The last couple of days, we’ve been blessed to be part of Meg Hunter Kilmer‘s UK mini-tour. I’m telling you, this girl is such an enormous blessing to us. She probably doesn’t realise how much. If you haven’t heard of Meg, check out her blog. For four years, she has lived out of her car, travelling around the US to wherever people invite her, to speak about Jesus, the Gospel message, and all things Catholic. There are many reasons why I think Meg is a gift to the Church in this country (this is the third time she’s come over for a speaking tour (although she wouldn’t call it that) as far as I’m aware). A friend said yesterday she was “the best young lay Catholic speaker” he’d ever seen, and I would tend to agree. In her talks, she is loud and funny and dramatic, and therefore extremely appealing to teens. Behind this is a wide and impressive knowledge of Scripture, theology, apologetics, you name it… and a deep love of the Lord that has challenged me in my own spiritual life each time I’ve met her.
Somehow, this makes for a compelling mix for the Church especially in England. She’s aware that her American accent means she can “get away” with treading on ground on which many home-grown speakers would dare not go. In her words, “because of my accent you don’t expect me to meet your cultural norms, so I can go a lot further.” And what’s so refreshing is how you’re on solid ground with Meg. She admits that, unlike in the US, every single talk she gives in the UK contains the kerygma – because this is what people most need to hear. (In the US, the young adults and adults she speaks to are generally far better catechised). And yet, “kerygma” is always substantial with Meg – it is packed with good theology and spiritual tidbits that you can see people’s mind eating up – because we rarely get fed so well. For me over the last few days, seeing people’s lack of knowledge even of basic Catholic norms (going to Mass every Sunday or fasting before Mass, for example) has revealed even more starkly our great spiritual poverty here, the scourges of our secular mentality.
I did some number-crunching this morning and worked out that under 20% of our registered parishioners attended the events with Meg over the past two days. We held a young adults’ prayer evening, a women’s coffee morning, and an all-parish night of intercession. While none of these events were sparsely attended, to know that less than 1 in 5 parishioners got to hear the Gospel message so compellingly from Meg tells me a lot. Yes, it’s true that many have jobs that extend late into the evening and manifold other commitments. But I imagine it’s also true that many parishioners would not even have considered attending. They would have considered something “so religious” not for them. We are beginning to grapple with “engagement” which can be a good foundation for working towards discipleship. In the early months, it is good to get a feel of the spiritual temperature of the parish, a realistic snapshot that shows how far we have to go, and what the spiritual obstacles might be. As I keep repeating like a broken record, “Early days. Nothing has really happened yet.” But the wheels are slowly in motion.