By Emilie Ng
SHAYNE Bennett may have given up his time as Emmanuel Community’s moderator, but he’s put no expiry date on his personal mission to evangelise the world.
To date, Shayne has preached the Gospel on every continent “other than down in the Antarctic with the seals and the whales”.
“Though if I had the opportunity, I probably would,” he said.
When the 60-year-old stepped down as moderator for the Brisbane-based Emmanuel Community in March this year, passing the baton to friend Greg Shakovskoy, he discerned it wasn’t time to quit evangelising.
The husband to Shanelle and father of Renee, Mark and Danielle, took up a new role as director of NET (National Evangelisation Teams) Ministries Australia’s university arm Freedom Ministries this year, and is the driving force behind a new mission resource for parishes which is being trialled later this year.
Fifteen years as Emmanuel Community’s moderator has put Shayne in touch with many who are hungry for the Good News, including young people in Uganda, the United States and South East Asia.
His role has also presented opportunities to meet Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, and more recently, a chat with Pope Francis at a global meeting with charismatic Catholics in November last year.
“I had the opportunity to meet (Pope Francis) last year and I thanked him for Evangelii Gaudium,” Shayne said.
“I said to him, ‘We won’t just leave it on the shelf’.”
So with such a history of meetings and travels, why did the passionate evangelist give up the role of moderator?
“I was conscious about not wanting to be in the role for too long because we have a new generation coming up in the community there,” Shayne said.
“And so I really saw my role as spanning the founding community and the new generation of young people emerging, and I believe that the community was in a good place, that we’ve got some excellent young leaders emerging.”
Shayne’s trust in young people goes back to his early days in the community.
When Emmanuel Community started in 1975, Shayne became one of the first young adults to join.
The original founder Brian Smith plucked him from a youth group, then led by Oblate priest and Iona College chaplain Fr Paul Siebert and which had its foundations with the Charismatic Renewal.
His fiancé and now wife Shanelle joined at the same time.
“As I look back, my great privilege has been to say, ‘Yes’ (to God).
“And I hope I can keep saying ‘yes’, and as the years unfold and as time unfolds, it’s a matter of trying to say ‘yes’ each day.”
Shayne’s first “yes” to God emerged unexpectedly in an Iona College science laboratory.
The 17-year-old Iona College student was questioning the Catholic faith’s validity and purpose in his life when God walked into his life for the first time.
“One of the priests (Oblate Father Paul Siebert) was holding a prayer meeting for the whole year, which I avoided,” Shayne said.
“He came in on a Friday afternoon and invited a few of us – we were studying in the library it was just before exams – and he said, ‘Are you coming to the prayer meetings?’, and we all said ‘No’.
“And he said, ‘Your exams start on Monday; if I was you I’d come’.”
Whether trapped by guilt or pure curiosity, Shayne turned up at the prayer meeting, and hated it.
“I didn’t like some of the people who were there,” he said.
“They seemed like they were really happy, singing these songs and everything and I thought, ‘These guys don’t know what they’re doing. Prayer isn’t something you are supposed to enjoy’.
“So I very carefully said two Hail Marys under my breath.”
When the meeting ended, Shayne tried to escape unnoticed, but a teacher, Bruce Lane, tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he could pray with him.
“I was a bit embarrassed as I was trying to get out the door when he caught me,” Shayne said.
“And so I said ‘Oh, okay’.
“And as he prayed, I was just able to let go.
“I think for the first time I had the feeling of Jesus being present, real, and loving me, and that was life-changing.
“And it made such a difference in my life that a week or two after that, I could remember being in the shower and thinking, ‘If this can happen to me, this can happen to everyone. I’ve got to tell the whole world’.”
Forty years on, this passing thought to tell the whole world about God has transpired into a living vocation, and one backed by the Holy Spirit’s power.
“There’s a saying in the Church that the Holy Spirit keeps the Church young, and I’m counting on it for me as well,” Shayne said, laughing.
“Our life is meant to count and different people make different contributions,” he said.
“And this is the contribution that I believe God has called me to make.
“I trust that I will be doing something up until the day I die and hopefully the funeral Mass will be an opportunity for evangelisation.”