The Parish as Family

Matthew’s Gospel speaks of Jesus’ family:

Jesus was speaking to the crowds when his mother and his brothers appeared; they were standing outside and were anxious to have aword with him. But to the man who told himthis he replied, ‘Who is my mother? Who aremy brothers? ’ And stretching out his handtowards his disciples he said, ‘Here are mymother and my brothers. Anyone who does thewill of my Father in heaven, he is my brotherand sister and mother.' (12:46-50)

We often talk in the church communityabout being a family, united by Jesus’commandment to love one another. Howmight that look in reality?

Lauranne and I came to be married in theTuncurry Catholic Church 37 years ago.Lauranne was an American teacher ona two-year contract in Australia with nofamily here. I was newly settled in Forsterand my family was in Sydney, a good fivehours away.

I was unemployed and we had very littlemoney. In the absence of geographicallyclose family for support, the parishcommunity became our family.

The parish community organised thewedding ceremony, decorated the parishhall for the reception, supplied the food,baked and decorated the wedding cakeand even organised the honeymoonaccommodation! The day was truly awonderful community event as Lauranneand I committed ourselves to each other inthe presence of, and witnessed by, a loving,supportive community.

Over the years as our family grew withseven children, the parish communitycontinued that support by supplyingbabysitters, godparents and honorary auntsand uncles. 'The parish village' helped usraise and form our children through ourinvolvement in church camping expeditions,parish dinners and other social functions.

As the years rolled by, our children left townfor university education and employmentand Lauranne and I have become ‘Darbyand Jane’, beginning the journey towardsenior citizenship. Some health issueshave again made us aware of the need forclose-knit community in the absence ofgeographically close family members.

Lauranne was diagnosed withbreast cancer in 2005. A seriesof treatments followed overthe next ten years involvinga mastectomy followed bychemotherapy, radiationand two bouts of brainsurgery. During one of herlife-threatening battles, whenkeeping a positive attitude was becoming achallenge, the community decided to stagea “Renovation Rescue” for our home. Tothis day I’m not sure how it all came aboutbut there was obviously some seriousfundraising involved, resulting in a renewedhome complete with many new electricalappliances. Lauranne’s health improvednoticeably, thanks to the love shown bythe community.

More recently, Lauranne has been shakenwith the news of further growths inher brain. The oncologist suggested sheshould not be left alone for long periods.In response, our seven children and theirpartners and children took time fromtheir busy lives to come home on differentweekends to lend their support. During theweek, a roster of community members wasset up for the times when I couldn’t be withher. Once again, the parish community hasbecome our de facto family. Once again, ourloving community has provided the supportthat is needed. Once again, people havegone beyond simple friendships to kindnessnormally expected only of family members.

And once again, Lauranne and I have cometo value those relationships and the lovingcare and to be forever grateful for the giftof friendship. The parish community is trulyour family.

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Greg Byrne

Greg Byrne is the Pastoral Associate in the Parish of Forster-Tuncurry and a regular contributor to Aurora.

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