A priestless town – Anakie not anarchy

Anne Hatte, 28 October 2022

“If I don’t go to them, they will never know who Jesus is, or that they are loved by God.” So Anne Hatte witnesses in her tiny, struggling community, as she hopes to leave a legacy for the next generations. Anne lives with her husband on a farm in Anakie, the oldest town of Queensland’s Sapphire Gemfields. Nearly 900kms northwest of Brisbane, it belongs to the Rockhampton Diocese and is 45kms west of Emerald. Cheap housing has drawn those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale, whose financial and family situations can be strained. For Anne it has been home since the 1980s.

When Anne first arrived, sacramental life amounted to a Mass once a month in the town hall, led by the clergy of their parish of Emerald. But then Sr Marie Carroll MSS came to live among them. She organised lay-led liturgies once a month as well, so that they celebrated together every fortnight. Anne recalls, “even though we were unable to celebrate the Eucharist, we gathered and were united in the Liturgy of the Word and received Holy Communion, anticipating our next opportunity for Mass.” And by the time the Sister left, there were several local people trained and able to lead the liturgies. 

Another local, Denise, presiding at the Anakie school when the hall was unavailable, 2002

Anne was one of the first to undertake this role, and she continued on steadily from the 1990s. She could draw on her country experience as a child, where she had a physical church and parents who gave her a great example. She recalls that they had to prepare the church and “do the flowers”. So this step up into ministry was a natural progression. Then, last year, two SVD priests came to Emerald and were able to supply Anakie once a fortnight. “It feels like a holiday,” she quips. However, Anne sometimes worries about the future and what might be sustainable.

For Anne, gathering together on a Sunday is “the important thing.” It keeps the people of God in contact with each other, even when they don’t have a church. They hear from the Gospels and support each other in their lives as a community. She feels very lucky to be in a country parish, as they have a cuppa after every liturgy and that’s when “the good chat happens.” They share out all the jobs, right down to bringing the milk, and develop a sense of responsibility for their church. Although the parishioners meet in a hall, they are all on the hall committee, so they are also in charge of upkeep and maintenance.

Anne had a very positive experience in beginning this leadership role in her parish. The lay leaders had formation days, and plenty of opportunities for preparation and education. In its initial stages, the local priest and Bishop were very supportive. The lay leaders from around the area used to be invited to deanery meetings, which allowed for more connections and faith development, and they occasionally traveled to the cathedral. Almost everyone who would come for Mass in Anakie accepted the lay-led liturgy, and would send apologies if they couldn’t make it.

The Anakie faith community, 2002

Anne has not only led liturgies, but she also runs Religious Education in their small primary school every fortnight. It started with just the Catholic students, but now includes all Christians. She loves the bible-based program, and learns a lot from it, as well as her interactions with the children. It is truly missionary work, as she says, “They will never hear anything about God if I don’t go.” As a religious person, Anne’s caring presence also helps community members through times of grief and loss.

In other ways, Anne and her husband seek to be compassionate as God is compassionate. They nurture the land on which they live, farming ecologically and working to preserve the Great Barrier Reef. Like many country people, Anne is eminently practical in this, and also in her faith. “If you’re capable of something, you have to do it,” she declares. In not recognising the potential for ministry of many kinds of people, she feels it is a waste. She hopes that others will be as informed and inspired by the Vatican II document, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, as she has been. In Anne, I see someone who has stepped up to respond to local needs, and I pray that many may follow her in future.   

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