Breaking the Silence

Richmond River

How’s this for a walk into work?!

A little silence on the blog front, but that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening. Quite the opposite. Having said that, my morning walk to work along the river is just blissful silence. Some days I can’t quite believe God has bestowed so much goodness… He IS Goodness, it’s all I can say.

Now, in the parish, we are beginning to be intentional about breaking the silence. Of course, in the “At Homes” (read more here) we are not talking about faith unless someone brings it up, but this Eastertide, we are quietly and subtly breaking the silence. If you want to know what I mean by “breaking the silence”, Sherry Weddell speaks about it in Forming Intentional Disciples. In more depth, she has written about this phenomenon here. She uses Elisabeth Noelle-Neuman’s 1974 communication theory of the “spiral of silence” to show how a Christian culture can be weakened. Noelle-Neuman concluded that people were intuitively aware of the majority sentiment within a group. Weddell writes:

The silencing effect thus reinforces itself: if a 40% minority does only 20% of the talking, they perceive themselves to be even more outnumbered than they truly are and are thus even less inclined to speak. Hence, the spiral into silence.

Weddell’s theory is that this effect can impose itself in a parish when parishioners do not speak of their relationship with God or of discipleship. She writes: “A Christian culture that is silent about fundamental things produces Christians who will also be silent about these things with their families, their friends, and in the marketplace.”

So, while we are building relationships of trust and getting to know people in the “At Homes”, elsewhere we are beginning subtly to try and break the silence.

Here’s what we’re doing. Over Eastertide, our parish priest is giving a series of homilies at Sunday Mass related to how we can be an “evangelising community”. I love this idea because we are making a splash about something that is happening anyway. Of course, there’s a homily at every Sunday Mass, but why not make a series, show continuity between them, put it on a flier, and tweet homily soundbites during the week. It’s simple and is open to everyone, since everyone is at Sunday Mass.

Our inspiration for the series is from Evangelii Gaudium 24:

An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others… (my italics)

We wanted to explore this idea that being an evangelising community flows from our knowledge that “he loved us first”. So, every week, we are asking a different parishioner to share a short testimony about what this means to them in their life. When did the truth that God loves them first become a reality in their lives? We are sharing just the first few sentences in our parish newsletter, and then pointing everyone to Facebook to read the full story. Just two weeks into Eastertide, these testimonies are by far the most popular thing we are sharing on our Facebook page, which you can see here (and like us!). People are messaging us wanting to share their own stories.

And finally… far from being Prosecco’d out… I think we will continue to be in for a treat with our “At Homes”. The first two (out of 15) have been a blast. Often when people arrive, they comment that they literally know no one else in the room, but soon after having leaned into our British awkwardness (helped along by hosts who zealously top up glasses), there is a convivial buzz in the room. Already, we’ve made some great connections and had fascinating conversations. At a certain moment during the evening, Fr Stephen stops proceedings and begins a conversation on, “where would you like to see our parish in five years’ time?” which has led to interesting ideas so far.

Early, early days… I feel that we are ploughing the field at the moment. Next, we’ll scatter seeds, then… LET IT RAIN!!!

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