Bishop David launches Office for Synodality
“We do not have to wait to see where this journey of the world-wide Church will take us. This is the moment we can embrace an authentic synodality in the way we live our diocesan life.”
Bishop David Oakley, Pastoral Letter, Advent, 2022
In Advent 2022 Bishop David took the very exciting step of founding an Office for Synodality for our diocese. We had experienced the power of Synod processes to transform our conversations last year, even when carried out with small groups, at speed and in the middle of a Covid wave. In order to build on those experiences, and honour the listening, Bishop David has asked the diocese to “take hold of those three words, communion, participation, mission, and apply them to every aspect of our parish and diocesan life and witness.” Fr Francis Higgins and Avril Baigent will support synodal conversation and decision-making across the diocese by facilitating:
- * A morning for Curial staff on 31stJan to respond to the Synod listening and explore more synodal ways of working together
- * A clergy formation session on synodality
- * Parish resources to respond to the listening and help parishes become more synodal – including Listening to the Listening resource and the Next Step Challenge
- * New ways of working in Pastoral Areas – including a pilot scheme developed locally to facilitate conversations about future parish and clergy provision.
- * Resources for schools – both school councils/pupil parliaments, and governors/staff
- * Five working groups on some of the key themes of the listening: the life of the priest; lay involvement in decision making; finances and resources; women’s ministry; outreach to the marginalised.
- * Preparation for the Diocesan Assembly on 15thJuly
The next few months will be very busy indeed, but we hope to involve as many people around the diocese in these processes, including bringing together 400 delegates for our Assembly. Find out more on our dedicated Synod pages: https://northamptondiocese.org/for-a-synodal-church/.
Next steps for the Synod – one parish’s response
St Teresa’s, Beaconsfield, 7th May 2022
Links have been added to signpost to diocesan resources.
Around 60 parishioners gathered to reflect on our parish submission to the synodal process. Our aim was to see what we could learn from the responses that might impact on the life of the parish now. What could be actioned to enliven our sense of belonging to the parish community? We enlisted the help of Deacon Peter Collins to act as a facilitator and critical friend.
The day started with a period of silence and prayer. We then listened to the main points of the parish submission which were presented by those who had been listeners in the parish stage of the synodal process. Parishioners then met in small groups to reflect on what they had heard and Deacon Peter spent time with the groups listening to their deliberations. Over lunch he met with the listeners and together they highlighted themes that were common to the group discussions.
After lunch parishioners were invited to join groups that would discuss these themes further and see how we might action them in the setting of the parish. These included:
COMMUNICATION – the aim is to communicate better our faith, which is alive and vibrant. The ‘where’ was ‘everywhere’ …… from the church entrance, the body of the Church, the hall and OUTWARDS, by everyone using every form of media available.
In short: MARKETING using all that we are and all that we have, a great big WELCOME.
For more resources on welcome and hospitality, see our Entertaining Angels page
For courses and help with sharing our faith, get in touch with Mission Northampton
YOUTH FORMATION – the feeling of the group was that we do many thing well eg. Cathechesis, sacramental milestones, children’s liturgy, children’s masses , music and the new youth evenings.
But, we in common with many parishes, lose young people. The challenge is how to promote a life-long faith, and one which is “educationally” satisfying and robust.
For more resources and help with parish youth ministry, get in touch with NYMO
To explore new forms of catechesis, especially family catechesis, contact Alex Heath
ADULT LAY FORMATION – an active creative group, encouraging topics from bible study through Canon law, the encyclicals, the meaning and significance of the Mass. Not forgetting ecumenical and inter-church and inter- denominational meetings and discussions. All in places, times and venues to be attractive to an ever larger participation. A massive agenda.
Find a range of adult faith formation resources here for parish use
Don’t forget our Lay Formation Fund which can help parishes pay for resources or speakers as well as formation for individuals
Contact Avril Baigent for more suggestions or something bespoke for your parish
COMMUNITY-BUILDING – A big enthusiastic group who designed a year-long programme of social, fun activities for the parish. Including all ages and diversity. The list was long and comprehensive, and they wisely decided to bring back into being the social committee to enable this agenda to become a reality.
CHARITY/ SOCIAL JUSTICE – We are blessed with generous parishioners who give to many good causes both at home and abroad. However, there are limited numbers of people involved, and leadership roles are difficult to fill. We need to find a way to attract other and younger parish members to take up the challenge facing us, and to be actively involved in the Christian ethos of a “ loving, giving service to our neighbours”.
For any help with social action projects, get in touch with Caritas Northampton
At the end of the day, we then gathered for a plenary session to share our findings together from these sessions, and from this to draw up an Action Plan for implementation in the Parish.
All in all “WHAT AN INSPIRATIONAL DAY”. Our journey continues ……. Together, in The Holy Spirit, we will!
If you want to hold a similar day in your parish, and would like some help with it, or someone to facilitate, get in touch with Avril at email@example.com.
The Synod on the ground in the diocese
How is the Synod working out around our diocese? After all, it’s one thing for the Synod office in Rome to put together a process that has to work across the world, from Buenos Aires to Manila, from Paris to Taiwan; and another to see it happening in parishes in the UK. Here are some ways in which the St Barnabas cluster in Milton Keynes has taken the key elements of gracious listening, gracious speaking and discernment and is creating opportunities that will work for the very different communities there.
St Augustine’s is a large active parish with a history of running Lent and Advent groups, and some key people who came forward to help. They will be using a mixture of the different parish sessions at different times and venues, to reach the maximum number of people.
Our Lady of Lourdes is very ethnically diverse with regular Malayalam and Tamil Masses and a large African community. They have a tradition of sharing food, so they are going to do a taster session after Mass with the different communities bringing food from their traditions. They hope to do something in language groups after Christmas.
St Bede’s in Newport Pagnell is a small congregation of about 100-120 people, well embedded within their old market town. They are planning to use their network of friendships and connections to have individual conversations, eg with the AA group using the hall.
Christ the King, like many parishes, has a number of existing groups. It is also a shared church, and will bring an ecumenical voice to the Synod conversations. The parish at St Mary’s, Woburn Sands, have a great group that regularly come in for coffee, so those after Mass sessions will work well there.
The listeners at St Edwards wanted to involve as many people as possible. They are planning, one Sunday, to use the homily time for silent reflection on questions 2+3. People can jot down their answers, with opportunities after Mass to go into small groups. During the week the synod team will draw together the main themes, and then have a second Sunday of reflection, looking at what has arisen from the previous week.
What will the Synod look like for your community? Find out everything you need to get started here: https://northamptondiocese.org/for-a-synodal-church/
New Year’s Resolutions
Perhaps 2021 is the time we finally get around to some of those spiritual resolutions on our bucket list? Whether you currently have more time on your hands, or have never been busier, we could all do with giving our spiritual lives a health check. Here are some New Year’s resolutions from priests and people around the diocese, including Bishop David.
Helen Burgess, School Chaplain and Assistant Director of the Diaconate
Happy New Year! My name is Helen Burgess and I have many roles in the Diocese, as a wife, a mother of three teenagers, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish Flitwick, and a lay chaplain in a secondary school. I am training to be a Spiritual Director and I am a Formator for our trainee Deacons. As a new year begins it’s always good to have some new spiritual aspirations. Pope Francis in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti is reminding us to put our faith into action through fraternity and social friendships. My extended family have been journeying recently with my Uncle through dementia. As well as practical support I decided to take part in the January Run for Dementia. I find walking and running especially in the pandemic a great way to reflect and pray ! A second recent endeavour falls into my Diaconate role. A group of students at Oscott Seminary pray the Divine Office morning and evening over zoom. I have been joining this little community to pray and have discovered a beautiful rhythm of prayer and fellowship. It’s also a good way to connect with the Seminary whilst we can’t meet face to face. Sometimes commitment to and enthusiasm for new initiatives in January can fade, so I have been careful to be realistic and join the group when I can ! Wishing you a fruitful journey with your New Year spiritual endeavours in 2021!
Fr Kevin McGinnell, Episcopal Vicar for Education
A book to read this year is Pope Francis’ Let Us Dream – the Path to a Better Future. The pope puts his personal reflections in the context of these unsettling times of the worldwide pandemic helping us look beyond our own challenging situation to embrace the needs of all people.
A project in hand from NORES – as we can no longer send actual prayer bags home for families to use for prayer in the home. Anne Marie McIntosh, Primary Adviser, is producing a virtual prayer bag for each Sunday which will be available on the NORES website. Our Bishops’ Conference Spirituality Committee has begun a project reflecting on the Responsorial Psalms for each Sunday of the year, using a verse a day for reflective prayer – see liturgy office.org.uk.
Sr Mary-Lou Winters, Daughters of St Paul
A great resolution for the New Year, in my opinion, is the simple practice of Lectio Divina (gentle, reflective reading of Scripture). It is a rich, timeless practice, extremely user-friendly and it truly nurtures a deep, loving, living relationship with the Lord. It can be as simple as you like, especially to start out. It fits into any time frame, with various, creative ways to practice. During Advent, I read Michael Casey’s Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina. The first chapters introduce Lectio Divina in its original monastic context and he presents it as the “school of Christ”. Then he goes to the heart of Lectio and its practice, finishing off with the Fathers of the Church with a reading list from the classics. I heartily recommend it. You can order it from our website www.pauline-uk.org and help promote our ministry of making the Word of God available to all people.
Deborah Purfield, CAFOD Coordinator, Northampton Diocese
2021 is our chance to reshape our world together especially as the UK hosts two major international conferences – COP26 and the G7. A simple but very effective New Year’s resolution which I really recommend, having done it already, is to start by simply signing the CAFOD petition asking the PM to put poor communities at the heart of COP26 climate talks. Thereafter the next step can be signing up to join the CAFOD campaign or finding out how to share your time and talent to promote CAFOD’s work. I found supporting CAFOD’s work in both parishes and schools at various times so fulfilling, inspiring and a wonderful way of building community (even under lockdown!). I gave what time I could and in what way I was able to and knew that I was making a positive difference no matter how small. So why not give it a go? Do what you love and do it for CAFOD! To find out more do get in touch with Debbie Purfield (Coordinator) : firstname.lastname@example.org 07786 114 390
Jim Cargin, parishioner, St Joseph’s Aylesbury and member of L’Arche UK
January: it’s cold, dark, and spring still so far off. A good moment to take comfort from Orkney, where they know a thing or two about getting through long, cold dark winters: in his centenary year, the Catholic Orcadian poet, George Mackay Brown, is heart-warming company: check out his ‘Christmas stories’. You are in for a treat!
Bishop David Oakley
There are always so many things to read, and other things I want to read. There is always a stack of books and materials next to my chair, patiently waiting their turn to be read! So here is my personal new year’s resolution, to make some diary priority for reading. In particular, I want to read again, Divine Renovation, Beyond the Parish by James Mallon. Good fiction is also important to me. I am currently ploughing through Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, coming to the end now of the third volume. And finally, although I subscribed to Apple Music, I am not very good at downloading new stuff. I have always found music inspirational and horizon widening. So I intend to broaden my music interests.
So what are your New Year Resolutions? Developing daily prayer practices can be a wonderful way of making a regular space for God: see here for a variety of resources. If reading the Bible has been on your bucket list for years, there are lots of tips here: https://pastoralministryoffice.org/reading-the-bible/ . However, let’s not pile ourselves with extra work to do if we already are stretched and anxious. God is with us just as much in stillness and rest, as Canon John reminds us:
Canon John Beirne, St Joseph’s and St Clare’s Parish, Aylesbury
New Years Hopes 2021
There is a lovely word we all love to Hear!
What is it? Rest!
My Dream for 2021 is this:
Each Day, Leave down “Thoughts, Cares, Worry “
Just Be Just Be Just Be.
Your First Action each Day should Be Just That.
Rest maybe 5 minutes 10 minutes.
The chores seem different.
If you can do this at different times of the DAY you will notice a difference.
You become friends with yourself.
That is a great thing to discover.
Parish-School Blog – The Life of a School Chaplain in Lockdown
Helen Burgess, September 2020
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21
During my five years as the Chaplaincy Co-ordinator of St Thomas More Catholic Secondary School in Bedford, I have always been conscious in my role of the rich heritage of faith. At the end of March, as we watched our new Bishop being ordained, we also said a speedy farewell to our Year 11 and Year 13 students and found ourselves like everyone else in lockdown. As I reflect on this time, I am delighted with but also surprised by how much I have been able to do and echo St Pauls words to the Church in Ephesus that we have been “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
In the initial weeks my main concern was to keep in touch, provide resources and ensure that all members of our community knew that they were not forgotten and that we were praying for them and their families. I was introduced to the world of Zoom and very quickly set up our staff prayers via this forum. This was successful and spurred me on to look at what else we could do. My home parish in Flitwick were having regular morning prayer of the Church so I approached our Wednesday Mass group and we started a weekly morning prayer of the Church as well. The weeks went by and attendance was good, we moved across to Microsoft Teams in line with the school policy and then after attending a Chaplaincy webinar and an on-line Divine Renovation workshop I was encouraged to form a virtual staff room. This developed into a regular weekly Coffee and Chat slot. Attendance varied but I felt that if it helped one member of staff I would continue!
As a school community we have a tradition to stop and pray at 2.30 pm each day. A bell rings across school to call us to prayer, it is the only bell that rings and so is rather distinctive. I provide a simple structure of prayer for this time, but staff and students can also choose to lead in their own way. During the lockdown I continued to resource this time through our intranet platform Firefly. Our school doors never really closed and we welcomed a small group of students. As this community grew I arranged to call into school through Microsoft Teams and deliver the prayer bell. The first time I did this was very moving, a real joy to see a small number of students and staff gathered in our library. This coincided with the release of the UK Blessing produced by Churches of all denominations https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUtll3mNj5U I played this and felt such a sense of unity.
Within the Bedford Catholic School Chaplaincy group, we have set to work responding as best we could to a growing number of needs. We supported each other through those early days of lockdown and created a range of resources with which to populate our Chaplaincy web page and support our communities. These included information about our Churches, Mass attendance, bereavement issues and prayer resources including a weekly Cana prayer resource and the development of a virtual time of prayer on a Friday afternoon which we recorded before disseminating on Facebook and Twitter as well as our web pages. The process of recording and filming a time of prayer was all new to us but we felt that it might help our communities to see a familiar face, the quality of our what we produced was not to be our focus but the sentiment of communicating and sharing a time of prayer. Another new domain was crossed!
In February our school joined with 11 schools to form the Our Lady Immaculate Chaplaincy Academies Trust (OLICAT). With the help of our Director of the Teaching School Bernadette Grimley we teamed up with a small group of staff in Chaplaincy roles from the OLICAT and were able to generate some new ideas and projects. From this forum we were able to develop a chaplaincy web page and twitter account. We started posting what we were doing, we expanded the Friday prayers to become an OLICAT activity with many more contributors from all over the OLICAT, we created lots of resources and information including a special page to support those struggling with financial hardship at this time. We also created a Garden of Hope initiative, encouraging our schools to gather, celebrate and display hope in lockdown. Building on our Catholic heritage we chose to pray for 12 hours 6am – 6pm on the First Friday of the month across The OLICAT and through Twitter. This has been a very beautiful opportunity and keeps growing in support and vision. During our July First Friday prayers many families took the role of leading an hour!
In June we celebrated St Thomas More Day. We teamed up with Father Brendan Seery from the Milton Keynes Cluster and produced a recorded liturgy from our families and staff to join in with at home. We also produced a fun staff greeting to our students using our school prayer and favourite hymn! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDlNetiTZSw&feature=youtu.be Both of these resources were sent to our community and posted on Facebook and Twitter.
As we prepared for our full return to school, and conscious that our staff and students have had many challenging experiences in lockdown, we decided to prepare a short training programme. Our focus was to create listening schools and the programme reflected on loss and bereavement. Initially we piloted this with a very small group from our chaplaincy meetings using social distancing and face to face teaching as well as Microsoft Teams for those who were shielding. Spurred on by the success of this we went on to deliver to six small groups of staff before the end of term and were encouraged by the positive responses and feedback.
As the term drew to a close, I was delighted to work with the Year 6 students from St John Rigby School, Bedford who came to spend a week on the St Thomas More site. We were able to reflect on retreat and pilgrimage making a short prayer walk around our grounds passing through the prayer room and the prayer garden.
As I reflect on the last few months I am incredibly grateful for what has been a fruitful time. I have been surprised by all that has been made possible one step at a time, new skills, new ideas, new ways of working. I really believe that we have been able to do, “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”. (Ephesians 3:20-21).
School Chaplaincy across the diocese is supported by the NORES Office.
Parish Life in Lockdown
Avril Baigent, July 2020
The last few months have been extremely challenging for our parish communities. With churches closed, and all forms of face to face contact difficult, we faced hurdles in continuing to live out our community life. Most diocesan and parish staff have been furloughed due to our difficult financial situation so clergy had to take on all the parish admin in addition to many more funerals and pastoral visits (where allowed). Setting up technology has been time-consuming, with a steep learning curve. Yet it’s amazing what has been happening despite all these obstacles. Here is a snapshot of just some of what’s been going on around the Diocese. If there’s a great project going on in your parish that isn’t featured here, drop us and email and we can add it in.
Bedford Knock and Drop
Our SVP groups have been very active around the diocese, picking up the many challenges that lockdown imposed many families and individuals. Pam Kenworthy, of the Bedford SVP, wrote:
The aptly named ‘Knock & Drop’ team operate on behalf of the four Bedford SVP Conferences. The six SVP members from across the town shop for, make up & deliver food parcels to families & individuals who are either self-isolating or in need. To date we have provided parcels to 27 families/individuals and regularly support 26 adults, 16 teenagers & 12 children. We expect to receive more referrals in the coming weeks & months. We set up a JustGiving page set up to help fund our food parcels & other support. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/svpbedford We distribute CTS prayer books and/or Missals and occasionally other spiritual resources as available.
On Pentecost Sunday, the ‘Knock & Drop’ team together with a few parish volunteers delivered 65 of Kathy’s delicious Pentecost cakes to 55 households from St Philip and St James and Holy Cross parishes. Feedback was very positive; for some it was the first time, since lock down, that they had ‘face to face’ conversation with another person. The joint Parish/ SVP Support List grew to almost 100 weekly calls to individuals/couples; most of whom were isolated or vulnerable. We set up a joint Parish/SVP Contact team manned by 20 trusted volunteers to call parishioners on behalf of our parish community. This support was welcomed by all .
The team provide a food & household shopping service as well as collect & deliver prescriptions. In addition we provide other support as and when needed; for example provided technical support with internet & Zoom to help isolated parishioners keep in touch with others. We send cards to parishioners in hospital, birthdays, other celebrations & other items as appropriate. Members have delivered face masks made by an SVP member, birthday cakes, Easter Eggs, flowers, plants & offered help with gardening, for example mowing lawns or light weeding.
Parish Spirituality goes online (or not!)
Parishes around the diocese have been very creative in the ways that they have taken prayer and spirituality online. Very early on, Maris Nicholson from St Augstine’s parish started to run her mums’ prayer group via Facebook video (see below). Since then, many of the spiritual activities of the St Barnabas Cluster in Milton Keynes have gone digital, from adoration at St Augustine’s to a weekly virtual rosary, to the Saturday night PraiseFest. The cluster priests were also able to record a weekly Mass which could be accessed over youtube. Subscribe to their weekly email for more information. In Saint John Henry Newman Parish, Deacon Paul Priestly ran online sessions using David Wells’ Beloved Disciples videos, helping people to reassess their lives in the light of the crisis. He says that people came ready to talk deeply and spiritually about their lives in a very special way. His wife Sarah set up a Lectio Divina group over zoom as well to enable people to reflect on the weekly readings. At St Joseph’s, Gerrards Cross, Fr Matt Blake live-streamed weekly talks on Scripture, and the children’s liturgy had a Zoom family bingo. And up in Corby, Fr David Donaghue posted daily mini-reflections on the titles of Our Lady.
St Gregory’s in Northampton took a very different approach. They did have daily online Masses and Easter reflections, but for something more tangible, the O’Neil family painted Stations of the Cross and the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, and laid them out as a walking prayer in the church garden.
Canon John Beirne mans the phone
Canon John Beirne usually runs a very busy parish with three schools and a prison, so when lockdown hit, he started to work through the parish register, phoning families and individuals to check in with them, see how they were doing and if the church could help in any way.
He spoke to 86 yr old man, caring for his wife with dementia, and was so pleased to learn about the help he was getting from those around him. On another call, a family said, “We have grown together so much through the lockdown. We were so busy, had so much to do. Suddenly we were going for walks every day, talking every day. We grew together.” One night Canon John got a crossed number, and even chatted to a Jewish rabbi in London who had been doing services on zoom, including 200 people for a virtual Passover supper. Overall, Canon John and his team reckon they made over 1,000 calls.
Canon John is now planning for the future, taking the lessons he’s learned from this lockdown experience forward for the parish. Lots of people told him, “I hope we don’t return to normality.” People are looking for times of solitude, times of personal prayer. They felt they were on a treadmill – run ragged. There has to be more of a balance found.
Ministry with families and young people
Stephanie Lee, the youth worker at Holy Cross and St Philip and St James parishes in Bedford, has done a fantastic job at keeping contact with families and young people throughout lockdown. She has been running virtual children’s liturgy on Sunday mornings, continued First Communion classes on zoom (including a party on the day they should have had their First Communion) and kept both youth groups going with real life Cluedo, mug cakes and many a quiz. She has recently launched a Children’s Praise Session which is a series of videos that include a Bible reading, Praise and Worship, and Prayer for younger parishioners. They can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVwwHTDDNwtpyN3iUxEr1Ow?view_as=subscriber. The parish has also started a Youth Alpha group which has proved very popular. See here for resources on running Alpha online: https://alpha.org.uk/tryalpha.
While lockdown continued, chaplaincy in prisons and hospitals continued, although in very difficult circumstances. Even when priests were allowed onto COVID wards, they had to wear full PPE and any prayer sheets or cotton buds used for anointing had to be burned. Around the diocese, hospital rotas were re-arranged so that elderly priests could continue to shield at home. Visits to hospices and care homes, where allowed, were also key to providing support, and of course many funerals were conducted under difficult circumstances. In our prisons, chaplains played a key role in pastoral support, with one chaplain visiting every prisoner every week to check in with their physical and mental health.
Many parishes only have a few standing orders each month, with most of their giving coming in through cash each Sunday. This has meant huge difficulties for our communities. For example, one parish counted the donations they had gratefully received through lockdown, and it came to the same amount over four months that they would usually receive each week. If you possibly can, please do convert your weekly giving to a standing order as this allows parishes to have more security into the future and saves on counting and banking which can be tricky in these circumstances. You can do this online or over the phone each week on Giving Tuesdays. See the diocesan website for more information. https://northamptondiocese.org/donate/
Church at home
With church doors closed, the faith was carried on in our homes up and down the diocese. People put palm branches on their doors, created home liturgies with their children, and planted garden shrines to Our Lady, as well as helping out with neighbours in very practical ways. The Sunday obligation may have been lifted, but according to a multitude of surveys, people attended more services, and not less.
In order to meet this need, many parishes took their services online. St Columba’s in Chesham is not alone in having their own youtube channel, with services posted daily: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmxhag9LOLa1NP-b7LqqEAQ/videos? In other places, priests ran very long cables through to the church to enable them to livestream from their laptops. Parishes were amazed to discover how many people were engaging with these services. The weekly online service at Holy Family, Langley, in which parishioners were able to participate through the readings and psalm, and through their digital choir, got visitors from Australia, Ireland and Texas. Most extraordinary of all, though, have been the thousands of people who have engaged with the Cathedral Masses . Bishop David unfortunately had to spend his first weeks with us locked down in Bishop’s House, but was able to preach to a much bigger proportion of the diocese than would be possible for any real life Mass. As we’ve already said, the church doors may have been closed, but the light of faith was well and truly burning across the Diocese of Northampton.
As we slowly come out of lockdown, we face an unknown few months. Many people are asking, where is the Holy Spirit leading us? The Pope has urged us to “find the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity” (Urbi et Orbi, March 28th). We are going to need all our creativity, commitment and prayerfulness to find the way ahead for our communities. For some ideas of the resources available, check out the parish life online, pastoral care in difficult times, and everyday spirituality pages on this site, and sign up for our autumn series of talks: The Post-Lockdown Church. Also, contact email@example.com with news of what your parish has been up to so we can feature it here.
Taking your prayer group online: Mums’ Prayer Group, St Augustine’s, MK
Maris Nicholson, March 2020
Since Friday evening, when school closed indefinitely, I have started to meet ONLINE with some of the mums through videocall. We prayed the rosary every 9pm for the intentions of the Pope. On our second day of joint rosary online, a mum whose whole family is on quarantine due to symptoms of covid, requested if we could have short reflection and sharing. We decided to use A Journey to God, a Lent course by Mark Davis, for reflection and conversation after praying the rosary.
On Sunday evening, the 1st topic “flight&fear” was timely as each gave the chance to take a deeper look at what we were feeling at this moment in our lives, what calls out attention, what are we looking for and where do we feel stuck in this time and situation. It has been a very moving sharing that led everyone to freely share and enjoyed the SILENCE in between sharing.
Last night the second topic “places of refuge” has brought out so many good realisation in each families. Because the group videocall can only accommodate to maximum 8 participants, I am slowly introducing ideas on “leading group prayers”. It is my hope and and prayer that after some time, this group could branch out and start to lead other members in praying and having spiritual conversation online. Please help me through your prayers that God will bless each of the families, who are regularly joining group prayer online, could lead other members who want to join in the group prayerful conversations.
Maris’s group uses Facebook messenger group video call, but other choices include WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, Zoom. For other ways of continuing your group, see here: https://pastoralministryoffice.org/parish-life-cv/
Find “A journey to God” here: https://www.shorelineconversations.com/home-2/themes/#a-journey-to-god
Small Parish Communities: St. Gregory’s Parish, Northampton
Maria Heath, St Gregory’s Parish, Northampton, January 2020
Small communities are small groups of people who meet in each other’s homes to share their faith. There are many different models and we have chosen to follow the parish cell group system which has been fruitful all over the world. The idea is that when a parish small group reaches about 14 people, the group divides (hence the ‘cell’ model!’) to form two groups, and so on.
In our parish, we began with one ‘cell’ which we call a ‘small community’. I chose four people who I thought would be good leaders and my husband and I met together with them for about two years to establish the group and ensure we all understood the vision and format. After this initial time we began to invite others through personal invitation into the group. After another 18 months we had enough people to make two groups, so we split the group into two, with two of the original people taking on the leadership of the second group. Using this method means that it is easy for a parish to begin because it is not a big structural initiative. It starts small and grows organically. Our parish now has three small communities.
We follow a simple model. Each group meets twice a month ( for example, my group meets on the first and third Thursdays of the month 7.45-9.15pm, another group meets the second and fourth Tuesdays of a month, 2.30-4pm). The meeting is strictly an hour and a half, we emphasise with leaders the importance of finishing on time – evidence suggests that people stop going to groups that regularly run overtime.
The structure is the same in every group. Our Thursday evening our timings look like this:
7.45 – Welcome, offer drinks etc.
7.50 – How have we shared our faith since we last met?
8pm – Song (s) of praise and opening prayer
8.10 – Read Scripture aloud
8.15 – After a few moments of silence to re-read Scripture, each person can feel free to share what struck them about the passage. This is not an academic exercise, but an encounter with the Word of God which speaks to each person in a different way.
8.45: The leader shares a Christ-centred reflection on the Word (all the groups reflect on the same Scripture and have the same input, prepared in advance either by the priest or a person he appoints with the appropriate skills)
8.55: Opportunity for further discussion in the light of the reflection
9.05: Intercession: for the needs of those we know, the parish, wider Church and the world
9.15: End with a communal prayer such as the Hail Mary or Our Father.
The initial question, ‘how have I shared my faith with others in word or deed?’, while an uncomfortable question for many Catholics, is an important key to the success of this model. First of all, any small group is in danger of introspecrion and becoming cliquey. This question, right at the beginning, reminds everyone that we are here to draw others to Christ. One of the key ways we encourage people to share their faith is to invite people to the group, so it is a reminder that the group needs to always be open and welcoming to new people. Everyone in the group knows that the aim is to grow so the group can eventually become two groups. While this is a challenge when the time comes because friendships often grow strong within the group and people naturally want to remain in the group as it is, the very act of creating two smaller groups reminds people we are not here to be an introspective group, but to grow in our faith and enable others to do the same by inviting them to be part of the group.
Each group is looked after by two people: a leader, who guides the meeting, and a host, who looks after the practical side of things, for example, welcoming people, making drinks, creating a welcoming environment. The meeting usually takes place at the host’s house.
Everyone who comes to the small community values it. They all testify to a growth in faith as they reflect on the Word and share that with one another. I have noticed people become enthusiastic about sharing their faith with others, because once someone becomes used to talking about their faith with others it becomes normal and they find themselves naturally sharing their faith in other situations with all kinds of people.
Small groups are also places where people feel loved and cared for, so people who are part of a small group often become better engaged in the parish because they feel valued and loved.
They are useful after people have gone through RCIA where they become used to being part of a small faith sharing group that meets regularly. By joining a small community new Catholics can continue to experience being part of a group, they can continue to grow in their faith and crucially they can get to know people so when they go to Sunday Mass they can sit with someone from the small community, which makes it easier to navigate Sunday Mass. We run Alpha in our parish and we ensure that participants are invited to join a small community so they have a place to continue to develop their faith. Finally, sometimes there are people who are not quite ready to become a Catholic for whatever reason or are so new to faith that Sunday Mass is a step too far for them. Again a small community can be a gateway for people, a place where they can feel loved, where they can grow in their faith, get to know others in the parish and when they are ready they can then become more involved.
There is a lot of evidence that suggests that Churches which have smaller group gatherings as well as the large Sunday gathering are the Churches that are growing. Today we need to provide places for people to encounter Jesus and to grow as disciples. Through small communities, people can encounter Jesus in the Word and through the sharing, and they are places of discipleship, where people can receive teaching, but also develop healthy relationships with others who can disciple them, walking with them on their journey. It is not unusual for me to meet with people from the small community at other times to help them with their questions, to pray for them and to encourage them. This is only possible because of the relationship that has developed through the small community.
Women of Grace – Holy Redeemer Parish, Slough
Catherine Waweru, Holy Redeemer Parish, Nov 2019
Over two years ago, one of the parishioners at the church was going through a difficult time in her life.
In order to help her go through this difficult time, ten women in the parish got together one Sunday afternoon and visited her at home. When we arrived she was welcoming and received us very well. We had a wonderful time singing, worshiping the name of the Lord, followed by scripture reading and opportunity to encourage our dear parishioner. We then wrapped up with prayer and refreshments.
It was from this visit, majority of the ladies felt this is something we should carry on.
We again met up one Sunday after mass talked about starting a women’s group in the parish. We discussed the purpose of the group and agreed on three key areas:
1. Spiritual Development
Where we get together once a month to reflect on scripture, pray together and talk about challenges with a focus to find a solution.
2. BUILDING Relationships BY NETWORKING with other women in the parish.
· Reach out to others in time of need.
· Get involved with other ministries in the church
· Plan a family get together
· Partner with the Parish clergy to offer support
3. Be of service to Holy Redeemer Church
At that point we agreed it will be important for us to give a name to our group and came up with Holy Redeemer Catholic Women of Grace.
We thought in order to fulfil our plan for our lives and Holy Redeemer Family, we can only do that by God’s grace and Christ centred. It’s not we who build, Christ builds the church.
This group currently has 20 ladies on board, comprised with women of varied ages and diverse backgrounds. As a community of women rooted in our Catholic faith, we offer opportunities to deepen our relationship with God, develop relationships with other women in order to support our spiritual growth, and manifest our love for God by serving His people; currently studying the various women in the bible.
From the time of formation to date we have been able to reach out to some of the families who have lost a loved one to the extent of planning a wake, supported the sick through prayer/visiting them at home or hospital and in 2018 we organised a Christmas party for over 50 Children which was a huge success.
I Can Do Things You Cannot, You Can Do Things I Cannot; Together We Can Do Great Things
New members are always welcome!
Divine Renovation and Alpha at St Augustine’s, High Wycombe
Deacon Brin Dunsire – September 2019
Our single-church Parish is relatively large, 5-600, and fairly diverse ethnically. It has always been a reasonably active place, with plenty going on, although even the traditionally strong activities such as the four-part choir and the annual May Fayre have been struggling of late to recruit volunteers.
Last year a group of parishioners became enthused by the “Divine Renovation” book by Fr. James Mallon, and with the approval and participation of parish priest Fr.Jonathan Hill, a reading group was formed to study the book collectively and identify Good Ideas and recommendations from it which would be applicable to a conventional English parish like ours- as opposed to a North American one with numbers of paid staff.
Various ideas have already been implemented. Fr. Hill redecorated the main entrance porch and repainted and tidied up the noticeboards, acquiring a corner desk to form the basis of a hospitality location to provide information to visitors and new parishioners. We recognise the strength in Fr. Mallon’s arguments that in a big parish, people need to be encouraged to get to know each other, so we are intending to experiment with the idea of a “Name Badge Sunday”.
Most of the reading group had had prior experience of Alpha courses, so we were very keen on the recommendation that these should be regularly run in a parish. We ran our first one between January and Easter 2019, and were amazed when about 60 people signed up for it, although only 40 to 45 showed up for the first evening, and the numbers eventually settled down to 30 to 35, which was pretty good for a long course requiring 11 midweek evenings. Virtually all the attenders were existing parishioners, with only one or two guests from other churches in the town, and no non-Christians at all, but this is the way that Alpha usually works in its first outing so we were just pleased to have the numbers.
We had read that among the surefire way ways of ruining an Alpha course were skimping on the meal, and on the residential weekend away which forms a key ingredient in building community and leading people into an experiential encounter with the Holy Spirit. Accordingly we served a good quality hot meal and a dessert each evening with decorated tables and a welcoming ambience partly achieved through use of lighting and background music.
The whole catering question is one of the more challenging aspects of Alpha, since cooking for three dozen can stretch the capacity of a parish kitchen, and portion control is difficult when the numbers are unpredictable. But the quality of the cooked meals was a major factor in retaining the participants, and we would encourage other parishes to resist the temptation to substitute tea, cakes and biscuits ! There would be nothing wrong with a good cold buffet, especially in the summer months.
No charge was made for attendance at the parish sessions, although participants were very generous with their donations and we found it easy to cover the catering costs. However, the weekend away, at a retreat centre in the Cotswolds, cost £110 per head, which virtually all attenders were perfectly happy to pay, and only one person needed to make a request for a subsidy from the parish, the option for which had been publicised in advance
This weekend away was very much the high point of the course for the 20 or so who could come; it is always going to be difficult for those with work or childcare problems. Going some distance away added to the sense of a very special weekend, and the venue was enormously attractive and had all the qualities of a weekend break about it – and the weather was fairly good on at least one of the days! The venue did of course provide all the meals, which were excellent. Several people had very obvious experiences of the Holy Spirit’s presence during the time of prayer Ministry, and even for those who did not, they could see that something powerful was going on. The result was a group of people bonded together by this shared experience, much like a pilgrimage, and their enthusiastic descriptions have caused several people to rejoin the second course for the main purpose of being able to go on the weekend
We have just begun the second course, having resolved not to attempt one per term, as the burden on organisers and caterers is quite substantial. We had to hold our nerve on the numbers point, since only four people were signed up for the 1th September start a week before the commencement date, though having persuaded all the “returners” to add their names to the list, more new people have been attracted and we were surprised and pleased to find 37 people turning up for the first session, several of whom arrived unbooked; three weeks in, a number have inevitably dropped away, but we are still getting numbers in the high 20’s, and so it is again viable as a course for the main meeting room, rather than just being handled as a house group, which we were beginning to contemplate.
What are the fruits? Everybody has experienced a deepening and enlivening of faith, having been challenged to encounter Jesus in new ways. Even those who’ve been going to renewal meetings for years have been bowled over by the joy in the group. For some in particular, the experience has been transformative of life, faith and relationships, leading to them coming into more active roles in the parish. The more people that have experienced an Alpha course and found it positive, the more ready they will be to recommend it to unchurched neighbours and relatives.
We have found it fairly easy to secure volunteer helpers for the second course, especially among those who went on the first one, in the “easy” categories of washing up, welcoming, and setting up. “Returners” are also fairly willing to act as small-group facilitators, and to deputise for the principal leaders on the odd week when they will be absent. They gain confidence by watching the role being undertaken. The overall coordinator for the course requires a certain amount of strategic vision and organising ability, plus the capacity to think into details, which means that this role is often but not always taken by the parish priest or curate, deacon or pastoral assistant/ key catechist.
Fr Mallon recommends providing opportunities for people to experience an encounter with the Holy Spirit. One of the Divine Renovation reading group was an enthusiast for the “Fire and Light” meetings organised by the Cor et Lumen Christi community at Chertsey in Surrey, which have been replicated under Fr. Andy Richardson at Our Lady of Peace in Burnham, and he was very keen that a similar event should happen at our parish. It is basically Eucharistic adoration with contemporary praise and worship music. Helped by Fr. Andy’s assurances, Fr. Hill gave the go-ahead and planning and music preparation began a couple of months in advance of a date in early September the event was well-publicised with professionally printed posters, mentions in the newsletters, and announcements, and was circulated to other local parishes. (It would have been good, if it had been possible, not to hold it on a First Friday!) A small music group who had done this kind of thing before spent many hours rehearsing a repertoire of praise and worship songs, and a small amount of new PA equipment was acquired. A 6 foot tower of tables and boxes was draped in white to form a tall plinth for the Blessed Sacrament monstrance, adorned with flowers at the base. The colour of the words-projection slides matched the livery of the posters. We were expecting 12 to 20 people, and were amazed and gratified when around 50 turned up.
All attendees professed themselves delighted with the evening, as did Fr Hill, and there was an atmosphere of profound devotion and true adoration, with powerful prayer and healing ministry being exercised by a small team of people experienced in this field. Many people testified to sensing the presence of God’s spirit, and there was great demand for the event to be repeated. Its success illustrates a phenomenon seen annually at the big Catholic camping conferences, New Dawn and Youth 2000, and the “Celebrate” weekends – there is a widespread appetite for the traditional devotions when mixed with contemporary styles of worship. Fr Hill has taken the opportunity of promoting more “conventional “ evenings of Eucharistic adoration to provide a mix of styles for the parish..
For more information see the Divine Renovation website.
All the resources for Alpha can be found here.