The value of liturgy on the margins

Sr Elizabeth Young RSM, 18 November 2021

A few years ago, a representative from the Bedgerabong Union Church (shared across several Christian denominations) wrote to the Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes with the following message: “Many Catholic residents of the Bedgerabong-Corinella area are requesting that Catholic services be held in the Bedgerabong Church, depending on the priests and lay preachers being available to conduct services in the Church.”

Bedgerabong Union Church

Bedgerabong is a farming community 30kms west of Forbes, NSW. There are no shops, but a tiny thriving school and a showgrounds for the famed Picnic Races, Music Muster and Annual Show. Approximately 150 residents are spread over 136 square kilometres. 

Around the same time as the church request, I learned that the school had a circus program and was keen to have another helper. So I started visiting the school and meeting some of the locals. Soon enough, getting in touch with a few key people in the Bedgerabong Church community, they invited us to come for a service. Families and individuals were rung all over the district and on April the 14th, Palm Sunday 2019, a small team of volunteers from Forbes headed over and beyond the ‘mountain’ as the locals call it. At the first liturgy there were 12 adults and 8 children! We quickly realised that the young ones are a very important part of our ministry and, since then, we have always had children’s ministers leading Liturgy of the Word for them outside the little church building. The second crucial addition was the Morning Tea, which has become something of an institution.

The Children’s Liturgy table set up

Since that April day, we have kept up a monthly (COVID-permitting) Catholic liturgy in the Bedgerabong church. Roughly every third time, a priest or the bishop comes to celebrate a Mass, which they all appreciate. The other times we celebrate Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion. At first I led the services, but since we organised liturgical training in Forbes, we share the roles around with other lay ministers. Others participate in music, reading, preparation, welcoming, hospitality and cleaning. Occasionally when dates coincide with family and clergy, we even have a baptism, which is very special. 

Chris, one of the lay liturgical ministers

I asked some of the attendees about what this monthly liturgy means to them, and what value it might have. They all spoke very positively about how close it is to where they live and how social it is, because “we know everyone”. Another phrase was “more homey” when compared with larger church services. Someone mentioned, “I love to see this church still going, with the local community.” Others felt very included, welcomed and involved, even when they are from other denominations, with children, ill or with disabilities. They really appreciate our key local contact, who makes numerous phone calls before every gathering. Residents highly value the children’s ministry, as many don’t get much opportunity to learn about God, and sometimes the other denominations have not been able to use the church as often. One man said that while he doesn’t go in to town to Mass, he likes coming here, and has had all his children baptised in the church. 

A feast for morning tea

The Bedgerabong church gathering rates highly in atmosphere, environment and general positive feeling. “Friendly”, “convenient” and “wonderful” were all used to describe what it means to them. However, not only the locals, but volunteers and visitors from Forbes go out of their way to thank us for the opportunity to be involved with Bedgerabong. I will conclude with what may be the highest praise from country folk: “Bloody oath, we love coming here! You can quote that.”

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