Tag Archives: parish life

“Where next?”


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…

Three Journeys


I’m re-reading Forming Intentional Disciples, people… Yes, in fact, I think I could read it three or four times. You might want to revisit with me some of the key points, because often we can read something, think how wonderful/true/insightful that is, and then promptly forget about it. In this instance, the concept that has struck me is the idea that discipleship involves three distinct journeys, which should happen together, but often are treated separately. Just to remind you (from p. 54):

  •  The personal interior journey of a lived relationship with Christ resulting in intentional discipleship;

  • The ecclesial journey into the Church through reception of the sacraments of initiation;

  • The journey of active practice (as evidenced by receiving the sacraments, attending Mass, and participating in the life and mission of the Christian community).

The interactions of these three journeys play out in many ways. We all know swathes of Catholics who have completed the middle (sacramental) journey without the first or the third becoming a reality. Perhaps they are even lapsed. We might even know many who are well-advanced in the second and third journeys – they bake cakes for the fundraising event, take their children to and even teach on sacramental programmes, and sit on various parish committees.

But if the evidence of the book is correct and only 5% of parishioners are “intentional disciples”, this means that a staggeringly large percentage (95%?) are ‘stuck’ in this third journey. Perhaps they enjoy the community of their church, perhaps they appreciate the liturgy, perhaps they are keen for their children to be brought up in the faith. But they have not experienced the life-giving and transformative power of a personal, intimate, daily relationship with Jesus Christ.

Which is what it’s all about!

Let’s be clear that this is the main reason of existence for our parishes. We can draw people in to sing in the choir, be on a buildings committee, help with a First Communion programme. But unless these are the first steps into a living relationship with Jesus, we seem to be missing the point.

What do you think? In your experience, how do you see the interactions of these three journeys in your own parish life? 

Some Quick Takes


– 1 –

Right now feels kinda strange… Normally this time of year has that great buzzy feeling of gearing up to the new year of parish activity. Last September we had a ‘Vision Night’ for all our incredible catechists, ‘casting the vision’ for catechesis in the parish for the Year of Faith. It’s a great time of meeting teenagers and children in sacramental programmes for the first time, and meeting with parents, sharing expectations and enthusiasm for the year ahead.

What is your parish planning at this time of the year? Do you have a vision for the year ahead?

– 2 –

Here is the wonderfully moving sermon given by Bishop Hugh Gilbert, welcoming the Nashville Dominican Sisters to the Scottish diocese of Aberdeen. It powerfully sets out the place of religious consecrated life in the new evangelisation… Wow – if we had a few more bishops with the vision of Bishop Hugh…

– 3 –

This is a really interesting and excellent article on the necessity of youth ministry (which responds to this article). Fr Damian Ference does many different things in this one article – all of which are well-theologically rooted: our spiritual familial relations in the Church are highlighted, as is the legitimate role of the laity in apostolate within the Church (not only outside it). Well worth a read.

Catechetical Communion

My parish :)

My parish 🙂

I find that, when you are teaching the Faith in catechesis, because you are transmitting the Person of Christ, not just propositions about him, you share from the depths of your being with those you catechise, from your own reality as a ‘new creature’, as one redeemed in Christ’s blood. You are teaching very deeply from your own heart (the deepest centre of the person), from your own relationship with Christ. This in itself draws you very close to those you teach. They see you witness to them, opening yourself, and they tend to offer the same back to you. They share their lives deeply with you. The communion that catechesis creates, therefore, in the heart of the Blessed Trinity, is very beautiful and sacred.

I love this little chunk from the Lineamente (para 12) for the Synod that happened last October:

What is not believed or lived cannot be transmitted… The Gospel can only be transmitted on the basis of ‘being’ with Jesus and living with Jesus the experience of the Father, in the Spirit; and, in a corresponding way, of ‘feeling’ compelled to proclaim and share what is lived as a good and something positive and beautiful”

This week, my last in the parish, I feel very surrounded by this communion. Goodbyes are poignant but full of hope, too, at what God is doing. I have felt a torrent of love and received so many flowers, at one stage I was heaping them in my kitchen sink as I didn’t have enough vases. This time next week when I am actually moving I will probably be having a mascara-fest at the sadness of taking myself away from so much love and stepping into the unknown.

One of the things I will miss most of all is giving catechesis in a parish setting:

  • The joy of teaching and leading people through the RCIA process and seeing the Holy Spirit transform them;
  • I’ll especially miss the one-to-ones with people which always gives the opportunity of conversing more deeply and personally to the individual’s situation;
  • The excitement and creativity of a roomful of teenagers keeping you on your toes – the adventure of a constant attempt to let the message break through to them in new ways;
  • Sharing the highs and lows of teenagers – I find you can’t help loving them even when they, more than anyone else you catechise, will push you beyond what you thought were your limits;
  • Guiding my little group of 7-year-olds towards silent prayer in Come Follow Me and seeing them develop an interior life;
  • Nothing beats a hall packed with adults, excited and hungry to be nourished with Christ’s life-giving teaching;
  • Spending six evenings last term giving formation to new catechists was such a gift – what can be better than transmitting all that you have learnt which has formed you as a catechist with others?
  • All the difficult and messy situations which I’ve witness being transformed with prayer and the Holy Spirit’s power – small conversions, reconciliations, changes of heart;
  • Finally, all the ‘catechetical friendships’ in my parish and beyond – the blessing of many, many friendships forged in the mission of giving catechesis together

Thank you, Lord!

I could not have dreamt for myself a better job than I have been privileged to do these last three years. A little piece of my heart will always be here.

The Catholic Parish

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet for the first time William O’Leary, Director of Religious Education at Ascension Parish in Kansas City. I have known William through Catechesis in the Third Millennium for about a year now, so it was great to meet him in real life. It goes to show – even in this enormous country, there is a myriad of links connecting Catholics – Dorian at the Art and Beauty Course happened to know William too!

When I get stressed out back home in my parish, I need to remember Ascension. They literally have hundreds of children in their catechetical programmes. When I visited, the summer formation programme was in full swing, and nearly 200 kids were coming in every day for two weeks of catechesis. Parents can choose whether to take the year-round option, or the summer-intensive option. So I got to help out with first-graders, take part in a music session, and see a fifth-grade class too.

These programmes need an army of catechists and helpers, as you can imagine, and William has done an incredible job in preparing the programme, manuals for each grade, and providing catechist formation. Every catechist had created a sacred space in their classroom.

Ultimately, it’s encouraging and exciting to see how truly ‘universal’ the Church is – how universal human nature is, too (we encounter all the same problems they do… how refreshing). How wonderful to be a Catholic and come and experience a parish thousands of miles away, with the same, universal vision for catechesis, and the same passion in implementing it. May we continue to journey together, learning from each other.

Priestly Ordination

It’s not often that a parish experiences the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of a priestly ordination. What I mean is, it’s not common for a deacon to be in a parish, to be ordained to the priesthood, and then to return to the same parish. Over the last week, we have shared in such an experience, and a joyful few days it has been. Fr James Bradley was ordained to the sacred priesthood on Saturday at St Patrick’s in Soho, and celebrated his First Mass back in the parish on Sunday. The whole weekend was a great joy, and it has received a lot of attention here and here: these are the first ordinations of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham where the priests were not Anglican vicars beforehand.

What it has shown us is the great miracle that is the priesthood: last Friday, Fr James was a deacon preparing for the Ordination Mass, and on Monday morning when parishioners arrived for the early Mass, it was Fr James who celebrated it. When you see the before and after of an ordination, you realise it is nothing short of a miracle that God can take any ordinary man, and transform him so that he can offer Christ’s Sacrifice… mindblowing.

The grace of an ordination can really touch minds and hearts. After the beautiful Liturgies of the weekend, and the sense of youthfulness and vibrancy in the congregations, conversations with people afterwards revealed the power of Liturgy to stir hearts. I think many graces will flow from this ordination.

In itself, it is a wonderful grace to have a new priest in the parish. While the requests for First Blessings keep coming, and while we still get used to calling him “Father” (it’s like learning And with your spirit all over again), there is nothing like this experience to make us, as a parish, more grateful for the gift of priests.

You can read more from Fr James on his new blog: Thine Own Service.

Little Sparks

I popped into one of the catechesis groups yesterday evening. This is a great little group which wasn’t going to continue when our youth coordinator left, until some fantastic mums stepped in! Yesterday they were learning about angels.

The Joys of Parish Life

OK, so “joys” is ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek… I am swamped in paperwork for the beginning of the year. I cannot WAIT to actually begin teaching. But as with any job, you spend a good percentage of your time chasing people, solving problems, getting information up-to-date and hearing many, many individual stories about why people can’t come to your meeting.

Seriously, the pastoral side of parish life is messy because people’s lives are messy. In our particular area, parents can be pushy and intent on getting their own way. A good principle I heard at the DRE training in Steubenville this summer is to be strict on paper, but more lenient in person. Often, making the right decisions with parents requires excellent intuition in sussing out who is trying to pull a fast one, and who genuinely has an insurmountable problem. Luckily my parish priest has a good nose for this…

Why do we take such a hard-line with parents and insist they come to meetings for sacramental preparation? Because the Church teaches they are the first and the best educators of their children in the Faith (see Familiaris Consortio). In that sense, it is more important that they receive formation than that their children do. Lots of parents think that we or the school form their children in the faith for them. Nope…that’s not how it works. If parents are not living their faith authentically, there’s little chance their kids will either.

The Holy Family - model for all families

At the weekend I realised how hidden and subtle the fruits of our catechetical work are. One of the families of the First Communion children I taught last year were at Mass on Sunday. (Hooray!) The children both received Communion, then their mum took them and her other children over to light some candles. It made my heart totally sing to see the little boy, however, go straight back to their pew right at the back of church, to pray. It was a tiny moment but it gave me joy.