Category Archives: Leadership

HTB Leadership Conference

I can’t let this week go without writing about the HTB leadership conference… Now, nearly a week later, it’s like trying to grip onto the wonderful gifts of God we received, and not to forget anything.

As ever, it is hard to know where to start. The greatest blessing of the conference I think had to be Rick and Kay Warren. They were mind-blowingly honest, open, humble, passionate, straight-talking, vulnerable, challenging… I just want to pick out a couple of things that really struck me.

Kay Warren spoke about Mark 8:34 – picking up your Cross and following Jesus. I cannot do justice to what she said, and I am on the edge of my seat until the full video is online to watch it again. It seriously challenged me. She called us to be “dangerously surrendered”, “seriously disturbed” and “gloriously ruined”… Dangerously surrendered – by allowing God to have authority over everything in our lives. What do I still hold back for myself? Plans about my future, my money, friendships, fashion, my own space? Seriously disturbed – to allow what deeply disturbs the heart of God – injustice, poverty, violence, torture – to disturb us. ‘Picking up your Cross’ does not mean carrying the sufferings of our everyday lives. No – it means stepping outside our lives and picking up the Cross of the world’s suffering and lack of God. Gloriously ruined – whatever we do, suffering will come our way. In the ruins, we can allow God in to transform them, to make them glorious.

On the final night, Rick Warren called us to love passionately the Church. His challenge to us was to be less involved in ‘para-churches’ (I suppose we could say organisations) and more deeply involved in the local church, in the parish. This is such an important challenge to Catholics! Most of the time, we are content to spend an hour and a half at our parish a week. We run a mile as soon as a difficult situation arises, or if the liturgy changes, or if there are personalities we don’t gel with. No, let’s give ourselves to our parishes, difficult and broken though they may be…

There were apparently 800 Catholics present this year, and I know that for many of us it is an enormous blessing. The Leadership Conference has deeply blessed and encouraged me in my life. It seems to have a quality of anointing and of true ecumenism. There were a few things I came back determined to do – to begin our small house group here with friends in Portsmouth; to begin praying together with others at work. This is just scratching the surface. There is SO MUCH we can learn from HTB – their hospitality, their service, the openness and freedom of their worship…

Holy Spirit, renew the face of the earth!

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“Where next?”

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It often happens that you get to the end of a really fruitful programme/course/series in your parish, and people start to ask, “What’s happening next?” “We want to continue, this has been the experience of something new!” If your parish has a strategy for adult formation, then the answer is easy, because perhaps you have a number of options lined up for people who have just dipped their toes in.

But, the reality is, there are few parishes out there with a strategy for adult formation. If only!

And yet, the time at the end of a course that has awakened people’s faith, ignited their enthusiasm, and formed community, is absolutely crucial. All these little ‘sparks’ of faith and enthusiasm have been lit, and we now need to take responsibility to ‘fan’ them into stronger flames, help conversions deepen, mature, and equip people to start reaching out to others.

Firstly, if there is any chance at all of forming a small team of intentional disciples to look at adult formation, if your priest is keen, and together you can draw up a strategy, I think this is ideal. This way, a team can look at the general demographic of the parish in the light of “intentional discipleship” – what do people need? Which ‘thresholds’ are people stuck on? Which particular groups of people do we need to reach out to? There is never a single answer to address everyone’s needs, which is why I think parishes that offer lots of different formation alternatives, at different levels, are the most successful.

Secondly, if there is no possibility of such a strategic approach – perhaps your priest is not really on board, or perhaps it seems you are the sole intentional disciple in your parish! – you can still ask some of the questions above, only on a smaller scale. Above all, pray. Learning how to discern the next steps is essential, and this means frequent prayer to the Holy Spirit to show us the way. We might want to ask ourselves: Which is more urgent – deeper formation for those already committed, or primary evangelisation of the Mass-on-Sunday-Catholics? Perhaps the former needs to happen first, in order to gather a team for the latter? Prayer must underpin our efforts – especially if we are few in number, and especially if we have lots of different ideas – so that the Holy Spirit may lead us to invest our efforts where God wills – and this will be different from parish to parish.

It’s important to remember, too, that the evangelisation and formation of our parish is a matter of pastoral governance, which means that our priest needs to be at the heart of it – he’s the spiritual father of this community. So, while we are free as a bird when it comes to evangelising our friends (in fact, it’s a duty of our Baptism), when it comes to the parish, we need the priest at the centre (even though he’s not the one doing everything – and he shouldn’t be). Maybe in some cases the very first place we need to start is in praying for our priest…

Finally, nearly two years ago, I wrote this post on leadership after being at the HTB Leadership Conference and being blown away (excited to be going again in May!). (There is nothing like a bit of evangelical Christian passion and vision to blow away the negativity and blame-game-approach we often experience in the Church (sorry… but it’s true)!) One of the main points I took away was that you do not need a position to lead. Often we wait for someone to ask us to do something. But if you see something that needs to be done, and you have a passion for it, just go ahead and do it! That was two years ago and it’s still with me…


The Spiritual Art of Planning

(This photo is not to do with planning… We had the Frassati Society a couple of days ago – a fantastic evening which seems to be going from strength to strength.)

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Nowadays, a lot of my life involves scheduling, planning, organising, juggling. Doodle polls are becoming a very dear friend in the uphill struggle of conquering multiple jam-packed diaries to schedule a meeting. Maybe (although I’m not too sure) I have a charism for administration – (is it possible to have a charism for something you don’t enjoy all that much?!) I admit, though, that drawing order out of chaos is satisfying. When days are ordered well and events are well-organised so that their fruit-bearing potential is maximised, you come to appreciate the art of planning. I call it an ‘art’ because it requires creativity, flexibility, dynamism. At the same time, it requires us not to micro-manage so as to suffocate life. I wouldn’t say that I am that great at it, but I am learning more every day.

Why would I say it is a ‘spiritual’ art? Well, I think it flows from Baptism. We know that we have a priestly, prophetic, and kingly aspect to our Christian lives.

In the priestly aspect, we offer up our sacrifices, the small sufferings of our day.

In the prophetic aspect, we speak words of encouragement or teaching to others.

In the kingly aspect, we order our lives towards God’s will.

I think each of these is an art. But the third aspect is what I’m interested in here. We each have a little ‘kingdom’ which is our own life. (And if you are a mum or a dad, the ‘kingdoms’ of your children’s lives overlap with yours, too.) Governing our kingdom most importantly involves governing our hearts – learning wisdom, growing in virtue, being aware of and mastering our passions, deepening our interior life, increasing our self-control.

Governing our outward lives is part of this. How we spend and order our time, how we order our homes and our lives, is intimately linked with virtue and interior life. Who doesn’t feel more at peace when there is order in their life – both exterior and interior? Pope Francis has recently called for us all on the ‘digital continent’ to “slow down!” and in my own life I find it easier to live with “deliberateness and calm” as he puts it, when everything is ordered, when there is space to think, and time to rest. Much of this comes down to planning, in today’s frenetic world.

I’ve found that catechists are among the busiest people I know. I know some absolutely brilliant catechists who are forever saying ‘yes’. They are able to because, thanks to a strong prayer life, their spiritual reserves run deep, and, coupled with the art of planning, they squeeze a lot into their lives.

And yet, we must not forget that our task to order our lives flows from our Baptism. Only someone who is truly rooted in God, knows that, but for Him who is the Source of all this new spiritual life gushing forth, nothing would be possible. The best organisational skills in the world could not produce fruit from a life that was not deeply sunk into Christ. Living from the grace of our Baptism, however, we can learn these skills to make the most of the created goods God has given us – not least, our time.


Pope Francis Gold Dust I – “Warming Hearts”

World Youth Day Rio

I almost felt like I was in Rio the past week, what with the unstoppable tweets, friends’ Facebook updates, and all of Pope Francis’ words being so readily available. From my experience of previous World Youth Days, you can almost follow better if you’re not there. (Let’s face it… the moment you hit 25 (and you’re not of a Latin American temperament) WYD gets tough! As one wonderful Sister (whose youth ministry is very fruitful) commented, any enthusiasm she had died in Madrid two years ago. I know the feeling…)

Back to Pope Francis. Just about everyone I know has been wow-ing and ahh-ing at his incredible words over the past week. For me, one of the highlights was his address to the Brazilian bishops. I’ve been through this absolutely remarkable speech a few times and have pulled out some truly genius gems. Each one of them needs its own post – so let’s see how I go.

To kick us off, I wanted to start with this:

I would like all of us to ask ourselves today: are we still a Church capable of warming hearts? A Church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles… Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?

“A Church capable of warming hearts…” It reminds me a little of a book I’ve written about here: Bill Hybels’ Courageous Leadership. In chapter 2, Hybels speaks of leaders having such a “white-hot” vision for what their church is about that they impassion and enflame the hearts of those who hear them. Remember that “enthuse” comes from “en-theos” – literally, to be possessed by a god. The passion in our hearts sparks a flame in another’s.

There is lots to reflect on with regard to how well we, the Church, “warm hearts”. Bishops and priests have responsibility for this in their ministry and communication to the faithful, those who work with the poor “warm hearts” through their love and charity; contemplative religious “warm hearts” through their earnest and profound intercession; those who visit the sick or those who are in prison have a special apostolate of compassion to “warm the hearts” of the suffering and the lost.

However, as this blog is especially for catechists, let’s think about how as catechists we need to “warm hearts”. Here are some questions that may help:

  • Before we teach, do we pray fervently to the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of those we’re teaching? It is He who will stir hearts as we speak (or even in spite of us!)
  • When we teach, do we speak with passion? Not a contrived liveliness or excitement, but with a profound love for the Lord which naturally spills out in impassioned words?
  • If we struggle to feel passion about our topic, have we spent enough time in silent prayer before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament? Have we asked earnestly enough for the Holy Spirit?
  • Do we love not only Christ who we’re teaching, but also the people receiving the teaching? Our authentic love for these people – that they know Christ, experience life in him, receive the joy of the Holy Spirit in their hearts – will also come across.

As I’ve said countless times before, let’s promise ourselves: the day we stop praying must also be the day we stop giving catechesis.


The Evangelical Catholic Parish

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George Weigel keeps hitting the nail on the head recently. Here’s a recent article in First Things. If it’s time for the Church to embrace evangelical Catholicism, it changes the way we see a parish. Under the current model, your standard, mediocre institutional-maintenance Catholic parish, of 2-5% intentional disciples, is unlikely to experience a huge difference when one parish priest is replaced by another. OK, so some changes always happen. Maybe he’ll move the furniture in the office or alter how the readers’ rota gets organised. In an evangelical Catholic parish, a lot more is at stake. I know such parishes are few and far between, but a few do exist here and there. If a parish has been built up, over many years, intentionally forming its parishioners for mission, with a self-consciously evangelistic approach to the world, the choice of a new parish priest is of incomparable importance – I would go as far as to say make-or-break, life-or-death importance for the parish. For an evangelically-minded local Church, then, the right priest to take on this parish will be one who can lead it to the next spiritual, and evangelistic, level. He will nurture what is there already and identify new areas into which the Holy Spirit wishes to lead that community. In an institutional-maintenance minded local Church, incredible fruits can be wiped out. So… thank you George Weigel… once again, I think he’s bang on the money.


Pope Francis, we love you already!

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People, I’M BACK!

Two exciting things happened recently… Not only did we get a new Pope in the person of Pope Francis (whom I LOVE already), I also got wifi up and running in my new, Portsmouth flat, which I’ve survived without for around three weeks now. So I can blog and tell you how much I love our new Holy Father.

The number of images and words we’ve seen about him over the last 24 hours truly boggles the mind. So, I’m giving you my favourite quote and my favourite picture.

First, the quotation:

We need to come out of ourselves and head for the periphery. We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a Church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a Church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out onto the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But is the Church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded Church that goes out onto the streets and a sick withdrawn Church, I would definitely choose the first one. (Cardinal Bergoglio 2012 – Pope Francis)

Yes yes yes! I cannot tell you how much I love this. Who will draw people in unless we do?

And the picture: he chose to travel with the other cardinals on the coach – and not even in the front seat!

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I am so excited about what the Lord wishes to teach his Church in the person of this holy, humble, evangelistic man.

And, did I mention? My bishop’s on Twitter! The first UK bishop I believe… Follow him: @bishopegan – you won’t regret it 😉


Vocation, Freedom, Holiness

My gorgeous sister and husband on their wedding day

The last few days, I’ve been with a very good friend of mine who is now a Dominican. He is like a brother to me, we have been friends since university days. We were blessed enough, these last few days, to have a good amount of time to chat properly. Not just the catching-up-type-stuff, but the real, deep, meaning-of-life-type-stuff. A spiritual and intellectual gift to spend this precious time together. He has been in the Dominicans now for just over three years. It is an inspiration to watch his vocation to religious life. The commitment he has been called to make, the joy and peace this entails, the ensuing sacrifice.

What I have observed is that, in all vocations – whether to marriage, priesthood, apostolic celibacy or religious life – once we commit, limitations result. Choosing one definite pathway rules out a lot else.

My friend and I are both the creative types. (If you’ve read Bill Hybels’ book, Courageous Leadership, this is what he calls ‘visionary leadership’.) Give us ten minutes and we’d come up with ten different ideas for brilliant and exciting projects, and then we’d probably jump right in and get started. At university the number of initiatives we started was vast and varied… and some of them worked out! It is the kind of thing you can do when you are young and free.

Accepting your vocation, however, by its nature limits possibilities. When you are married, your freedom and obedience turns towards your family. When you are a priest, your obedience is towards your parish’s needs and your bishop. In religious life, you require permission for any initiative or project that pops into your mind (like the five ideas a day my friend gets before breakfast).

It could be tempting to think, “what a waste!” When a young, bright, creative person gives themselves to a vocation (any vocation) they surrender their freedom, whether to their spouse and children, their Order, or their bishop. Perhaps they might be given a project that suits their talents – they thrive and create something wonderful for the Church – but then someone else takes over and it ceases to be fruitful.

The ever-inspiring Nashville Dominicans

What I realised, as we were chatting, is that when we are young, we dream great visions of things we would love to achieve or help the Church to achieve. Many of these dreams I am sure are beautiful and good, and we shouldn’t lose them. We need these visions to urge us on!

However, the reality we receive in the Church is one where we accept a vocation in life that does not permit us absolute freedom. God knows that absolute freedom is not good for us. God invites us into a life in his Church where the main thing we achieve is never the projects, the activity, in itself (although it is important); rather, we – ourselves – we are the ‘project’ that remains constant, stays with us throughout our lives. There’s no escaping it! Hard as it may be, our own salvation, our sanctity, is the project God has entrusted us with, the main thing he is concerned about. And this is the main project that is dumped in our lap when we receive our vocation.

Absolute freedom is not good for us. Look at the limitation – of being human! – that God himself accepted in the Incarnation. Our culture, on the other hand, promotes absolute freedom under any circumstances. It seeps into our mentality, and is a cause, I am sure, of the countless young Catholic adults who have not discovered, or not accepted, their vocation. Clinging to their freedom for dear life, they want to leave all possibilities perpetually open. That is another topic for another day 🙂

What’s the takeaway message? I am deeply inspired by my friends who are preparing for priesthood, in religious life, or who are young and newly married. In accepting their limitation in freedom, they discover a deeper freedom of being united to Christ and growing towards holiness through their vocation. Thank you, dear friends, for your witness and inspiration.