Felicity Knobel is the Director of Mission at Loreto College Ballarat. She attended the First Assembly of the Plenary Council in October as a delegate for the Diocese of Ballarat.
When I first became involved in the Plenary Council, it was in response to a call for volunteers to come forward to assist with perhaps one meeting of discernment for my parish. Alongside my now friend and colleague Jillian Hogbin, we set about on a journey that certainly wasn’t the promised one meeting, but a longer journey that has taken me at times from my comfort zone and has made me look at my faith, look at the Church and look at the people in the community in a way that continues to bring more questions than answers.
The First Assembly took place online for five days. It was a time of joy and frustration, testing of patience, light bulb moments and everything in between. I was in a group of 30 people from all occupations, backgrounds, ages, sexes, experiences and places in Australia. Our focus was discerning the question: How might we better see the future of Catholic education (primary, secondary and tertiary) through a missionary lens? I have been a teacher (mostly in Catholic education) for over 20 years, and when choosing this question, I knew that I would bring my experience and knowledge to this question, specifically, my experiences of being raised in a Catholic family, attending Catholic primary, secondary and tertiary institutions and, importantly, my experience of being a parent raising children in the faith community and my involvement in our primary school.
Each day, a different scripture text was used to discern our question. We were then asked to share with our smaller group what is in our prayer today. We were called to listen to not only ourselves but to all people in our group. The second phase was asking us to share what we heard in our group and how we felt. For the last 18 months, like everyone, I have spent significant time online on zooms, google meets and in team meetings. I know that we were fortunate to meet online and begin this process; however, difficulty can arise in staring at a screen and not sharing as meaningfully as we might if we were together. Notwithstanding the frustration of being online, there have been moments of really understanding where someone is coming from, a glimpse of something different, understanding something I hadn’t considered, particularly when I disagree with what is being said. In one of our sessions, late one afternoon when there were tired and (perhaps) frustrated people, one wise soul in our group spoke about the fact that we had to sit with the anxiety of how we were feeling with our question, with where we were going and how we were going to get there.
Sometimes we have to sit with the discomfort of differing opinions. Sometimes we need to have that feeling of hopelessness. Sometimes we need to be frustrated by the views of others. We are called in this process to allow convergence. We have been able to tell each other everything that we do well, where we need improvement, where we have been wrong and where change is required. Now we are looking to change tack so that the wind can be in our sails and we can move in a direction that fulfils the mission of our Catholic faith.
I could write many things about what the Church needs to do next and what the Plenary Council should set out to achieve in the coming years. We all could. However, when I started this process, I remember saying that I have a distinct, simple memory as a child playing after Mass with cousins and friends as our parents stood around and talked for what seemed like forever. There was no urgency to leave, and we would inevitably be one of the last families to depart. It felt so safe. I look back and realise I was truly blessed to have this opportunity to be brought up in a faith that was not just about inside the Church; it was about being part of something that I still can’t quite explain in words. The Plenary Council needs to achieve this same sentiment for our Church, where all people are included and belong in something that collectively we can’t quite put into words because we don’t need to; we simply know.
Author: Felicity Knobel, Director of Mission, Loreto College Ballarat