Caretakers, Undertakers… Or Risk-Takers?

Author: Hannah Vaughan-Spruce

Picture: Gordon James Campbell/ Flickr

Caretakers, Undertakers… Or Risk-Takers?

Hannah Vaughan-Spruce explains how Divine Renovation is bringing transformation to parishes and individuals.

Would your parish best be described as a “caretaker”, an “undertaker” … or a “risk-taker”?

Statistics show that UK Catholic parishes are mostly “caretaking” (just about maintaining their numbers) or “undertaking” (where funerals and lapsation outnumber births and converts).

Among those baptized as babies, 59.6% as adults say they never or practically never attend church (Bullivant, S. (2016) “Contemporary Catholicism in England and Wales: A statistical report based on British Social Attitudes survey data”).

The lapsation rate is high: for every one Catholic convert, ten cradle Catholics no longer regard themselves Catholic.

When Fr James Mallon became parish priest of three amalgamated parishes in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he was determined it would no longer be “business as usual.” The parish model we have relied on in the past no longer bears fruit in our postmodern cultural environment.

Risk-Taking Pays Off

A new parish model is needed for people to meet Jesus and become his disciple.

Eight years later, thanks to his book, Divine Renovation, Fr James’ parish is under the spotlight around the globe. His “risk-taking” paid off and St Benedict parish in Halifax is overflowing with new disciples, extraordinary faith, and experiences of the Holy Spirit. 

Watch Fr James talk about Divine Renovation:

I was blessed to spend one month there in 2017. While Alpha is the parish’s main entry-point to faith and relationship with Christ, Connect Groups are mid-sized communities that grow people’s faith after Alpha and help them discover and live out their God-given mission.

The parish has numerous Connect Groups of between 25 and 30 people, and I was invited to more than I could fit in.

I experienced here profound times of worship and prayer ministry, and inspirational raising up of leaders, as Connect Group members shared testimony and gave talks on aspects of their daily walk as a disciple.

From Maintenance To Mission

St Benedict parish is now sharing their learnings with parishes around the world through the Divine Renovation Ministry. There is a growing network of parishes – including five in the UK (London, Sheffield, Winchester and Aberdeen).

Coaches who are practitioners in DR offer parishes personalised and practical coaching, which is focused on the unique issues and situation of each parish.

It is the most intensive support a parish can receive in their journey from maintenance to mission and is bearing phenomenal fruit worldwide. There is a significant cost involved. See more here.

Many ingredients make the St Benedict model unique, such as the primacy of evangelisation: in everything there is a focus towards the first-timer, the seeker, the non-believer.

Best practice around leadership is another. The parish priest leads out of a senior leadership team. Every ministry in the parish has a leadership pipeline to ensure new leaders are constantly being raised up.

Relying On The Holy Spirit

There is also an emphasis on healthy culture. A final, fundamental ingredient is reliance on the Holy Spirit. Nothing is possible without surrender to God’s action and will.

Through Alpha and Connect Groups, experience of the Holy Spirit becomes normal in parish life. The fruits show: Divine Renovation parishes are seeing lives transformed.

One such example is Our Lady of Walsingham parish in East London.

After reading Divine Renovation, parish priest, Fr James Mackay, knew it offered a roadmap for the way ahead. They now successfully run Alpha several times a year and have launched their first Connect group.

  • Hannah Vaughan-Spruce is the Divine Renovation UK Coordinator.

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