who we are & what we do
As a member of Sion Community, I have for more than 20 years been involved in Parish evangelisation mainly through facilitating Parish Missions. Initially we built upon the foundations of many of the established religious orders, which were known for their Parish mission work. Being a collaborative team we were obviously able to introduce some new dimensions to the usual style of things. Then, over the years, we have gradually developed new ideas and strategies that try to take into account the changing times in which we are living.
Whenever I go to a Parish who are thinking of having a mission they are, understandably, keen to gain insights from my experience. However, when I am asked questions like what works well and what has been a success in other Parishes? I am always hesitant. I have come to see that there is no golden formula that will guarantee a positive mission experience. I have, for example, seen the same thing being done in two different Parishes with very different responses and outcomes. There is, sadly, no blueprint for success. Indeed, Parishes have very different success criteria. So when I am asked something along the lines of how successful are your missions? whilst not wanting to be evasive, I usually respond by asking them what would a successful mission look like from their perspective? Inevitably the answers are rather predictable. There is usually a core of people who want to get the lapsed back, whilst other people, are worried about youth or young families. There is frequently a drive to get more or new people involved in Parish activities and occasionally the finance committee want to ensure that they get value for their money! Being mindful of St Pauls exhortation that we are called to try and be all things to all people. I have come to see that it is impossible to create a community experience that will satisfy the needs and desires of an entire Parish Community.
Having outlined that there is no guaranteed success formula for Parishes to grow as evangelising communities, I would want to add that there are some important steps that can help in the overall process. The first is perhaps the most fundamental. It involves for some people a change of perspective. There is a need to view evangelisation not primarily as a programme or an activity to be engaged in, but as an attitude that leads us to act with a particular vision. Evangelisation is therefore both about our identity, who we are as a Church and Parish and then about what we do, i.e. our mission. From this perspective, evangelisation should be the bedrock or the starting point of everything that happens in our Parish communities. It is not just another Parish activity or group reserved for those who like that sort of thing.
Once it is understood and accepted, that, in the words of Pope Paul VI: Evangelisation is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. When we fully grasp that the Church exists in order to evangelise1 then we can begin to reflect as a Parish on our particular identity. We can begin to see that evangelisation must underpin all that we do. This new perspective may lead to a change in Parish priorities or a change in the way in which we have previously done things.
PRAYERFUL REFLECTION AND DISCERNMENT
Parish evangelisation is not primarily about activism; all our actions must stem from careful reflection and discernment. Pope Paul VI reminded us that techniques of evangelisation are good but even the most advanced ones could not replace the gentle action of the Spirit. The most perfect action of the evangeliser has no effect without the Holy Spirit2. It is therefore important for us to find ways to help our Parishes to be able to spend time in prayer discerning what the Lord may be asking us to do at any given time. Today there are many resources available to help with evangelisation but it is important to have a sense of the Lords timing. It can sometimes be helpful to ask what season do we feel that we are in as a Parish at a given time, this may then have some bearing short term on what activities are undertaken.
POINTS TO PONDER
When Cardinal Martini was Archbishop of Milan he addressed the European Bishops Synod and suggested that we can learn a lot about evangelisation by reflecting upon the experience of the early Church. He particularly highlighted three key words: Kerygma or Proclamation, Koinonia or Community and Diakonia or Service. I have frequently used these words to prompt Parishes to reflect upon their past history, to take stock of where they are now and to look at where the Lord may be leading them in the future. I usually encourage them to ponder Martinis questions:
1) In your Parish how is there witness of life and word?
Through this reflection it is easy to identify three key areas of growth or evangelisation.
a. How is the parish celebrating and growing in Faith? This includes liturgy, sacraments, adult faith formation, prayer etc.
b. How is the Parish growing and developing as a Community? There are many challenges in this area today as we are living in an increasingly fragmented, individualised society where there has been a break up of traditional neighbourhoods and family networks.
c. How is your Parish reaching out to the surrounding locality? Sadly it is easy to become insular or parochial in our mentality and not to embrace the bigger challenge to be Good News to all. Indeed I once heard a speaker say, that the Church is one of the few institutions that largely exists for the benefit of those outside it.
From experience I would encourage an attitude of patience, prayer and courage when it come to Parish evangelisation. I have seen that Parishes have their own rhythm of life undoubtedly influenced by the liturgical cycle. Generally things happen quite slowly which can be a bit frustrating for those of us who like to get things moving. However, it is important to move step by step as the Spirit leads. We need to encourage others to come along with us so that as many of the Parish as possible buy into the vision of Parish Evangelisation. We also need courage to hold onto the Lords promise that he will be always with us even until the end of time (Matt 28:20).