A Research Project Towards A Graduate Diploma in Theology
United Theological Institute
St Vincent's, Redfern may well be spoken of as a prophetic
community in that it has an established solidarity with
those who are traditionally seen to be on the "fringes"
of society. This is seen in the various networks which
have sprung up around the church, and in the life commitment
of many of those who are worshippers at the Sunday Liturgy.
The difference is that the so-called "fringe"
people are not regarded as being marginalised: they
are seen as central to the message of the gospel and
to the community itself. In fact, the pastor believes
that the aboriginal people especially are the ones who
image the Kingdom in the Australian church. Moreover,
the sense of prophecy finds a challenging voice in the
Sunday Eucharist, and especially in the proclamation
of the Gospel. The words of Peter to Jesus "To
whom shall we go?" were echoed in the voice of
one of the respondents. This is a comment which reflects
a deep experience of the enriching nature of the Sunday
worship or at least an element of it. It also might
be a rather challenging statement about the church in
Sydney and the plight of a number of people searching
for a critical social theology.
Many would criticise the Redfern parish on various
aspects of its organisation. For example, it does not
have the type of structure which calls for a diversity
of ministries among the laity of the congregation. It
has none of the "usual" types of organisational
structures which one associates with many of the more
progressive parishes which have undergone renewal since
Vatican II. There are no organised ministers of the
Eucharist, no ministries to the sick, to youth, to the
elderly, to migrants or to other aspects of the devotional
and social aspects of church. The ministry and mission
which flow from this community come from the personal
commitment of individuals and are exercised in freedom.
It is a spontaneous response to needs which arises from
awareness, sensitivity and from personal conviction.
What might be remembered is that Redfern is really
not a parish: in the mind of the pastor it was never
intended to be. So for the past nineteen years, there
has been no intention of creating parish in the strict
sense of the word. Rather, it is seen as a community
which is attuned to the social milieu in which it is
situated. So, to attempt to compare Redfern with any
other parish is a futile exercise: any criticism at
this level has simply no foundation in ethos or implementation.
At the conclusion of her study, "Australia: Some
Issues Facing the Catholic Church", Carmel Levi
suggests four criteria of proclamation integral to the
Mission of the Church if it is to proclaim justice.
The proclamation must be credible, informed, co-ordinated
and integrated. This study would seem to suggest that
the proclamation of the Gospel in Redfern is definitely
alive to such criteria, though areas of challenge could
be centred on its praxis of integration and co-ordination.
While there are problems and difficulties associated
with any person or community which takes a prophetic
stance, it would seem that the statement which has been
made by the Redfern community is one which has impacted
not only on those who worship at the church but on much
of the wider secular and church society. Of course there
will be critics - that is the nature of prophecy. The
important question addressed in this research is to
question whether or not Redfern is a prophetic community.
The very fact that it has brought contradiction and
opposition is one of the sure signs that it has proclaimed
a message little heard or heeded by many others. Moreover,
for the Australian church might it not be a sign of
hope? Since so many of our church institutions are about
maintenance and tradition - albeit a questionable tradition
at times - it is refreshing to see a community which
looks at an age-old question with new eyes. Or perhaps
it would be truer to say that they are looking at an
age-old question illumined with the gospel light. Not
only are they taking seriously the words of Jesus from
the mouth of Isaiah, "He sent me to bring good
news to the poor", they are earnestly attempting,
for the most part, either to live out the example of
Jesus who found his life and hope among those who were
regarded by society as the marginalised, or dealing
with questions which trouble and confront them in their
own life experiences. Any community which can turn so
many secure and safely established lives upside down,
as well as give new life and hope to those who seem
to be forgotten by the mainstream of Catholicism cannot
be said to be anything other than prophetic.
How beautiful on the Mountains,
are the feet of one who brings good news
who heralds peace, brings happiness,
and tells Zion,
'Your God is King!'
( Isaiah 52: 7 )
Douglas D. Akehurst