Water from the Rock: Summer Evangelising
This past week, I’ve prayed a little with Psalm 77. In particular, these words caught my notice:
He split the rocks in the desert. He gave them plentiful water as from the deep. He made streams flow out from the rock and made water run down like rivers. (Psalm 77:15-16)
Nearly three years ago, I wrote about the reality of being a disciple in the desert… in a spiritual wasteland where you are looked on as strange in your own parish for wanting to evangelise. Now, years later, I find myself in a place where God has struck the rock (cf. Moses in Numbers 20:11) and water is gushing out. As I keep saying, it really is early days. But the last six months have been full of incredible blessings. Fr James Mallon at the DR16 conference spoke about the need to get a lot of momentum behind a car to get it out of the snow. We’ve put a lot of momentum behind our car, so far… 24 Hours for the Lord, Lenten Holy Hours, At Homes, a short mission with Meg-Hunter Kilmer, Student Mass, Alpha and, just this week, a FOCUS mission (see below…) But there’s still a lot more pushing to do, and a lot more people needed behind the car.
Two of our key ‘partners in mission’, Naz and Collette, are leaving. Collette (who I wrote about here) is beginning her MA in Law. It is sad for us but we are so grateful as they have been two of the main “pushers” behind the car. We are praying Collette might return to London after her Masters, so watch out, Birmingham… we. are. praying! In the meantime, we have some other amazing young adults moving into our parish in the autumn, and we’re excited to see what passion and skills they will bring.
Let me paint you a scenario. You are ambling through the streets of Richmond on a summer’s day, minding your own business, pondering a few items you need to buy before going away. Suddenly, two young people are standing in front of you and they are inviting you to something. You try to move away, then you hear what they are actually saying, “We want to invite you to this event we have in our church tonight. It’s just up the hill, St Elizabeth’s.” I think my jaw dropped and then I laughed. This must be any parish evangelisation director’s dream!
Yes, this was the work of the amazing FOCUS mission training that happened in our parish this week. We’ve had a team of ten missionaries doing some evangelising in our parish, and in particular three days of evangelisation training with 60 students from around the UK. They’ve been doing “incarnational evangelising” (praise and worship down by the river, i.e. a presence rather than approaching people), “bare-handed evangelising” (approaching people in the streets of Richmond), and “invitational evangelising” (inviting people into the Church, a little like Nightfever). So, one sunny afternoon in Richmond, I was the recipient of some “bare-handed evangelisation” (although I only learnt the term later). The stories we heard later from the missionaries were just amazing. We hope some people will return to our church and that we will be able to invite them to #TryAlpha.
Speaking of which… We finished our Alpha pilot, and lots of beautiful graces came from it. One of the last evenings, it really hit me what had changed. One of our small group members shared something about her life that we all immediately wanted to pray for. One of the women in my group surprisingly asked if we could pray for her there and then, and before we knew what was happening, we were gathering around our group member, praying for her. Ten weeks ago, believe me when I say this would have been unthinkable. On the final night, we had a barbecue, watched the final film on the Church (there was not a dry eye in the room) and had our final small group session. Afterwards, as we washed up, one of the ladies piped up, “You do realise you’ve taken a group of Catholics who were satisfied with just going to Mass, and have made them want to convert the whole of Richmond?!” There has been so much laughter and fun. Our team is raring to go when, in the autumn, we open our doors (Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings) to the whole world. So, to all of you who have followed our Alpha journey so far, why do I love Alpha? Because the transformation we’ve seen over the last 11 weeks has been greater than any transformation I’ve ever seen before, in any programme of formation. (And you know me, I’ve done loads!)
I want to share with you about the new CTS Catechism of the Catholic Church. I just got one, and I love it a lot. As we are working towards renewal, we know in time, we will want and need to encourage every family to have both a Bible and a Catechism in their home. Part of becoming an evangelising parish is enabling our parishioners to be confident in explaining the faith to others. What a rich gift we have in the Catechism. This new addition is full colour throughout and beautifully presented. I love how the internal cross-referencing and index of citations show brilliantly the rich interweaving of Scripture and Tradition in our Catholic faith. Why not pick up one for yourself and a present for someone in your parish?
I think one of the most supernatural and surreal events that can happen in our life is when one of your close friends or family becomes a priest. Last weekend, I was in Dublin and then Galway for the ordination and First Mass of one of my dearest friends, Fr Conor. We became great buddies discussing theology for hours upon end at Cambridge, and have never really stopped. How incredible to watch my friend, who I know and love so much – his humour and quirks and humility – being taken by God and made a priest. A week later, I’m still standing in awe before this beautiful mystery, full of praise and thanksgiving to God.
I’m really excited to be going to the School of the Annunciation at the end of August. Although I was there for the opening, nearly two years ago, I haven’t been since, so this is a great opportunity. If you are aged 18-40, there is an amazing special discount for this Summer School (22nd – 25th August) on the human person and Catholic moral teaching. The cost is just £120 for four days – accommodation and food all included – at the beautiful Buckfast Abbey in Devon. I will be teaching four exciting and practical sessions on Theology of the Body and am in the midst of preparing these… Don’t miss out, I have a feeling it’s going to be a fantastic week.
FINALLY… (yes, bumper issue of the blog)… I am off to World Youth Day… this evening! We’re flying to Lublin where we’re spending the first week, then on to the second week in Krakow. I’m joining an international group of the Foyer de Charité. (I wrote about my amazing retreat experience with them here.) We’re “animating” (I love how that word just doesn’t translate properly) a church in Krakow for the World Youth Day catechesis, and I’m totally ready for my final (yes, final) World Youth Day experience. (I am just laughing so hard that five years ago in Madrid I thought at the age of 26 I was way too old for this! Oh God you must laugh at us!) So… I’m set to go. Poland, we’re coming!!!