Moving away from the shore…
When we visited Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia the day before the Divine Renovation 2016 conference, it was so foggy that we could barely see a few metres away from the rocks we stood on. Two days later, in the conference, I realised we were standing in exactly the same place, spiritually, in our new parish adventure.
Fr James Mallon used the analogy of moving away from the shore. We know that mass culture has changed, and our pastoral models (sacramental programmes and all the vestiges of cultural Catholicism that go along with them) are no longer fit for purpose. They will all continue to contribute to the decline if we go on operating in this model. This inevitably means moving away from the structures that we have known, the programmes and systems that have made sense for decades… and moving bravely into a new model for pastoral ministry. This new model places the priority on mission, conversion, and making disciples before anything else. Last night, I went to speak to the pastoral council in a parish in Chiswick, west London, about Forming Intentional Disciples and shared with them lots I had learned from #DR16. “What you are proposing is a hugely radical approach,” one person commented. Yes, but it is the only thing that makes sense in a postmodern, post-Christian world.
Fr James spoke about the first phase in a parish’s moving away from the shore. He likened it to moving a car out of the snow – a lot of effort is needed, you rock the car back and forth to get some momentum before it breaks out of its rut. The first phase is about getting more and more people behind the car. Once the car gets going, of course, you need a different approach. Now it’s not just about lots of activity in order to raise the spiritual temperature. In this phase, sharpening the vision is more crucial; here, “Less is More.” In this second phase, you can’t see the shore that you’ve left behind, but neither can you see the destination. This is where Fr James feels St Benedict Parish is currently.
In the words of Sam to Frodo,
Coming away from #DR16, I have been enormously inspired, challenged, excited, encouraged… We have seen beautiful things happen in our Alpha pilot. (Just the other evening, in a session on the topic of healing, one young participant revealed she had been recently diagnosed with an illness. The response from my small group was spontaneous and just blew me away. Everyone stood up immediately, gathered round her, laid hands on her and prayed. 10 weeks ago it would have been unthinkable, and it still stuns me to think about it now.) For me, seeing the beautiful things that are happening, we can’t get people through Alpha quick enough! We need to get more people behind this car!
One realisation that is dawning on me is that often we think about who would be a good fit for a certain role we need filling. (And believe me, these roles are beginning to mount up.) What hit home at St Benedict Parish is that our starting point has to be evangelisation. Once people have had the experience of encountering Jesus, of the love, joy and connection of a Holy Spirit-filled community, they will want to get behind the car. Our pilot has shown this to be true. Out of the 20 in our pilot, all 20 are geared up to “help pushing” (aka join the Alpha team) in the Autumn. The excitement levels are rising. We really are pushing away…!
I’ve said this countless times since returning from Canada. It was just an incomparable experience, during #DR16, to be “inside” a parish that is really doing it. Yes, there are lots of “experts” out there, seminars and webinars and programmes and silver bullets. But it was just awesome to be allowed into a community that is really thriving and see it for ourselves. What can compare to sitting beside parishioners at Sunday Mass and hearing it from their perspective. This is not spin or a well-controlled PR image of a perfect parish. No, it was real life, and the honesty with which they shared with us was immensely refreshing. Thank you Fr James and St Benedict Parish!