Fruitful Missionary Discipleship

Teaching given at the Sion Community, 26 & 27 May 2018

Parish Structures

To inspire a priest or member of a parish leadership team who is open to Alpha and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, offer a Summary of Divine Renovation.

To inspire a priest or member of a parish leadership team who is skeptical about Alpha or the gifts of the Holy Spirit, offer a Summary of Rebuilt.

Read more relevant links about parishes at The Five Pillars of Thriving Parishes and Building Missionary Parishes.

Evangelising Individuals

To inspire a layperson who’s not on a parish leadership team, or a priest who is particularly concerned with their one-to-one work evangelising parishioners, offer a Summary of Forming Intentional Disciples.

Read more, with useful links, at Help! I’m a Catholic who wants to evangelise! and Making Disciples.

Other Resources

The slides used at Sion are available as the original PowerPoint and as a PDF.

Some additional books you might read!

Video clips used are embedded below, apart from the “Blessed” First Communion resource. The “Evidence” clip is one of many brilliant films from Outside da Box; I also strongly recommend “Initiation“.

Facing the Future

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

[Before the Gospel is proclaimed, everyone present will be asked to remain standing at the end.]

Dear Friends, today we celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the Dedication of this Church, and I have asked you to remain standing because I would like to show you the future! What does the future of our parish look like?

First of all, if you are a visitor among us, and this is not the church where you usually worship, please be seated.

Secondly, if for any reason you do not expect to be attending this church most Sundays by this time next year, please be seated.

I wish to show you the future, and we must plan for the long term. I hope that many of us will live long lives of service continuing to contribute to the parish, but for now I would like everyone aged over 75…70…65 to sit down.

Finally, I want to address our brothers and sisters from India, who belong to the Syro-Malabar branch of the Catholic Church. I don’t know what provision your bishop will make in the coming years, but let’s imagine that a priest is sent to Cardiff to celebrate your liturgy, the Holy Qurbana, every Sunday. If you would choose to go to that rather than come here every Sunday, please sit down.

Those of you still standing, have a good look at each other. The future of our parish is in your hands. There is no-one else who can make our parish thrive when our older brothers and sisters find that declining health prevents them giving the wonderful gifts they offer us right now. You too, please be seated – but be attentive!

Give to God what belongs to God.

This was Our Lord’s answer to a trick question designed to catch him out. But it’s a good question. What does belong to God? What are we expected to give Him?

When the Lord invites you to the wedding banquet, will you come? And will you be wearing a wedding garment?

When the Lord looks for fruit in his vineyard, will have have grown any?

When the Lord asks you to work in his vineyard, will you go?

Over the last four Sundays, St Luke has repeatedly told us that God has work for us to do. That work includes the care we give to our families, our work colleagues and the local community – but in particular it applies to our work for this parish community. Today we celebrate the Dedication of the Church. We are the living stones of which our church is built. How dedicated are we?

The fact that we have a church building here in Llanedeyrn makes a statement. It says that we, the Catholics of this parish, takes responsibility for what belongs to God in Llanedeyrn, Pentwyn, Pontprennau and St Edeyrn’s Village. We are not St Brigid’s with St Paul’s. Our brothers and sisters there are responsible for Cyncoed and Llanishen. One question I always have to keep in mind as your Pastor is to ask whether we are still large enough as a community to do God’s work without needing to merge with our neighbours. Let’s assume, for the moment, that we are large enough. What challenges will the future bring?

I’d like to share with you some numbers.

Every year, the parents of about 70 children ask that they should receive First Communion here. Most of those families do not attend Mass regularly. Maybe 10 of those families are not even Catholic. How can we welcome them and encourage them to be active members of our parish family?

Every year, the parents of about 30 infants ask that these children should be baptised here. How can we welcome these and encourage them, too, to be active members of our parish family?

In January, after the Parish Mission, we launched our “Connect & Explore” Groups. About 25 of us came to try them out. Last month, we launched our new season… but only about 10 of us are still coming. That means that almost all of us, more than 300 souls, are not choosing to strengthen our community bonds and deepen our faith through the programme on offer. When we offer coffee and tea after Mass on the second Sunday of each month, maybe fifteen of us stay – but 150 souls leave without joining in. This is not a recipe for a healthy parish.

I know there are good reasons why some of us cannot take part. Maybe some of us work shifts which change from week to week. I have tried to address this by making sure that Connect & Explore runs in three different slots. Maybe some of us don’t like to drink tea or coffee – well, tell our caterers what we should be providing.

Those of you who were the last parishioners standing, you are from many nations, languages and cultures. I know that it takes extra effort to mix when you have to speak a language which is not your mother tongue, or share food which is not your natural palate. But consider this – what happens when a marriage takes place across such boundaries? Let me tell you about Graeme, who is Scottish. He married my friend Alina, who is Polish. Before the wedding, and again regularly afterwards, he went with Alina to visit her family in Poland. Graeme doesn’t speak Polish. Alina’s parents don’t speak much English. But this relationship matters. Alina’s family had become Graeme’s in-laws. So although it wasn’t easy, and still isn’t, Graeme continues to visit Poland, eat their food at their table, and do his best to communicate.

We are the bride of Christ. We celebrate today that in this parish, we are one spiritual family, bound together by our common baptism. But every time we refuse the invitation to spend time with one another, our actions are saying “You are not my family” – and the body of Christ is broken once again.

Now, how are we to respond to these many requests for baptism and first communion from families who do not often attend weekend worship? The law of the church (Canon 843) states: “Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, [who] are properly disposed…Pastors of souls and other members of the Christian faithful… have the duty to take care that those who seek the sacraments are prepared to receive them…”

Did you notice that? It’s not only my job as parish priest to help them become ready. It is also your job. You’ve heard the saying that “it takes a village to raise a child”? Well, “it takes a parish to make a Catholic”.

Last year, more than 60 children made their first communion in this parish. I’d like any children who made their First Communion in the last 3 years to stand up. [Affirm the children who do.] Is it OK that most of our children are missing now?

Last year, we baptised more than 30 children in this parish. How many of those babies are here right now? I do recognise that it’s difficult for parents to manage small children at Mass – indeed there’s no obligation to bring children under First Communion age to Mass – and I have good news: now that we have launched our parish Toddler Mass, more than 100 people came last Saturday. But that still doesn’t represent all the babies we have baptised. Is it OK that many of our families are missing now?

It’s not OK. So what are we going to do about it?

I want to share with you now the vision that Deacon Steve and myself have for the future.

Next Autumn, September 2018, we will launch something we’re calling the “Parish Connection Programme”. This will be a short course, over several evenings and perhaps a day retreat, that reminds us why we do the things we do as Catholics, why Our Lord Jesus is at the centre of faith, and what it means to be a member of this parish. This programme, or PCP, will be the gateway to receiving Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation in this parish. Do you want your baby baptised? Do the PCP. Do you want to become a Catholic? Do the PCP. Do you want your child to receive First Communion? In order to give your child appropriate parental example and support, do the PCP. What exactly we put into the PCP will be developed over the next few months with our Parish Leadership Group. But next year I will ask all of us to take part in a PCP so it becomes part of the shared history of our parish. I want us to come together from our different languages and cultures and do this together. And those of you who were the last ones standing, I am looking to you in particular to learn to run our Parish Connection Programme.

We will need to run lots of PCPs. Next autumn, a few pioneers will take part and iron out teething troubles. In spring 2019, the graduates of the first courses will run more of them so we can all take part. This will be the way to help our parish grow and become strong. We may need to put some of our other parish actitivies on hold for a few months to make space for this.

We CAN do this.

We NEED to do this.

If we face this with the wrong attitude, giving to God the work that belongs to God, it will become as tedious as paying taxes.

If we do it with the right attitude, we will meet the challenge in the same was as the Thessalonian Christians St Paul addressed his words to: “When we brought the Good News to you, it came to you not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction. You have shown your faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope.”

We know what we need to do. This week we’ve been comparing notes with other pioneering parishes across the UK, and we know we’re taking the right steps. But we have to work together. We have one year to get ready for this new way of being parish, where all take part in the Parish Connection Programme, so we in turn can offer it to our missing brothers and sisters.

We can do this.

We WILL do this.

Who is ready to stand up and give to God what belongs to God?

 

Thursday Night is Parish Night! (And Sunday is the Lord’s Day.)

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A Divine Mercy Sunday.A blue dove with an olive branch - the logo of St Philip Evans Parish

The Lord has risen from the grave! Alleluia!

Errm, OK. Now what?

The friends and followers of Jesus had been on an emotional rollercoaster. For many months they’d travelled with him on the road, listening to his teachings and marvelling at his miracles. They’d been plunged into darkest despair when he was crucified on Calvary; filled with unspeakable joy at the news of his rising; and now they were coming to terms with the bittersweet reality that although he had risen, his plan was not to remain with them as he had been before. He had left them with two gifts – the teaching he had given to the Apostles after his Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit, given to strengthen and comfort the believers on the Day of Pentecost. Armed only with these tools, the friends and followers of Jesus set out to do what the Master has asked of them.

We’ve just read there were four things that mattered to the first Christians. First, they wanted to hear the teaching which Jesus had given his apostles. Second, they built a strong community – our reading said ‘brotherhood’ but the Greek word behind it is not male; it is ‘koinonia’, which means a close-knit community. Third, they practiced the ‘breaking of bread’ – they celebrated Mass. Fourth, they were faithful to prayer.

How did they do this? The first Christians attended the daily Jewish prayers at the Jerusalem Temple, but they also met in their own homes to celebrate Mass. We know from historical sources that Sunday was an ordinary working day. Despite this, the Christians would remember the Lord’s rising by gathering in the morning to sing psalms and again in the evening to celebrate Eucharist. Later, these two parts were combined into a single service more like the Mass we celebrate today.

Because it was important to those first followers of Jesus to celebrate Eucharist on Sunday, it is important to us. This is why, as far as possible, we come to Mass on Sundays – we include Saturday evenings, because the Jews counted a day to begin from nightfall. This is why our Archbishop makes sure that Mass is provided in Welsh and in British Sign Language on the Lord’s day. This is why, in many parishes across South Wales, priests drive between churches to ensure that two or even three different towns can have their own Mass on Sunday. This is why, across Cardiff city, priests ensure that Masses are available on Sunday at many different hours between 8.30 in the morning and 6 o’clock in the evening. The priests and the deacons working with them do this because the first followers of Jesus knew it was a sign of our love and our faith to worship him on the Lord’s Day. In this way, we try to provide maximum flexibility so you can schedule other family committments around a Mass time that works for you.

But is Sunday Mass enough for us to do all four of the things which matter to the friends and followers of Jesus? We get a seven-minute sermon, but that’s not a lot of time to explore the teaching of the apostles. You might have a brief conversation in the car park, but is that enough to build the kind of strong community the first Christians had? Are we the kind of parish where everyone helps each other because we knew who is in genuine need? And as for prayer – there are many other forms of prayer besides Mass, so what else can deepen our inner life with God?

Today, therefore, I am launching something new for our parish which will begin in September: Thursday night is Parish Night!

We already have a short Mass at 7 o’clock on Thursday evenings. Each week, there will be something different immediately after that Mass, something that helps us do one or more of the things the first Christians knew were important.

On the first Thursday of each month, there will be an opportunity for deeper prayer. Each month will explore something different – ways of praying with the Bible, or with the rosary, or perhaps using art.

The second Thursday of each month will be parish business night. The key committees which share in the work of leading our parish will usually meet on this night – the Liturgy Planning Group, the Finance Committee, and the Group Leaders’ Forum. I also wish to re-establish a Parish Council and we will have elections later this summer for this. Although committees and councils may sound rather boring, they are crucial if our parish is to be a true community, not a dictatorship under one parish priest.

On the third Thursday of each month, there will be a different guest speaker who will allow us to think more deeply about our faith. I have already arranged for talks about the ancient Celtic saints in Wales, about the message of Divine Mercy – something the church celebrates in a special way this weekend – and for a vicar who is also a conjourer to give us his unique perspective on the Gospels.

When I first arrived here at St Philip Evans, I spoke about my hope to form a parish vision group which would look forward to the years 2020 and 2025, and work with me for long term planning. I am now ready to launch this. On the fourth Thursday of each month, from September until next July, I will be giving talks about the different things Our Lord asked his followers to do, so we build up a rounded idea of what a parish is called to be. I hope that those who wish to be part of the Vision Group will attend these talks, and then continue to meet on fourth Thursdays to work on turning the vision into reality.

Finally, if the month happens to have a fifth Thursday, this will be an opportunity for a social night. We will say more next month about how these could be organised.

So from September this year, there will be something special happening every week following Thursday evening Mass. I am sharing this with you now so we have time to prepare. Thursday nights will be a special time for us to come together in this parish to grow as a Christian community, in the same way as the first Christians in Jerusalem built up their community.

Finally, I know that many of you work in healthcare or in other jobs where you are regularly required to work on Sundays. This is also an opportunity for you! Let us make Sunday the day when we honour the Lord’s resurrection, even if we have to go to another Church for Mass. But let us make Thursday the evening when we build up our parish, grow as a close-knit community, listen to the teaching of the apostles, and gather at 7 p.m. for the breaking of bread. Thursday Night is Parish Night! Are you coming?