THE CULT OF CHANGE
On 29 July 1990, parishioners arriving at St. Joseph’s for Sunday Mass were astonished to find the butchers block sitting on its portable platform in front of the (now obsolete) confessionals half-way down the left-hand side of the church. The pews had been moved into a rather forced and awkward looking semicircular arrangement facing the block and the side wall. Several pews which did not fit into this arrangement had been crowded into the “generosity space” (sanctuary) facing a bizarre looking do-it-yourself baptismal font which sat in front of the High Altar museum piece attached to the back wall. With impressive decorative plants adding that Home Beautiful touch, the “space” had become a daunting obstacle course.
The side-wall migration and reversion to semi-circular mode had finally recreated that parish hall setting so admired and desired by the Team. To anyone possessed of Catholic sensibility, however, the whole scene was simply alien.
At the heart of this typically unnecessary and arbitrary act lay the Team’s profound, emotional involvement with the idea of “change,” which has become nothing less than “a focus of loyalty, an object of faith, hope and veneration” for the new church. It is this semi-transcendental dimension that leads Christopher Derrick to speak realistically of the “cult of change”.
“It may seem extravagant to speak, in this connection, of a ‘cult’ of change,” he writes. “For some reason we all take the First Commandment for granted nowadays: we talk and behave as if there were no longer any serious danger of our lapsing into, the service of false gods.” Yet the treatment afforded the Benalla faithful illustrated that there is a semi-religious attitude to “change” within the new church.
Marj Ride, for one, had openly displayed her detachment from the cult of change. She provoked an angry and outraged response from the Team, members of the Interim Committee and other parishioners, who had said in effect: “But you’ve got to go along with the architectural and liturgical movement of the day — you can’t just hold back!”
Based on Derrick’s understanding, this reaction implied that Marj was, in the first place, unrealistic and in the second, impractical: the “movement of the day,” the trend of the moment, is an irresistible juggernaut and those who try to oppose it will only get pushed out of the way or squashed. Also, Marj’s attitude was in some way outrageous, impious, an affront to something that should be served with humble dedication and assent. When you question the cult of change as Marj did, “you are not merely a harmless fool, a quixotic dreamer: you have desecrated the shrine and blasphemed the god, provoking the special kind of indignation that is appropriate in such cases.”
Thus by no far-fetched analogy is it possible to speak of a semi-religious cult, almost an idolatry of change and the evolutionary process: a cult to which men turn increasingly for the meaning of life and the basis of value-judgment; a cult observed in some anxiety but with determination over very wide areas of modern life.”‘ A cult embodied in Team Ministry.
The Team first imbibed the central fiction of this cult —that the Church, once stagnant but now dynamic, has moved into the twentieth century and become “relevant” to contemporary life — and then acted out the associated newchurch concepts of flexibility, experiment and adaptation to chilling effect. Underlying the common anxiety that the Church should become plainly contemporary and relevant to this age and this generation, is a “sceptical and impatient attitude towards fixed norms of faith and morals and worship and structure, a desire to mould the future according to the contingent experience of the moment. This dogmatic view is embodied in the secular `Commandments of Change’:
I You must never remain stationary because it is a bad thing to stand still
1I You must not on any account allow yourself to be left behind by the crowd
III You must hitch yourself onto and identify yourself with any identifiable trend
The former Airport West parishioner unwittingly identified Team Ministry’s adherence to these commandments in its constant search for new “gimmicks”. Whether demolishing altars, removing statues, moving the tabernacle, abandoning vestments and clerical dress, distributing flowers in lieu of the Blessed Sacrament, needlessly re-arranging pews, inviting comments from the congregation during Mass, installing still more extraordinary ministers, etc. etc., the Team was pre-occupied with change as it related to the outward and visible. They had regressed to the “cult of constant activity” which von Ilildebrand experienced under Nazi rule; to a secular understanding which automatically equates external change with progress. In noting the implications of this agitated state of mind, Cardinal Ratzinger accurately reflects the Team’s perception of “conservative” parishioners who were ridiculed for being “fearful of change”:
… labeling a person conservative is practically synonymous with social excommunication, for it means, in today’s language, that such a one is opposed to progress, closed to what is new and, consequently, a defender of the old, the obscure, the enslaving, that he is an enemy of the salvation that change is expected to bring about.,’