The first Ablaze Conference was held in 2017 where the then Fr Michael Gielen was present as one of our guest speakers. Since the first Ablaze, a great deal has happened in the diocese. We have seen the introduction of ‘Our Faith, Our Future’ and the restructuring of parishes in and around Christchurch. Covid has also had a significant impact on parish life. With all that has happened, and with the appointment of Bishop Michael Gielen as 11th Bishop of Christchurch in May, November was the right time to have our second Ablaze Conference.
The Christchurch Diocese is on a path of parish renewal. We are encouraging people to become missionary disciples. Our parishes and communities are working in new ways to gain a more intentional mission focus. Pope Francis exhorts us to “preach the Gospel to all without hesitation, reluctance or fear.”
Ablaze was a great vehicle then, for people to be encouraged in their faith, receive input from the three keynote speakers, and from other presenters in 18 workshops. These workshops covered the three priorities of the Christchurch Diocese: growing in holiness, strengthening our faith community and proclaiming the Good News. The conference sessions also addressed current and emerging issues in the Church and the world. Workshops covered a broad spectrum of topics such as growing in holiness through the Holy Spirit, transforming parish culture, engaging people in the parish for mission, the Laudato Si’ Platform, growing youth and young adult ministry in the parish, encountering Christ in the liturgy, Alpha, parishes and schools collaborating for mission, small groups, hospitality, the synod, and
The diocese was fortunate to have the support of Divine Renovation for the Conference. We were blessed to have two international keynote speakers; Dan O’Rourke and Fr Chris Ryan. Dan O’Rourke is the President of the global Divine Renovation Ministry based in Halifax, Canada. He was excited about the extensive expansion of Divine Renovation, in supporting parishes to move from a maintenance focus to that of mission. He unpacked the Divine Renovation three keys to parish renewal – the Power of the Holy Spirit, the primacy of evangelisation and the best of leadership. In the image they use, the circle linking them together is the Eucharist. Mr O’Rourke also offered two workshops.
Fr Chris Ryan is currently serving as a parish priest of two parishes in the Archdiocese of Sydney and is
a priest of the congregation of the Missionary of God’s Love. Fr Chris opened the conference by exploring
what parish renewal is and why we need it. He noted that the world is longing for Jesus Christ, and renewing our parishes is important for bringing people to Christ.
Bishop Michael offered the final keynote address for Ablaze 2022. He shared his own experience of
the loving and supportive parish in which he grew up. He outlined his vision for thriving, welcoming parishes and challenged all parishes in the Christchurch Diocese to offer an Alpha programme as a tool for reaching out to others. At the conclusion of his keynote address, Bishop Michael invited all present to pray the Surrender Prayer Novena in the days following Ablaze.
The event attracted 280 participants, with people attending from throughout the Christchurch Diocese
and with representation from the other five New Zealand dioceses. Among those who participated in Ablaze were clergy, leadership teams, parish council members, staff, leaders, and parishioners.
A number of pre-conference events were held, with our keynote speakers presenting to particular groups. These included separate gatherings with Fr Chris Ryan and parish Alpha leaders and parish leadership teams. A short preaching seminar was held for priests, with Fr Chris Ryan sharing some insights using the latest Divine Renovation book, Preaching on Purpose. Each of our priests received a copy of the book with the compliments of the diocese.
The Ablaze conference included the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There was also praise and worship and prayer ministry opportunities where people experienced the joy of the Holy Spirit.
There were so many memorable moments throughout Ablaze. These comments are just some shared in feedback received in the days immediately following the conference:
“The silence as we prayed together in Adoration at the end of the first night.”
“People coming forward on the last evening and making a renewed commitment of faith.”
“Bishop Michael inviting priests to stand, so that Ablaze members could thank them for their priestly ministry and the presence of our Lord throughout the whole event.”
“Having confession which was long overdue.”
“What a beautiful vision and hope for our parishes to be like this.”
“Feel refreshed and inspired for our return to the parish.”
“Adoration was beautiful. Music great!”
“It was lovely to pray the surrender Novena for nine days.”
“We came home feeling reconnected with our faith and each other and with a deep sense of peace and a willingness to trust in God’s plan.”
Ablaze set out to encourage people in their faith, while offering them good formation in parish renewal. A
number of parishes are gathering their Ablaze attendees to share insights and learnings and plan future steps. Perhaps the best summary of Ablaze is this statement: “From the speakers to the presentations, the helpers to the hymns, this Ablaze really had it going on. I will forever remember that tiny dinghy on the stage, as we came forward on that final night in our hundreds, pledging to put out into the deep, with fear conquered and Jesus in our hearts.”
More information about Ablaze can be found on the Ablaze Website.
Mike is Director of the Bishop’s Pastoral Office for the Diocese of Christchurch and led the team organising Ablaze.