Redfern, a Prophetic Community

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,
proclaims salvation,
and tells Zion,
‘Your God is King!’ ( Isaiah 52: 7 )
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