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A day full of promise, and many questions.

Image from @abbeyofthearts

‘Crossing the Threshold’, a resource day to help parishioners reach out to non-church going Catholics, took place in Pimlico parish hall on Saturday 28 April.’ Look here for photos from the day.

My attendance at this conference deepened my understanding of  the responsibility I have as a ‘worker in the Vineyard’. There are just so many jobs to do! The most important one, of course, is to love the Lord. In so doing, through my actions, interests and demeanour pique the interest of other’s in such a way that they too want to know more about why I make the choices I do.

I attended the day without any expectations and was just blown away by the depth and breadth of the topics covered. Once again , I was not disappointed by the day’s unfolding and I left feeling energised, motivated and under no illusion about the task ahead. Archbishop Richard Roth (the Chaplain to the Navy) was the keynote speaker. He introduced the underlying concern of the day: re-engaging ‘resting Catholics’ through parish activities in order to lead them back to the Lord.  His excellent talk included statistics on the number of Catholics in England and Wales (roughly 4-5000,000) who do not belong to a Christian community for one reason or another. This day was dedicated to calling these people into community and relationship with Jesus.

He then moved on to quote Tertullian who described the first Christian communities as those which lived distinctly from the rest of society. He spoke also about the early Christian communities living in support of one another, sharing everything they had with one another and the wider community, celebrating the Eucharist on a Sunday every week, praying and remaining faithful to the teachings of Christ.

He referred to the courtyard areas in the Jewish Temple grounds of old, in which Gentiles (the nations distinct from the Jewish people) would come and debate the questions of  faith at leisure daily. He suggested that the Church make available similar access for those that have been living apart from the Christian community, reaching out through dialogue and support and outreach work.

St Benedict’s Rule was mentioned: ‘To live as a model for our world in the market place.’ It was noted that God’s calls us into relationship with Him, and that we all sense His call and at some point return to that relationship with Him.

Of course I leave out much detail, but I’d say this was the gist of it.  We then moved on to celebrate the Eucharist and a packed lunch afterwards.

I was keen to get into the two sessions I ‘d marked as my preference and I was not disappointed. The first session was based on the outreach work undertaken by the SVP Society(http://www.svp.org.uk/) , which kick-started group discussions on the groups and outreach programs offered by the various churches represented there.

I list but a few: Winter Shelters, Toddler groups, Shared lunch Fridays, Soup and Bread days, City Safe for London, CAFOD groups, Social Justice groups, Keep Fit for the elderly etc. From the discussion it was detailed that lots of home visits are a good undertaking as outreach work and that any platform which offers time for discussion, inquiry and personal contact is an opportunity for making new friends and fresh starts.  There was emphasis on focussing on the youth and the contributions they could make to parish life and how important it is to make them feel welcomed and valued in a non-threatening way.

The second session I attended was called, ‘The challenge of the New Evangelisation: How to reach non-churchgoing Catholics.’ This was led by the very capable Michael Roche, head of ‘ALPHA in a Catholic Context’ in England and Wales.

I quote from the Alpha website:

The Alpha course is a parish tool for evangelisation that is being used by thousands of Catholic parishes in more than 65 countries around the world. A 15-session ten week practical introduction to the Christian faith, Alpha is designed primarily for non-churchgoers and new Christians. The course also serves as a refresher course for both practicing Catholics and for those who have lapsed in their faith. Each session includes a meal, a talk and small group discussion. (Read more here)

This session was focussed on the fact that many Catholics have been Sacramentalized but not Evangilized and how through the Alpha course (amongst others) can get the Faith juiced flowing once again.

The afternoon ended with a commissioning from the Bishop and priests sending us forth to share our knowledge gained from the afternoon.

So finally, the questions that arose for me are these: Which endeavour would I like to be part of or start? Is this something that the Lord really wants me to do? What is our parish already doing as far as outreach work is concerned? Will I tread on any sensitive toes that may already be running in certain long-standing  groups? How will our parish priest respond? Do I really have time? If I don’t make an effort to respond, who will?

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