Broken Bay Equipping its People for Plenary Council

The Diocese of Broken Bay gathered some 140 leaders from parishes, schools and agencies on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 August 2018, for training towards Plenary Council 2020. The purpose of the days was to equip ‘Local Animators’, recognised and selected by their local communities, to lead and facilitate dialogue in faith communities over coming weeks. It is this listening and dialogue that will shape the agenda of the Plenary Council as it considers the future of the Church in Australia.

animator training1Opened by Daniel Ang, Director of the Office for Evangelisation in Broken Bay, the two sessions shared background information on the Plenary Council, addressed the practical role of the Local Animator in bringing life to dialogue and discernment, introduced the diocesan guides and a companion document to assist facilitators practically host and run listening sessions, and provided suggestions and a workshop for embedding the dialogue within school and parish life.

Leaders from the Diocese of Wollongong, the Archdiocese of Sydney and the Syro-Malabar community also joined the training days, enriching the gathering by their questions and feedback.

Daniel shared, “The intent of the days together was not simply to provide information but inspiration, to affirm our shared belief that God continues to speak to the Church today and guide the Church through the Holy Spirit. The Church has always gathered at moments of important decision, to tune in to what the Spirit is saying and to respond. We have arrived at one of those moments.”

animator training2National Plenary Council facilitator, Lana Turvey-Collins provided an energetic and thorough introduction to the listening guides and dialogue process that has been designed to support local conversations. Lana noted the distinction between a partisan debate of issues and a process of discernment centred on what God wants to bring about in the life of the Church, which is facilitated through reflection on the experience and stories of our Catholic faith. Indeed, it was affirmed that a ‘consumer’ church has preferences while a missionary church will be marked by culture in which people talk about their actual relationship with God and are shaped by perspectives other than their own. This dialogue creates a space for the power of the Holy Spirit to shape our shared faith and practice, even beyond our expectations. In this way the potential of synodality for the mission of the Church was unpacked and welcomed by participants.

Simon Hyland, Leader of Liturgy and Retreats at St Augustine’s College, shared “The Plenary training day was a very positive experience. I felt a sense of excitement and hope for the future and it was wonderful to begin the dialogue around the question, ‘What do you think God is asking of us in our particular context?’ I had a fruitful discussion with other leaders from parishes and schools and felt a sense of awe as God’s Spirit guided our thoughts and conversations throughout the day. I’m looking forward to bringing this process back to the college where I work.”

Another Local Animator, Linda Taneja, from Corpus Christi Parish in St Ives, shared her enthusiasm for the Plenary process, “It is a time for change and it is wonderful to see and be part of this amazing opportunity within our Church. It was a truly invigorating and exciting day of discovery last week. As we venture forth in the steps of our Lord, I thank everyone involved for their efforts and leadership.” Richard Houwing from St Agatha’s Parish in Pennant Hills also shared his hope and thanksgiving, “I came to the training with healthy scepticism, but left joyful, enriched and encouraged.”

animator training4An important part of the training was for Local Animators to experience the listening and dialogue process for themselves before taking it out into their local communities. By stepping through the dialogue process, participants were able to consider their response to scenarios that might arise in conversation large or small, the practical resources provided to support them as facilitators, and techniques to ensure all voices are heard in their community and formally submitted to the national Plenary Council website (

This experience also complemented the listening and dialogue undertaken by the priests and deacons of the Broken Bay Diocese who have been praying, discerning and sharing their faith in deanery groups in recent weeks. It is important that the voice of the ordained also guides and shapes the agenda of the Plenary Council.

animator training3Also recognised at the training days was the fact that speaking about our experience of faith and the Church can bring about a great sense of liberation for many people who feel once again participants in the life of the Church, rather than distant observers. This is especially so as the habit of dialogue has not always been a part of our Catholic culture which has impeded the ability of faith communities to offer pastoral accompaniment. It was acknowledged too that conversations about the Church can also give rise to pain past and present. Practical tips were provided to ensure all facilitators and participants feel safe, with advice and support contacts provided as part of the training experience.

Other resources shared with the Local Animators included:

• Listening and Dialogue Guides for the Diocese of Broken Bay
• Local Animator or Facilitator Companion Notes
• Around 40 Suggestions for Implementation in Parishes and Schools
• Questions & Answers Document for Local Animators
• Safeguarding Document in the Event of a Disclosure of Abuse or Other Crime
• Parish Guide provided by the ACBC National Facilitation Team

These are available on the new Broken Bay website:

animator training5Daniel concluded, “It’s important that all our people, whether deeply involved, partially engaged, disillusioned or on the margins, receive an invitation and opportunity to share their experience of faith and the Church, especially between August and October which is our focused period of conversation in the Broken Bay Diocese. We want our people to feel confident and equipped to take that dialogue forwards, but above all to have a fresh heart for what God can do in our local communities when we genuinely listen to the Spirit and to one another. We are called to listen to each other in our shared life and also in our differences. This provides an authentic path for discerning what God is asking of us at this time”.