NZ bishop to lead parish renewal conference in Sydney

New Zealand’s Bishop John Adams will be leading talks at this year’s Parish Renewal Conference in Sydney.

It could be said his experience seeing his church reduced to rubble during the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes uniquely qualifies Adams for the task. He has a broader sense of parish renewal perhaps.

“I was standing next to our triple unreinforced brick church which suffered the biggest of the earthquakes. I watched it fall into the adjoining creek” he recalls.

A blasted landscape

On 22 February 2011, Bishop – then parish priest – Adams had been at St Joseph’s in Papanui for only three weeks.

Then the earthquake struck.

It claimed 185 lives and changed the cityscape forever. St Joseph’s was one of many landmark buildings to fall victim to nature’s forces that day.

“We never got back inside it. I crept in and saved some statues. No one knows about it, because you weren’t supposed to go anywhere near those buildings” the bishop says.

“You literally risked your life because the aftershocks were quite big, for quite a long time.”

The worst wasn’t over though.

The death toll in his parish mounted.

“I buried a person a day for the next five days. I had just funeral after funeral after funeral” he says.

Keeping the parish going

Having to deal with an event so shocking, so huge and so sudden isn’t something anyone expects. Yet survivors did pick themselves up and cope.

“When something happens, you surprise yourself. The adrenaline gets going and you really start just working faster and harder. And I was proud of my parishioners from that point of view” Adams says.

“We delivered food parcels, people brought in their barbecues, we’d put them on the backs of trailers and we’d go into the poor parts of Christchurch and have a big cookout for the people trying to live in the streets.

“It was a tremendous surge of goodness from the Catholic community.”

Mass continued in a makeshift hall. Twelve hundred people shared a space built for 200.

For seven years, Adams rolled up his sleeves and got on with the job of leading his parish.

But while he rebuilt the exterior of his church, he felt something was amiss with his parishioners’ interior lives.

“Our parish was treading water. People were happy. But there was no sense of urgency, there was no conversion” Adams says. He blamed himself.

He wanted to make disciples and nurture a parish where evangelisation thrived.

Evangelising the people

In 2019 when Adams was reassigned to a semi-rural parish in Rangiora, he saw a chance to revive the parish community.

“It was an ageing parish in decline — declining number of baptisms, declining number of confirmations, declining first Holy Communions.”

Then began the task of establishing a vision and mission for the parish, starting with creating an atmosphere of welcoming.

It was a “painfully slow process” he says.

Slow processes weren’t good enough he decided. He needed to be tough. “I had to be bold” he says.

“We started doing things like on the night confirmation class started, the parents would drop their kids off for confirmation and we wouldn’t let [the parents] go home. They would go and do Alpha.

“So, we not only sacramentalised the kids, but we evangelised the families.

“Out of a parish of 500, we had 380 doing Alpha! Those doing Alpha were leading the next course. The parish started to catch on fire and the fruits started to come.”

Leading parish renewal

Adams plans to share the strategies he used in his four-year term in Rangiora at the Parish Renewal Conference that starts on 3 August.

“I want my brother priests to know this is possible and it works. It’s about engagement and about creating ‘on ramps’, getting people on the ‘on ramps’ on that journey. I’m excited!” he says.

Sr Anastasia Reeves OP from the Parish Renewal Team is excited about what the bishop will bring to the conference.

“This time a year ago Bishop John was a regular parish priest, leading transformation effectively but very humbly.

“I think it will be a great gift to our local church for Bishop John’s experience and wisdom to be shared more widely.”


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News category: New Zealand.

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