STRATEGIC, CONCEPTUAL AND ANALYTICAL SKILLS: THE CONSCIENCE INFORMING PROCESS, CATHSOC, 1998 THE UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY:
The "conscientisation process" during my time as Chaplain to The University of Sydney was carried out in response to a request for support to the registered Catholic Student group on campus (Cathsoc), by another unregistered Christian group calling itself University Bible Study (UBS). UBS was removed from campus by the University Union during orientation week in 1998 because it was an unregistered group. UBS came to the attention of the University Union (UU) because it was displaying material inconsistent with UU anti-vilification policy. The specific material was a publication called “The True the False and the Homosexual” by Samuel L Waldron, and UBS desired Cathsoc’s support for its anti-homosexual stance.
In response, I and a colleague organised a series of seminars examining the biblical, theological, sociological, psychological, and personal perspectives. The seminars were followed by a period of extensive consultation within the Cathsoc community in order to draft a public response to UBS. As an exercise in bringing faith and the academic milieu into a dialogue, which respected both, the project was successful. It also assisted Cathsoc to make an informed, credible and reasoned response to UBS’s request. It was also successful in holding together, and indeed strengthening, Cathsoc’s sense of community and mutual respect despite working through to a decisive conclusion on a potentially divisive issue in a community with diverse views. It was a real exercise in building genuine acceptance of diversity.
The process we organised was strategic, conceptual and analytical because we sought to move beyond the usual polarisation of positions endemic to the standard response of most mainstream Churches’ to homosexuality, bringing the latest theological and biblical thought into a genuine dialogue with mainstream contemporary sociological and psychological thought, and taking account of diverse personal experiences, in order to craft new perspectives on a crucial issue.
It was strategic, analytical and conceptual in that we realised that the chaplaincy within the university milieu was an appropriate place in which to hold such a dialogue. It was strategic in that we considered the potential impact in regard to the Catholic community on campus and worked to maintain genuine mutual respect between those with differing opinions. It was strategic in that we considered the possible ramifications for the chaplaincy and our role as chaplains and so worked to keep our immediate supervisor, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, fully informed. Bishop Robinson , along expressed his high regard for our work as chaplains, including in regard to this process, in a personal reference. All professional and indenpendent appraisals were characterised by high praise for our work as chaplains.
INTERPERSONAL, LIAISON, NEGOTIATION AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION SKILLS: CHAPLAIN'S CENTRE COORDINATOR: FORMULATION OF INAUGURAL GUIDELINES FOR CHAPLAINCY 2000-2001
As Coordinator of the Chaplains’ Centre at The University of Sydney, for over two years, among other tasks, I liaised with senior university administrators, church leaders and the chaplains appointed to the university to negotiate and finalise the inaugural Guidelines for University Chaplaincy at The University of Sydney. The negotiations had been ongoing but had stalled and I was asked by the Univeristy administration to take on the Coordinator's role specifically so I could facilitate the negotiations. I was personally thanked by letter from the University Registrar, Dr William Adams, for my “considerable contribution” in the twice peer elected role as Coordinator of the Chaplains’ Centre for two consecutive terms.
The negotiations around the Chaplaincy Guidelines involved a number of difficult issues. The most complex and delicate of these were issues around the practice of proselytisation, particularly aggressive proselytisation practices, such as the denigration of a religious group and a range of subtle variations on this, on the part of some religious traditions. On the one hand the university had a duty of care in regards to the psychological wellbeing of students, staff and any other persons who might happen to be on campus, some of whom could be children. The university, rightly so, held that some proselytisation practices could not be considered compatible with this duty of care and sought to limit such practices through the Guidelines. On the other hand, some religious traditions or practitioners consider an active practice of proselytisation to be central to their religious identity.
We had to analyse the differing conceptions of proselytisation (and the related term evangelization) as used in the discrete discourses of various religious-theological traditions, in contemporary everyday usage, and in possible legal uses. We had to develop common threads of understanding, a shared conception of what we were talking about, firstly so that a conversation could happen amongst the chaplains, and secondly so a shared understanding and agreement could then be communicated to, and negotiated with, university administrators. These were complex and delicate discussions, both within the Chaplaincy Centre, and then between the Centre and the university, in which I played the central communication, negotiation, liaison and facilitation role.
COLLABORATIVE LEADERSHIP: PARISH PASTORAL COORDINATOR, ST MARY'S PARISH ERSKINEVILLE, CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF SYDNEY 1995-1996.
In 1995 I took on a ground breaking leadership role within the Australian Catholic Church in being the first lay (non-ordanined) person to exercise pastoral leadership of a parish in over 150 years. The orignal proposal by a Catholic Order called the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) who had provided personnel for the parish for some time previously and of which I am a lay member, provided for no parish priest.to be formally appointed, but a team of myself and an MSC priest. Archdiocesan authorities, however, while agreeing with the proposal, insisted on the formal appointment of a parish priest, who in an act of compromise, it was agreed would move towards being a 'non-resident' parish priest after one year.
I was appointed as Parish Pastoral Coordinator, responsible for all aspects of parish life, including its liturgical life - this naturally in collaboration with the new MSC provided parish priest. In the face of concerted opposition from the outgoing parish priest, and some initial opposition from within the parish itself, I believe I was able to successfully establish a new model of pastoral leadership within an Australian Catholic parish, despite some initial confusion and in the context of a real lack of any active support from the Archdiocese itself.
Taking a fundamentally collaborative approach I built up many teams of volunteers within a small inner city parish and worked hard to engage the parish community in managing and leading itself as far as possible, while remaining a part of the universal church. It was a role I found both extremely rewarding a very personally challenging. After two years in the role I decided that I needed a sabbatical. However, the model of collaborative pastoral leadership that I had had a decisive role in establishing, compromised as it was by the Archdiocese, endured for quite some years after.