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About SIP

What is Spirituality in the Pub?

Spirituality in the Pub? (SIP) is one of the forums for conversation instituted by Catalyst for Renewal. The first SIP event was held at Paddington (Sydney) in May 1995. There are venues in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

Each SIP venue determines the frequency and content of its event program.  For information about upcoming events, refer to the Events menu on this website, which has a sub-category specifically for SIP.

As indicated above, the purpose of all these Catalyst forums is conversation for the sake of renewal.

We seek to include in the conversation — at least implicitly — the foundational values of our faith as disciples of Jesus. Thus conversations are geared around what is actually happening, as distinct from what we might like to think is happening. These conversations seek to probe both the secular and sacred dimensions of our lives today.

Most venues choose an overall theme selected for the year’s meetings. The topics for each evening are then selected in relation to that them, with a careful selection of themes, topics and speakers.

The venue is usually a welcoming pub that will be open to such a conversation for all searchers, not only for those comfortable within traditional structures.

The format of the evening is simple:

It begins at a designated time, say 7.30pm.

  • There are usually two speakers who address the topic set for the evening.
  • Each is given up to 15 minutes to present a point of view.
  • The presentations are then followed by a break of about 5-10 minutes in which people speak with one another or get another drink.
  • There is then open forum in which the people are invited to ask questions of the presenters or put their own point of view.
  • The formal part of the evening ends an hour and a half later, say at 9pm.

The guests generally arrive 15-30 minutes before time so they can get a drink, find a seat and talk with their friends. Someone acts as MC and welcomes the people at, say 7.30pm, sharp. The introductions are kept to a minimum to allow maximum time for the conversation.

These fourums are not generally used as a place for advertising as it can distract from the conversation. (Advertising can been done by leaving fliers in an appropriate place.) The MC concludes the formalities at, say 9pm, sharp to leave people free to informally continue the conversation at the bar or wherever they choose.

In view of our desire to work for renewal from within the Church as we find it, we believe it is important to keep the relevant authorities informed. While there is strictly no canonical requirement to seek the permission of the local bishop, we strongly recommend that the organisers meet with the local bishop (or his representative) and inform him of what is being done. In this context, care should be taken to promote Spirituality in the Pub in a way that complements, rather than competes with, other programs organised within the diocese. When speaking with the bishop, emphasis should be given to the fact that it is a forum for conversation – not teaching.

Starting a SIP

Starting a  SIP

This page has all you need to know to start your own Spirituality in the Pub™ (SIP) group! When you have had the opportunity to consider this material, please contact us to discuss your proposal.


Spirituality in the Pub was begun by Catalyst for Renewal, and Catalyst owns the name. There is a network of SIPs which are affiliated with Catalyst and have the right to use the name. Affiliation is indicated by the advertising of venues, topics and speakers on the Catalyst website:

Catalyst offers members of the SIP network:
• the use of the name and the official logo;
• the advertising mentioned;
• Public Liability insurance cover;
• assistance as required in setting up your SIP;
• advice as required as to availability of potential speakers;• national professional development activities for members of SIP committees – generally provided online using Zoom;
• occasional days of sharing resources and ideas (regional);                   • in special circumstances, limited financial support may be available.

In return, local SIPs are asked to acknowledge that SIP is an initiative of Catalyst for Renewal by:

  • using the official logo, and naming Catalyst in their literature (flyers, programs);
  • maintain close liaison with Catalyst – especially in the establishing of any new SIP;
  • develop a clear understanding of the ethos of Catalyst and its purpose, and the particular intent and structure of SIP, as outlined in this booklet and in the associated materials found in the SIP Kit.

The people organising SIP at the local level are asked to make every effort to attend either or both the national and regional gatherings of SIP organisers in order to contribute to and benefit from the networking and to increasingly develop their understanding of the ethos of Catalyst and Spirituality in the Pub™.

Each SIP is expected to make a financial contribution to Catalyst for Renewal. This should be the balance of donations received at SIP after the deduction of reasonable expenses (photocopying, postage, gifts, meals and drinks for speakers, if given). Catalyst may occasionally provide funds to subsidise attendance at national and regional gatherings (see above).

SIP is about conversation with a view primarily to renewal – personal, church and in our wider society. The members of Catalyst for Renewal, the group behind SIP, are all members of the Catholic faith tradition. Catalyst, as evidenced particularly through our SIP forums, is ecumenical and inter-faith in outreach.. Polemics at SIP should be avoided. Further, it is not meant to provide a platform for anyone. It is about conversation, not ideology.

Therefore, speakers who are active and public campaigners for positions directly contrary to Catholic Church teachings are to be avoided. People who “have an axe to grind”, people who are strident, obsessed about some particular thing or clearly angry – in other words, people who will provoke confrontation rather than conversation – should not be invited as speakers.

Only those venues listed on the website are associated with Catalyst for Renewal. Any other group using the term “Spirituality in the Pub” is doing so without permission and should either take steps to become affiliated with Catalyst for Renewal (with all the mutual obligations referred to) or cease to use the name which is a Trade Mark owned by Catalyst for Renewal Incorporated.

SIP has, since its inception in May 1995, gradually – and justifiably – gained a significant and trusted profile within the Catholic Church and wider community in Australia . While we confidently and without apology promote conversation in this way, we ask that all SIP organisers be mindful of their responsibility for the ongoing credibility and viability of SIP throughout Australia – what happens in one venue is to the benefit or detriment of all venues.


  1. Build a good Organising Committee
    Setting up and maintaining a SIP venue takes time and energy. It is recommended that a committee of several people who are willing to do the various jobs, be formed. Foster a team spirit, one that actually models a way ahead for Church and for society generally. Other possible committee members who will carry on the project, should be a constant consideration. Avoid a situation whereby the current members work themselves to a standstill and only then start looking for someone who may or may not be available.
  2. Be clear about what you are intending
    This takes time and a good deal of conversation within the group to jointly come to an understanding of the ethos of SIP and to reach a shared vision of what is intended with your particular SIP. Try to write it down in a concise and clear statement which can be used on fliers and other documentation. Use the material in the first part of this booklet as a guide and context.
  3. Set the ethos
    In accord with the ethos outlined above and what you specifically intend for your SIP, produce fliers and other advertising material, using the SIP logo. Choose speakers with that particular purpose and ethos in mind. When introducing the program be clear in your own minds, and in what you do and say, what you are – and are not – trying to achieve. Your “front person” – on the night that will be the MC – plays a crucial role in setting the ethos.
  4. The room
    The room needs to be big enough for a reasonable gathering of people but small enough to engender a spirit of conversation. The room should be available free of charge. The pub gets patronage as their compensation. However, it is not always possible to get the “perfect” room and the perfect arrangement! Settle for what works.
  5. Finances
    No entry fee is charged. However, we suggest a collection immediately after the break. The money collected helps to defray any costs you may have incurred, such as printing and postage.
    SIP venues are asked to contribute surplus funds from the collections to Catalyst for Renewal. This maintains the national network, keeps the insurance coverage current and meets ongoing administrative expenses.
  6. Organization
    Organization is critical and it takes time! You will need to have brainstorming sessions and think carefully about your speakers and your venue. Many phone calls will be made. Leave yourself plenty of time to engage the speakers and structure your calendar. Write letters to the speakers telling them exactly who you are and what you expect of them. Contact the speakers near the date to confirm. Write letters to thank the speakers. Be at the venue early to see that everything is in order. Maintain good relationships with the manager of the pub.
    The roots and primary focus of SIP is Catholic. Catholic also implies ecumenical. It is certainly within the best possibilities of SIP to include members of other faith and religious traditions both within the organising committee and as speakers. At all times, however, the fundamental ethos and mission of Catalyst must be respected.
  7. Advertising
    Plan well in advance. Try to program for the year and create a flier detailing place, time, topic and speakers. We suggest a regular time and place – eg the second Wednesday of the months April – September. Parish and school newsletters are generally good places to advertise. The whole community can be reached through news items in the local paper(s).
  8. Speakers
    The speakers will make the difference between success and failure. They offer their services on an honorary basis and they are chosen according to their ability to bring something of substance to the conversation within the context of spirituality. Have a “Plan B” in case a speaker doesn’t/cannot turn up! The following general criteria can be used to guide the choice of speakers:
    a) Values a sense of spirituality in her/his life;
    b) Known expertise/competence in given area;
    c) Good communication skills;
    d) Where appropriate and possible:
    i) at least one speaker should represent the Catholic Church’s position and teachings;
    ii) gender balance is to be maintained;
    iii) theory and practice should both be represented;
    iv) speakers should complement each other;
    v) age balance is to be maintained.
  9. Start and finish on time
    People are jealous of their time. They come for the conversation – make sure that is always the clear focus. Do not let the time be eroded (eg by commercials or by the MC talking too much) or unnecessarily expanded (eg by over long presentations or questions). Keep faith with the previously announced ending time.
  10. Set some simple rules of engagement
    Limit questions/comments to say 1 minute. Watch out for people giving a “sermon” or “commercials” under the guise of asking a question. The MC should let things run as much as possible, however, facilitating the evening with a light touch, being seen and heard as little as possible. Keep the focus of conversation clearly up front. Encourage people to talk across the room, not just to/through the speakers.
  11. Meet regularly
    It is useful to establish a pattern for SIP in your area. For example, you might meet at the same time on the first Wednesday evenings of certain months.


Sample letter of invitation to the speaker

(This letter is probably best sent after phone or personal contact has been made.)
Dear ……….,
Thank you for agreeing to be a speaker at Spirituality in the Pub (SIP). We are one of about thirty such venues – SIPs – around the country, indicating a very strong desire on the part of many to be part of good conversation about things that matter.
The topic is ……………………………… and the venue is ……………………….The other speaker with you is …………………… You are each invited to speak for about fifteen minutes on the topic, after which time there will be a five minute break. During that break people will either re-charge their glasses, talk to those near them or do whatever they feel they must do. The evening begins at ……. And will end at …… We do try to start on time and finish on time.
The atmosphere is congenial and the focus is conversation. We look forward to your contribution. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me on ……….



Sample letter of confirmation to the speaker

This letter might be sent about a week or so before the event.)
Dear …………..,
Re: Spirituality in the Pub, Wednesday March …..
I am writing to confirm your engagement for Spirituality in the Pub on Wednesday March ……. The topic is …………………………………….
The other speaker, apart from yourself, will be …………………….
You and ……………. are each invited to speak for about fifteen minutes, opening up some significant aspects of the conversation on this topic. The two fifteen minute inputs will be followed by one hour of open forum in which the guests will be invited to make statements or ask questions. From previous experience, it is this open forum that provides the most fruitful time. So I would suggest you simply give the participants enough in your initial presentation to evoke thoughts and questions and trust that the open forum will allow you to develop your own thoughts more adequately.
You can expect about ….. people to be present in a room that is small enough to allow conversational style rather than lecture. Many buy a drink of their choice and sip it through proceedings. Apart from that patronage for the hotel – which we are happy to foster – the evening is a non-commercial event.
The event will be at the …………. Hotel, ……………. Street, ………………. We start at 7.30pm and stop at 9pm .
If you have any questions or particular requests please do not hesitate to contact me on …………….. I look forward to seeing you there.

Parish Talk

An outline for a talk to introduce SIP to the Parish community)

A. Greeting

Name & thanks for opportunity.
I am here to tell you about Spirituality in the Pub and to invite you to come.

B.What is SIP

SIP is one of the forums for conversation instituted by Catalyst for Renewal, an organization dedicated to renewal within the Catholic Church. The mission of Catalyst is: We are believers who are attempting to establish a forum for conversation within the Catholic Church of Australia. Our aim is to prompt open exchanges among the community of believers, mindful of the diversity of expression of faith in contemporary Australia . This springs explicitly from the spirit of Pope John XXIII and Vatican II.. “Let there be unity in what is necessary, freedom in what is unsettled, and charity in any case” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 92).

The most fundamental pre-requisite for good and genuine conversation – conversation that renews – is at least an openness to the views of others.

C. The format of a SIP evening is simple:

  • It begins promptly at 7.30pm
  • There are two speakers who each have 15 minutes to address the topic set for the evening.
  • The presentations are then followed by a break of about 5-10 minutes in which people speak with one another or get another drink.
  • There is then open forum in which the everyone is invited to ask questions of the presenters or put their own point of view on the topic
  • The evening ends promptly at 9pm

D. Exciting Program for 202x

The Theme for this year is ………………………………………………………………………………………..
Speakers include name some of the speakers you have invited for the years program

E. Time & Venue

The Spirituality in the Pub group meets on …………. of each month – March to October at ……………………………………..(venue)
The first meeting for 2008 will be on ……………………………………………………… when the speakers will be (list speakers)

……………………..……………………. & …………………..………………….
And the topic will be: …………………………………………………………….

I will be outside the church after Mass with copies of the program.


3. SIP Evaluation Sheet

(An evaluation of the years program to inform planning for next year)
§ What aspects of this year’s program have you liked best?

§ What aspects of this year’s program did you like least?


§ What topics/subjects would you like to see included in next year’s program?


§ Are there any speakers you would like to see included in future programs


§ Any other comments


Thank you

Like ourselves, speakers will appreciate being thanked in some way for their contribution. Since we do not pay them, we suggest, at the very least, a thank you card from the organising committee. Some groups offer a small gift, such as a bottle of wine.

Other documents

Sample flier
Lists of Topics and Speakers from other venues
Copy of SIP logo
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SIP Be Amazed

Be Amazed!

Over the years that Spirituality in the Pub has been running, we have seen growth from the first venue at Paddington to around 30 venues all around Australia. Sometimes one closes for a time until it is reinvigorated by a new group, but most have run continuously for years — the champion being, of course, Paddington, which celebrated its 12th anniversary in May 2005!

There had been over 1200 SIP gatherings!

Be prepared now to Be Amazed at the depth and breadth of SIP topics covered over the years, and by the extraordinary range of speakers, some well known Australian voices, some obscure, but all with something important to add to the conversation… here is as complete a list of venues, dates, topics and speakers as we are able to assemble!

NSW SIP Venues

NSW SIP Venues

Spirituality in the Pub (SIP) is presently run at seven venues in NSW.

  • Bathurst. Location. Program.
  • Central Coast. Location. Program.
  • Dubbo. Location. Program.
  • Jamberoo. Location. Program.
  • Paddington. Location. Program.
  • Portland/Wang. Location. Program.
  • Wollongong. Location. Program.
  • Annual weekend retreat program and booking form. Location. Program.

The Paddington SIP is where it all began. Another highlight is the annual retreat (usually held each August at Kincumber on the Central Coast), a fantastic and lively weekend of fellowship and all things SIP. Please see the Program and Booking Form.

New SIP venues and groups are absoluteley encouraged! To find out more, please see the guide here.


The Oxford Hotel. Corner of William & Piper Streets, Bathurst

For more information contact:
Sue Dickson
02 63312440 | 0431 350 740 |

Chris Firmstone
02 63319085 | 0403 500 805 |

Central Coast

The Grange Hotel. Corner Renwick St & Pacific Highway, Wyoming.

7:30pm – 9.00pm 1st Tuesday of the month March – October
2nd Tues in November

Bistro meals from 5.30

Terry Cooke 02 4365 4502
Carol Bailey 02 4323 0003








SIP Origins and Ethos

The Origins and Ethos of Spirituality in the Pub

1. An Experience of Church

In July 1994 a small group of Catholics gathered in Sydney to discuss their role in the Church and the world. A variety of factors brought us together. One seemed to be of particular significance – a strong desire to be part of a Church that is good news for our world.

It seemed to us that many were feeling frustrated in their attempts to participate effectively in the life of the Church. Many simply stopped trying to participate. None of us within the group particularly wanted to leave the Church, since we regarded the Catholic Church as our spiritual home, tragic flaws and all. We shared a deep appreciation of the rich tradition out of which the Church had emerged and which is kept alive in and through the Church in every age.

2. Catalyst for Renewal

Before the end of 1994 we decided to do whatever we could to promote renewal within the Catholic Church through conversation. We called ourselves Catalyst for Renewal and this is our mission statement:

We are believers who are attempting to establish a forum for conversation within the Catholic Church of Australia . Our aim is to prompt open exchanges among the community of believers, mindful of the diversity of expression of faith in contemporary Australia . This springs explicitly from the spirit of Pope John XXIII and Vatican II.. “Let there be unity in what is necessary, freedom in what is unsettled, and charity in any case” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 92).

Catalyst for Renewal is incorporated as an association in New South Wales.

As can be seen from the mission statement we have a simple intention. We will do what we can to promote an atmosphere in the Church in which vigorous, loving and honest conversation is the norm. In this way we can help develop a culture of conversation. It is our conviction that good conversation is an essential constituent of renewal. No matter what the circumstances, if we are willing and able to engage in good conversation, there is reason to hope.

3. A Shared Faith

We share both a faith in the Incarnation and God’s promise to dwell with us, and a concern that Church should play the life giving role in society which is its privilege and responsibility. The Church’s effectiveness as a sign of God’s liberating love and goodness seems to be diminishing – a development we cannot simply blame on a ‘materialistic world’. With the Second Vatican Council we acknowledge that “believers themselves bear some responsibility (for this situation)”(Gaudium et Spes, n. 19).

We also share Pope Paul Vl’s perception that “we live in the Church at a privileged moment of the Spirit” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 75). We therefore want to listen intelligently to the signs of the times and respond generously to the call of the Spirit, to participate in the life and mission of the Church as Christian faithful, accepting both the rights and responsibilities that come with our baptism. We want the spirit and vision of the Second Vatican Council to flourish in our day so that the Church can be a sign of hope in a world that cries out for such a sign.

Furthermore, as a people who are confident that the truth liberates (cf John 8:32) – no matter who speaks it, no matter from what quarter it comes – we are profoundly concerned with any and all manifestations of denial and refusal to face what must be faced. We believe that, just as the refusal to engage in good conversation suggests a lack of faith, so the willingness to engage in good conversation is a sign of faith.

4. Being a Pilgrim People

The times in which we find ourselves present us with questions and issues that demand the most serious attention. No responsible adult can stand by and leave the necessary conversations and decisions to others. We believe that we all must, to the best of our abilities and opportunities, join with the Church in her struggle to find new expressions of the Gospel at this time.

We are mindful of the temptations of perfectionism, of expecting more of the Church and her human representatives and structures than is realistic. We cherish the compassionate and realistic vision embodied in the thought of the Second Vatican Council:

Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and persecution, so the Church is called to follow the same route that it might communicate the fruits of salvation to all. Christ Jesus, “though he was by nature God…emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave” (Phil 2:6), and “being rich, became poor” (2 Cor 8:9) for our sakes. Thus, the Church, although it needs human resources to carry out its mission, is not set up to seek earthly glory, but to proclaim, even by its own example, humility and self-sacrifice.

Christ was sent by the Father “to bring good news to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart” (Lk 4:18 ), “to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk 19:10 ). Similarly, the Church encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees the image of its poor and suffering Founder. It does all it can to relieve their need and in them it strives to serve Christ. While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled (Heb 7:26) knew nothing of sin (2 Cor 5:21), but came to expiate only the sins of the people (cf. Heb 2:17), the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal.

The Church, “like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God”(cf St Augustine ), announcing the cross and death of the Lord until he comes (cf. 1 Cor 11:26 ). By the power of the risen Lord it is given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from without, and that it might reveal to the world, faithfully though darkly, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it will be manifested in full light (Lumen Gentium, n. 8).

5. Working in Communion with our Bishops

Our desire is to work with and in this historical, institutional Church, freely, honestly and compassionately. We desire to be part of the ongoing conversion and renewal, part of that growing energy within the Church that is inspired by and subject to the Spirit of Christ. That Spirit, apart from being revealed in and through Sacred Scripture, is also revealed in and through the actual historical institution and the social-cultural circumstances of the tradition and the issues and questions of the day.

In practical terms this is manifest in a practical desire to, at all times, make every effort to build and maintain good relationships with our bishops. We recognise the critical and difficult role of our bishops and intend to support them in their service of the people.

6. The Paschal Mystery as Central

The central dynamic and defining reality for any such endeavour has to be the Paschal Mystery. The Church – the community of the baptised – lives the death and resurrection every day in every age. The baptised must submit willingly to the dying that alone can bring life. If we evade the dying we will not know the rising. In Him, with Him, and through Him, we pass over from death to life, continually. Apart from Him we are nothing (cf Jn. 15.5). In us, with us and through us He finds access to the world.

7. Launch into the Deep

At the close of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, Pope John Paul II sent his Apostolic Letter, Novo millennio ineunte, to the faithful throughout the world. In that Letter, promulgated on January 6, 2001 , the Pope recalls the words of the Lord and finds in them an energy that both challenges and inspires:

Duc in altum! (“Launch into the deep!” – Luke 5:4) These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb 13:8).

Genuine conversation is always a “launching out into the deep”. Furthermore, it is our experience that good conversation among the faithful helps us “to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence”. It ought not be a surprise to discover that, when good conversation is engaged, it is at once an act of faith and a process of conversion.

8. Conversation as Conversion

The very word “conversation” is evocative, a word rich in meaning and implications. It shares its etymology with the word “conversion”. The Latin roots of that word literally mean “turning together with”. Conversion, according to its Latin roots, thus implies at least three things:

  1. Firstly, when conversion is experienced, life changes direction, for it is a “turning” – no matter how significant or insignificant the “turning” might be. This will necessarily include, in some measure, seeing and perceiving differently and deepening, developing or even changing one’s sense of what is valuable;
  2. Secondly, that new direction involves a movement into new or improved relationship. It is “together with”. It is not a solitary or merely private event, but, of its very nature, a communal and social event, though it may also be a deeply personal one. The “new or improved relationship” will affect, no matter how minutely, relationship with God – however God is named – with self, with other people and with the world at large;
  3. Thirdly, this process of “conversion” – indiscernible as it may be most of the time – implies a submission to the “something more” than any of us. It is a being drawn out of self, a shift in the centre of gravity from ego to “the more than”, from mastery towards mystery. Conversion is a coming home to oneself, a movement towards what is true in a journey that is always subject to missing the point.

The connection in the English language between “conversation” and “conversion,” surely is no accident. We believe that the connection actually points us back to the heart of good conversation. We also believe that the connection has much to do with renewal in the Church. Pope John Paul II, in his extraordinary encyclical calling for a deepening of the ecumenical dialogue, implies the close connection between conversation and conversion:

The capacity for “dialogue” is rooted in the nature of the person and human dignity. As seen by philosophy, this approach is linked to the Christian truth concerning the human person as expressed by the Council: the human person is in fact “the only creature on earth which God willed for itself”; thus human beings cannot “fully find themselves except through a sincere gift of themselves” (Gaudium et spes, 24). Dialogue is an indispensable step along the path toward human self-realization, the self-realization both of each individual and of every human community. Although the concept of “dialogue” might appear to give priority to the cognitive dimension (dia-logos), all dialogue implies a global, existential dimension. It involves the human subject in his or her entirety; dialogue between communities involves in a particular way the subjectivity of each. This truth about dialogue, so profoundly expressed by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, was also taken up by the Council in its teaching and ecumenical activity. Dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some way it is always an “exchange of gifts”(Lumen gentium, 13).[1]

The most fundamental pre-requisite for good and genuine conversation – conversation that renews – is at least the openness to “conversion”, preferably the desire for conversion through an encounter with others. Good conversation always transforms; it expands our horizons and builds relationships; it enlightens and enlivens. Good conversation reconciles and heals; it encourages reflection and allows the participants to be drawn more deeply into the truth. Good conversation is also a reminder of the simple things that make life work, things like listening and respect, patience and generosity, gratitude, care and simple courtesy.
Conversation, in the sense in which it is promoted by Catalyst for Renewal, is not to be confused with other forms of legitimate encounter – eg “small talk”, “debate” or “discussion”. And it is certainly not to be confused with “confrontational” or “win-lose arguments”.

Good conversation may, at times, raise content that is difficult and even confronting. The manner in which that content is dealt with will make all the difference – there is a conversational manner and there is a confrontational manner. It is the former that we desire to promote.

In good conversation, process serves content. We may, for example, have good conversation about truths of the faith or teachings of the Church that are “non-negotiable”. In such instances the conversation, observing all that has been said above, facilitates a deeper appreciation and understanding of that truth or teaching, at the same time as it facilitates a deeper appreciation, by the participants, of each other. Both parties must, of course, be willing to enter the encounter with the desire for some measure of conversion.

If the truth be told, the ideal of good conversation, as envisaged here, remains an ideal approached only more or less well in any given forum. Sometime the participants may in fact fall far short of good conversation. How well the participants actually achieve the goal of good conversation in any particular forum, however, is secondary to the fact that the goal is pursued intelligently, generously and persistently. The ideal should not be abandoned simply because it cannot yet be achieved to our satisfaction or the satisfaction of others or because the participants have failed on this or that occasion.

The renewal of the Church, demanded by the Second Vatican Council, requires assiduous work to develop a rich culture of conversation. There will, quite simply, be no renewal without a serious commitment to good conversation. Where such a culture does flourish, even when so much in our circumstances seems to suggest doom and gloom, we have every reason to be hopeful.

9. Conversation and the Spirituality of Communion

At the centre of Pope John Paul’s Apostolic Letter, Novo millennio ineunte, is an inspired reflection on “the spirituality of communion”. It is worth quoting at some length as it is not only a powerful text in its own right, it is a powerful and clear statement of the context for the conversation we want to see thrive in the Church:

To make the Church the home and the school of communion: that is the great challenge facing us in the millennium which is now beginning, if we wish to be faithful to God’s plan and respond to the world’s deepest yearnings. But what does this mean in practice? Here too, our thoughts could run immediately to the action to be undertaken, but that would not be the right impulse to follow. Before making practical plans, we need to promote a spirituality of communion, making it the guiding principle of education wherever individuals and Christians are formed, wherever ministers of the altar, consecrated persons, and pastoral workers are trained, wherever families and communities are being built up.

A spirituality of communion indicates above all the heart’s contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us.

A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as “those who are a part of me“. This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship.

A spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a “gift for me”.

A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to “make room” for our brothers and sisters, bearing “each other’s burdens” (Gal 6:2) and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy. Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, “masks” of communion rather than its means of expression and growth.[2]

In the next paragraph the Letter goes on to speak of the serious challenge that lies before us in this regard:

Consequently, the new century will have to see us more than ever intent on valuing and developing the forums and structures which, in accordance with the Second Vatican Council’s major directives, serve to ensure and safeguard communion.[3]

The Apostolic Letter then names some of the practical developments that must be fostered if our talk about communion is to have any weight:

Communion must be cultivated and extended day by day and at every level in the structures of each Church’s life. There, relations between Bishops, priests and deacons, between Pastors and the entire People of God, between clergy and Religious, between associations and ecclesial movements must all be clearly characterized by communion. To this end, the structures of participation envisaged by Canon Law, such as the Council of Priests and the Pastoral Council, must be ever more highly valued. These of course are not governed by the rules of parliamentary democracy, because they are consultative rather than deliberative; yet this does not mean that they are less meaningful and relevant.

The theology and spirituality of communion encourage a fruitful dialogue between Pastors and faithful: on the one hand uniting them a priori in all that is essential, and on the other leading them to pondered agreement in matters open to discussion. To this end, we need to make our own the ancient pastoral wisdom which, without prejudice to their authority, encouraged Pastors to listen more widely to the entire People of God. Significant is Saint Benedict’s reminder to the Abbot of a monastery, inviting him to consult even the youngest members of the community: “By the Lord’s inspiration, it is often a younger person who knows what is best”.

And Saint Paulinus of Nola urges: “Let us listen to what all the faithful say, because in every one of them the Spirit of God breathes”. While the wisdom of the law, by providing precise rules for participation, attests to the hierarchical structure of the Church and averts any temptation to arbitrariness or unjustified claims, the spirituality of communion, by prompting a trust and openness wholly in accord with the dignity and responsibility of every member of the People of God, supplies institutional reality with a soul.[4]

10. Catalyst Forums for Conversation

In the various forums set up to facilitate this, we will encourage adults who share our concerns and intentions to listen respectfully and intelligently to each other, to learn from that experience and thus participate more effectively in the renewal of both Church and society.

[1] John Paul II, Ut unum sint, (May 1995), 28. The Latin word translated here as “dialogue” is “colloquium”. In Latin this word is more often translated as “conversation”.
[2] John Paul II, Novo millennio ineunte, 44.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Op cit, 45.

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