Tag Archives: leadership

Evangelisation: From the Mission Field #2

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“‘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

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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.

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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?

Parish mission flyer

Parish mission flyer

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?

March for Life

March for Life

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?

Youth 2000 Retreat

Youth 2000 Retreat

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.


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!


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.


Courageous Leadership

I’ve been wanting to write this post for some time now. Leadership is a topic that is close to my heart, as I’ve written about here and here. The last few months, my Tube-reading has been this wonderful book: Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels. Even if I wasn’t a slow reader (which I am) I would read this slowly as it is outstanding. In my view, it should be required reading for every leader in the Church: seminarians, lay leaders, teachers, priests and bishops! It is that good.

As a young lay person working in the Catholic Church, my impression is that awareness of ‘leadership mentoring’ or ‘identifying emerging young leaders’ is not on the radar of most leaders in the Church. Bill Hybels talks about the many different ways we may come to leadership – someone may take us under their wing and disciple us; we might shadow someone in their role and be coached to develop our skills; or, we might be thrown in at the deep end. In my case, my parish priest took an enormous gamble in putting me in a position that I was not really qualified for. I remember at the time someone telling him that I should not be put in this role. It freaked me out, I knew they were right. But he replied that he would be the judge of that. Looking back, I am tremendously grateful at this huge risk that he took with me. It is not the right introduction to leadership for everyone, but for me, God knew I needed to be put in a ‘sink or swim’ situation and be forced to work things out pretty quickly.

What never fails to frustrate me is that young leaders within the Catholic Church in this country need to go outside the Church’s walls for leadership formation. Hybels’ book is an example. I don’t know of a Catholic equivalent. Last year, a big group of us went to the HTB Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall. I can honestly say they were two of the most inspiring and well-spent days of my year. The faith and passion were immense. HTB is providing the Catholic Church a beautiful service in building up and impassioning her young leaders. But why is she not building up and impassioning her own?

I am going to hazard an answer to this question. I know it is a complex question with varied responses, but I think it is worth pointing out the elephant in the room. My eyes were opened to it through the honest, direct faith of Hybels’ book: we have a crisis of leadership in our Church. Hybels repeats the same simple truths again and again: vision and passion are inextricably bound in the life of a leader. If a leader does not have vision that is crystal-clear and passion that is white-hot, and if he is not able to communicate these to others, he is not fully alive, he is not fully living out his vocation (Hybels says it much better – read the book!)

Vision. Passion. I asked a priest recently what his vision was for the adult formation in his parish. He fumbled around for an answer but couldn’t really tell me. Something is wrong with that. So many of us have gone off the boil. And when everyone goes off the boil, it becomes normal. We start checking that our parish is pretty much in line with what the next-door parish is doing… and that’s as far as our vision extends. How terribly sad! We need to turn up the heat, wake up, listen to younger Catholics with vision and passion, itching and ready to take the baton, who right now can only dream of being led by the quality of leadership Hybels talks about in his book.

There is a lot in Courageous Leadership, and some particular themes I’d like to explore in future posts: vision and leadership; creating your dream team; discovering your own leadership style. I really encourage you to get a copy.


Some things I learnt about leadership…

Around a month ago, I attended the excellent HTB leadership conference at the Royal Albert Hall. I know, I know. It is not a Catholic conference. A few people helpfully reminded me that only decades ago I would have had to go to Confession for attending a non-Catholic church. But, I have to say, a great believer though I am that all we need is found within the Catholic Church, I did gain a lot from this conference. For those who don’t know it, Holy Trinity Brompton is the church led by Nicky Gumbel, the founder of the Alpha course. I really am impressed by them. I’m impressed at their evangelisation, how they draw people into the life of the church, how they disciple and form people. All without any sacramental grace 🙂 I really think we can learn lots from them.

So, for a full two days, the stunning location of the Royal Albert Hall was crammed with over 4,000 passionate Christians (they must be pretty passionate to take two days off work) and the quality of the teaching was, on the whole, excellent. (First of all, a little aside: I think this conference is great for Catholics who are well-formed. I would not recommend it to Catholics who have a hazy understanding of doctrine or of what we mean by the Church, because you have to remember, when all these speakers are speaking about the “Church” – fantastic as they are – they do not mean what we mean by the Church.)

OK, so doctrinal differences aside: What did I learn about leadership?

1. You do not need a position to lead: This is what I want to shout out to every young Catholic who feels a desire in their heart to make a difference, to lead, to serve, to do the things they think should be happening already, but are not. Lead anyway! Perhaps the older people who are doing the things you should be doing by now are reluctant to let go of their positions: that’s their problem, lead anyway! Because through our Baptism we have an intrinsic calling within our lay vocation to holiness, and to evangelise, we don’t have to wait for anyone else’s permission. Do it anyway. Start the prayer group, form the study group, organise a retreat or a conference… Don’t wait for the position. Maybe one day someone will realise, ‘Wow, this person’s leading a whole crowd of people, we should give him a position!’ Maybe they won’t. Let’s just do the things it seems clear God would like to be happening. This was a ‘penny-drop’ moment for me, thank you Judah Smith!

2. Resist discouragement: This is what I needed to hear big-time… Somehow, in the Church, especially when you work for it, several things happen a day which can discourage you if you let them. We hear lots of negativity, a bit of cynicism, complaining… The Lord isn’t making us a “new creation” for this! The devil wants us to be discouraged – let’s not be! There is always something to be thankful for, God’s mercy is new every moment.

3. Do not look for glory: We have to be constantly on the look out for ‘rectitude of intention’… what a murky area. For anyone in a role of leadership, this is something we need to ask ourselves every single day, ‘Are these projects, plans, ideas my will or the Lord’s? Am I truly surrendered to God’s action? Am I committed to working on in obscurity with little or no recognition?’ From experience, it is far, far better for us to be working in obscurity with no one noticing what we are doing. How hard is it to accept that though?! Every part of us rebels against that idea. Rick Warren, author of Purpose-Driven Life, put it nicely: The fruit growing in the shade grows ripest.

4. Have a day of rest: Preferably Sunday 🙂 This is another way of ensuring God is driving our plans, not us. We give him his day, we relax and recuperate, spend time with the people closest to us.

5. Live with integrity: Another great Rick Warren point. We Catholics call this “unity of life” (see Christifidelis Laici). Integrity of life means that how we are with one person is how we are with everyone. I am who I am. I am the same with my Catholic friends, my non-Catholic friends. I am not divided into compartments.

Formation of Catholic leaders is vital for the next generation. How are we doing this? Are we doing it at all? One speaker used the image of the ‘exchange zone’ in a relay race: the baton has to be handed to the next runner within a certain stretch of space, not too early, not too late. Are we preparing the next generation? Are we handing over too early or too late?