Are NZ Rural Parishes the New Bugey?
Are NZ Parishes the New Bugey?
Your September Reflection and Guide

Click HERE to download this month's reflection.

Click HERE to download the guide.

Begin With Prayer
Then read:

Luke 10:1-9

After this the Lord appointed seventy two others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place ....  He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. … Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, ... say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

Before you read the script,

Reflect on the Scripture above. Note the 72 were Lay Disciples. Share your personal word or phrase and what it means for you. Now read the Marist Moment and the reflection.

Marist Moment: SM Constitutions 19b

Marists … will be especially concerned to enable Laity to live more fully their Christian vocation and exercise their role in the life and ministry of the Church.

Read the reflection

Is the new Bugey a Parish in Southland? - a reflection on how the Society of Mary might assist rural parishes in New Zealand.

Chris Shaw

1. Some Background
Over the past 18 months, as I have been exploring Marist Spirituality, I have been thinking about the early Society of Mary and the work of its founders. From 1825 to 1829 the first Marists worked to revive the church in the parishes of the Bugey, a series of mountain villages in the diocese of Belley, France. As Craig Larkin (A Certain Way, p. 128) puts it "... the missions of the Bugey represent their call to seek out and gather those in their own country who find themselves for whatever reason at the margins and beyond the margins of the Church...".
Here, I would like to consider some of the ways in which rural parishes might be seen to be moving slowly to the margins of the church.

2. Issues for Rural Parishes
For the past 15 years, I have worshipped in the rural parish of St Bernard in Te Anau. This parish is centred on the church in Te Anau and one in Mossburn, some 55km away. At different times, the parish has been associated with the team of priests in Gore, has had its own resident parish priest and has been linked to the parish in Winton. Currently, Mass is celebrated in Te Anau on a Saturday evening and in Mossburn on Sunday morning.

The six key issues that the parish faces are:
• a reduction in the number of active parishioners, leading to a reduction in parish income, due to:
- an ageing population, with many moving away to be closer to family
- difficulties with a Saturday Mass
- issues for many about the Church hierarchy's response to the abuse-by-Clerics crisis

• an increased burden on small parishes due to such things as
- reporting to Charities Services at parish-level
- costs of software tools for accounting
- cost of Diocesan levies.

• a trend where relatively large parishes have been joined to other nearby parishes in metropolitan areas, whereas similar rationalising or reorganising has not taken place in some rural parishes

• difficulties accessing faith leadership on a day-to-day basis

• the "tyranny of distance", where travel costs make up a large proportion of the parishes outgoings, even when priests do not take the full allocated mileage rate and parishioners travel at their own costs to meetings

• a lack of energy to promote the Gospel and encourage people to join the Catholic community.

3. Ways to Help in Rural Parishes
Given this, what exactly is it that those in rural parishes want?
I believe these key needs are:
• access to the sacraments: Mass, Baptism, First Communion, Marriage, Anointing of the sick and dying, Funeral/Burial Services

• access to spiritual direction and enrichment

• opportunities to meet and worship as a faith community.
None of these things depend on infrastructure such as dedicated buildings or finance, rather they depend on the whole Church community, lay people, religious and ordained ministers, collaborating and developing strategies and actions for faith and mission within each parish.

4. A Marist Dimension
So where does Marist Spirituality link to the situation in rural parishes?
I feel we need to consider four things:
i. Being a "Support for the Church". "I supported the Church at her birth; I shall do so again at the end of time." We need rural parishes to be re-born into new entities with new ways of working for the modern 21st century world, using communications technologies to overcome the tyranny of distance. This needs appropriate support for rural parishes which comes from the diocese and from associated pan-Church organisations.

ii. Being "Instruments of Mercy". Like Marists, rural parishes need to "embrace and welcome all, exclude no one and have an open heart to everyone". Given all that is in the current news about the Christian faith, this would be a real breath of fresh air for many.

iii. Promoting "The Work of Mary" and "A Missionary Spirit". This spirit is open to all people, excluding no one. Parishes need to work with other faith communities to share resources.

iv. Confirming a stand of "No to Greed, Pride and Power". We need to find a simple way to promote faith and worship, which reduces expenses on infrastructure and travel.

5. What Next?
From all this, it is clear that rural parishes need to find a new way of working.
Perhaps now is the time for a renewed Marist Mission to the Bugey of Aotearoa New Zealand, and to rural parishes in general, where the Society of Mary and the wider Marist family can work with the Bishops to renew faith and worship in rural areas. Marist Laity has the potential to make a significant contribution to finding innovative solutions to these issues, possibly providing a forum for lay leaders in parishes to learn and share experiences, to study and to develop skills.

Begin your sharing

Chris said:“Perhaps now is the time for a renewed Marist Mission to the Bugey of Aotearoa New Zealand, and rural parishes in general, ... Marist Laity has the potential to make a significant contribution to finding innovative solutions to these issues.

1. What is your experience of Catholic life in Rural New Zealand?

2. What struck you most from Chris’s reflection?

3. In October we are asked to make Mission the focus of every Baptized Catholic. Imagine reaching out to rural areas in your Diocese. Brainstorm some possible ‘mission’ projects?

4.What support would you need from Marist Laity or the wider Marist Family to put ideas into action?

5. Please send your responses, ideas and feedback to Bev at the Marist Laity Office after your meeting.

Pray for the grace you need to step out in mission.
Then conclude together with this ancient prayer:

We fly to your protection O holy mother of God,

despise not our prayers in our necessities

but deliver us from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.

Fr Colin and all our Marist missionaries, Pray for us. Amen.