre Dame Australia).

Sydney archdiocese departments are moving towards some “open plan” office settings, the bishop added, to try to guard against the development of a silo mentality, where departments have little to do with each other, despite resource sharing being possible and worthwhile.

There were 30 priests at the summer gathering, as well as three  seminarians. The gathering, held annually, is a time to re-group after the summer, both socially and for formation.

Fr Matt McAuslin welcomed Bishop Umbers on behalf of the priests, and told him how proud New Zealanders are of his ordination as auxiliary bishop.

Bishop Umbers visited his elderly mother in Auckland before returning to Australia. He was also present at the installation of Fr Peter Tipene as dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland.