“‘In the desert, people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive’ (Benedict XVI). In these situations we are called to be living sources of water from which others can drink. At times, this becomes a heavy cross, but it was from the cross, from his pierced side, that our Lord gave himself to us as a source of living water. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope!” Evangelii Gaudium, 86
In this series of posts, “From the Mission Field”, I am sharing some inspiring stories… people open to the Holy Spirit, allowing him to do amazing things in their corner of the world. May these stories encourage us to keep fanning into flames the little fires we’re starting in our own little corners…
#2 Evangelising Birmingham – Collette Power
I met Collette a few years ago at a Youth 2000 leaders’ weekend: straight away, it was like meeting a kindred spirit. As soon as I mentioned I worked for a parish in Balham, Collette shared her own passionate love for evangelisation, and we were off…
Collette is 26 and lives and works in the Archdiocese of Birmingham. Over the last few years she has led and developed the 2nd Friday project in Birmingham, a lay-led young adults’ movement with a focus on discipleship and evangelisation. She has now turned more towards parish ministry as well as freelance social communications work for the Church.
Collette, give us a snapshot of some of the evangelisation initiatives in your parish and in Birmingham – what’s going on?
During the two and a half years I led 2nd Friday, a small team of us – through the power of the Spirit – grew the group from six to over 100 young adults at each meeting. The meetings included Confessions, Mass and Adoration, teaching and fellowship. The focus at 2nd Friday has always been recognising how isolating it can be to be a young adult in many of our parishes, gathering young adults together for fellowship and formation and then sending them back to their parishes and places of work and study to bear fruit. We encouraged various works of evangelisation such as running the first NightFever in Birmingham, creating Scripture resources, founding the UK’s first March For Life, running a Life in the Spirit series, hosting a Youth 2000 retreat and much more.
This is separate from what I’m doing in my parish. Within the parish, I think you could sum up our work in one sentence: “If we aren’t leading people closer to Jesus, we are wasting our time.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Here are three highlights of the last year: each is incredibly basic in approach, but going back-to-basics has sparked something of a renewal across the parish…
We held a study group on finding God in the workplace and we witnessed some really beautiful conversions here. It was amazing to see parishioners realise that God wants a relationship with them Monday-Friday as well as weekends. Work is meaningful to God and He desires to meet people there.
Another little thing was offering parishioners something on daily prayer. We printed a sheet with a brief outline for morning and evening prayer and taught the parish to pray. People were encouraged just to add one minute in prayer to the start and end of the day in prayer and to increase this as they felt more at ease in God’s presence.
Finally during Lent, we organised a Life in the Spirit-style series, with the simple aim of helping parishioners have a more personal encounter with Christ. Each week we met for adoration, fellowship and a talk on the basic message of the Gospel. We were blessed with about 60-70 parishioners coming each week, including many who don’t do “extra-curricular”, lapsed Catholics and also evangelical Christians from the local churches. The climax was a night of renewing or making our commitment to Christ. I was moved to tears as I witnessed parishioners dashing to the foot of the altar to say yes to Jesus. About 120+ people attended this session and it was an incredibly graced moment in the life of the parish.
These sessions also set a compass for “where next?” I was blown away at the final session when parishioners (and some of the unlikeliest people) were firing out ideas for mission. “We need to get out there and share Jesus with the whole of our town” was the common theme. It highlighted for me, what Pope Francis talks of in Evangelii Gaudium about an evangelising community going out in boldness because they know the Lord loves them and He takes the initiative. There is definitely an air of ‘holy boldness’ about the Church at the moment.
Going forward, we have a parish and school mission with the parish community next month. We are also looking at increasing adoration in the parish and are in the process of establishing cell groups.
Has it always been like this? How did it all begin?
No, it hasn’t always been like this. I left my parish to seek fellowship with other Catholics my own age and to grow in my faith. In doing this, I realised that there was very little on offer in my diocese for people my age and I ended up being asked to look after 2nd Friday. This was a catalyst for a whirlwind of young adult formation, activity and evangelisation in our diocese. In recent months I have felt called back into my parish to minister and witness in this setting. I would say the catalyst for renewal in the parish has been a small group of intentional disciples and our parish priest. We have got over “numbers”, focusing instead on growing this small group of disciples and in 12 months we have seen a domino effect in the parish as more and more people thirst to really know Christ. The witness of a life lived for Christ is very powerful and very attractive.
I think it begins when you recognise something is missing or not right in your community and you realise that you are being called to respond to that situation or need. At 2nd Friday there was the realisation that there was very little on offer for young adults in our diocese. In the parish, it was the realisation that we needed to renew our relationship with Christ, we needed to cultivate discipleship.
I truly believe that God places you in certain settings and shows you certain things because he desires you to do something about. Feel annoyed that there are no young people in the church? Does it irritate you that you have to travel outside of your parish to get faith formation? Maybe you wished your parish had more outreach to the poor or even a NightFever. Whatever it is, take it as a personal invitation from Christ to remedy that ill. He has no hands but yours. That’s how any mission starts…
Can you tell a couple of stories where you could see the Holy Spirit working? What has God done?
There are four stories (among many others) that I want to mention…
2nd Friday was really a beautiful gift from God. I was asked to look after the project, not even a year after coming back to the Church. I felt completely out of my depth but I begged God to send me young people and my, did He deliver! The Lord sent young people in their abundance, he sent priests to minister to us and he sent all the resources we needed to do his work.
Another story: years ago we hosted the UK’s first “March for Life” rather unintentionally. What started as a local event to mark the halfway point in our 40 days for Life campaign, ended up on Facebook six weeks before the event and we were soon welcoming people from across the UK. We had six weeks and no money to pull off this event; but through the power of prayer, the Lord sent us everything we needed. It was a testing time for all involved and we spent the best part of that six weeks storming heaven, but the Lord answered our prayers so beautifully and each time we received something we were back on our knees praising! “Thank you God for that power generator”; “We bless you Lord for sending us more helium”. The holy high we had at the end of the March was indescribable.
Another amazing thing that happened in the last few years: my friend, Lise and I founded a blog called ‘Generation Benedict’ in the wake of Pope Benedict’s abdication as a response to all of the negative press. The blog simply shared the stories of young people whose life had been impacted by the ministry of Pope Benedict. What began as a little idea quickly went “viral” and we were fielding interviews from across the world on the “youth and B16”. The blog was later nominated for a new media award and we received correspondence from the Vatican thanking us for our work. The whole project highlighted to me how God can use social media in such a powerful way to spread the Gospel and I’ve been hooked ever since!
Finally, we ran Nightfever in the parish about 18 months ago with the help of Youth 2000. It had an incredible effect on the parish, particularly how it renewed belief in the power of the Blessed Sacrament. It also made a great impression on our parish priest, who was initially very resistant to hosting Nightfever. He talked at Mass after the event of how the Lord changed his heart that night and how we just need to get out there and share the Gospel because people need it and God will equip us. This had a profound effect on the life and mission of the parish.
In your view, what are some of the key ingredients to fruitful evangelisation?
Prayer, prayer and prayer: essential! Pope Francis has often spoke about evangelisation starting on our knees in prayer, and this is so true. In prayer you cultivate your personal relationship with Christ and this is vital. Once your life has been touched by the life and love of the Risen Christ, you can’t help but want to share it with others. Prayer is also a vital place to test ideas for mission. Evangelisation is God’s work, we are just his instruments so we must always ask, “Lord is this what you want? Lord show me your will. Show me what you desire for our parish…”
I also think a passion for God’s people is another essential. When you launch a new initiative or project, it isn’t about ticking a box, it involves real people. Working with people can be really messy but God desires to enter this mess and it is where he works best. A passion for people means never giving up on a soul because the Lord thirsts for that person more than we can ever begin to imagine and he desires to use us to lead that person to Him.
Finally surround yourself with a good team! I am very blessed to have some close friends and priests in my life, to bounce ideas off, sharpen vision for certain projects and just pray together. We share a lot of the same desires and it is great to be able to encourage, challenge and inspire each other as we seek to do the Lord’s work.
From the outside, evangelisation in Birmingham seems to be flourishing… But what are some of the most difficult things that confront you? What discourages you and how do you deal with discouragement?
I think one of the hardest things is resistance to anything new in the life of the Church. You expect it from people outside the Church but when it comes from the people who should be on the same team: that’s tough. But I think that is probably a common experience across the Church and one that doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. I find criticism of what we do and even of what we aren’t doing hard but my response to that will always be “so what are you going to do about it?” The call to build the Kingdom is given to everyone, not just a few. If you aren’t happy that something isn’t happening in your parish or diocese, then maybe God is calling on you to do something about it.
I think one of God’s best gifts to remedy this has been working with an incredibly supportive Archbishop and also with Priests who have got your back. Archbishop Bernard has always been a great supporter of our apostolate, he would personally invite young people to 2nd Friday when visiting parishes across the diocese and would write and speak about our various initiatives. Unity with the our Bishop has always been important in our apostolate and knowing he supports our work, gives me a confidence that we are on the right path and helped me rise above difficulty and discouragement. In the parish setting, the support of a priest who believes in his young people and gives them real responsibility for mission in the parish because he values the gifts God has given them is a great remedy to discouragement. This unity with the Church brings a great peace in the face of difficulty.
How do you balance your work in evangelisation and the rest of your life?
To pay the bills, I work part time for Clinique at the moment. I don’t think “balancing” features in my vocab. To evangelise and share the good news of Jesus is such an integral part of my baptismal calling – it is hard to separate “evangelisation” and “life” because they are so closely tied. Through my secular employment, God has entrusted me this mission field and affords me many opportunities to share the Gospel here. For many people I am the only contact they have with the Church. So I pray for moments to share the Gospel throughout the day and to be able to spot the opportunities given to me to witness to the Gospel. The other night I was at an Irish Dance class (it is one way I take “time out” from Church “stuff”) but even in that class I ended up having a conversation with two ladies about IVF and contraception. I was able to speak about the beauty of the Church’s teaching into this situation and it just illustrated to me, we don’t get time off from the mission, even if we try!
If you had one piece of advice to a budding evangelist who wants to ignite a blaze, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid of doing something new for the sake of the Gospel. It’s from the Lord, he will send you all you need to accomplish it. I truly believe God honours those who seek to do His work; be confident that God has got your back. As the Popes have often reminded the youth, the Church needs your creativity, generosity and enthusiasm today not tomorrow. So be bold and dream big! And always stay close to the Church and your priests.
Any final words…?
Love Jesus. Love His Church. Love His people.