Fr Zane Godwin, Vicar for Pastoral Development in the Archdiocese of Cape Town and regular columnist in the Archdiocesan News, writes for us in our current edition, on being a Missionary Parish.
Being a Missionary Parish – Inspiration from Hackney
In October I had the privilege of attending an Alpha Collective conference in London together with church leaders from 28 countries. Apart from the benefit of networking and sharing stories with Christian leaders from around the world, I was struck by the culture of welcome, joy and generosity with which we were hosted. The priority of evangelization, which was the theme of the conference, was demonstrated in the way we were welcomed.
One question raised during the conference has stayed with me: What keeps you awake at night? In other words, what area needs work? In what is there a healthy discontent which has the potential to inspire change and growth? How would we answer that question in terms of our parish life here in the Archdiocese of Cape Town?
Might it be that despite good liturgies, a reasonable standard of homilies, a good welcome to those who come to Mass, and the variety of activities and opportunities on offer, that most people are not responding optimally; there is a lack of consistent commitment from many parishioners; that many of our parishioners are disengaged and not involved in ministry; that for many the parish is a service provider and they come as consumers when they need what they need?
Even if this were partly true, it would merit a good discussion on the parish level, and perhaps a plan of action. The prevailing call to action in the Church today is around a re-evangelization, a new evangelization. Perhaps it could be said that most of our parish activities, whether it be the liturgy, the homily specifically, catechetics, etc., are based on the presumption that most people are already evangelized; but that is simply not true. A concerted effort at evangelization is needed.
Evangelization means facilitating an encounter with Jesus and his Gospel and leads to the forming of disciples who are actively engaged in the life of the parish and who, in turn, make disciples of others.
Remember that the essential identity of the church is that it is missionary. The Great Commission of Jesus is that we must be about making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be engaged in a lifelong process of learning from and about Jesus, the teacher.
On the last day of the conference, we had an optional visit to the Church of England parish of St John in Hackney, East London. What an inspiration it was to see this parish in action! In a context where 99% of the community are unchurched and half the people live below the poverty line, this parish church has oriented itself to being for the whole community, not just the few who used to come to the church to worship. They identified that the key need in that community was around hope. The parish has become a leaven in and a haven for the community.
The parish runs feeding programmes in which they have engaged top chefs as volunteers to produce healthy, delicious food for the hungry and homeless; programmes to host mothers and their babies; running a brewery to raise funds to feed the hungry and for other projects; beehives on the church roof, to sell honey to raise funds for projects; gardens to welcome the community to enjoy; renovation of the church building to create a multi-functional space for worship and other gatherings (what they call a “cathedral of creativity”); and so much more. And through it all and behind it all, the Alpha Course, an instrument of evangelization is the open door to the church. They have determined that for them, the best way to bring the mission of the church to the community is the Alpha Course. Everyone is invited and welcome. Everyone is a VIP.
The recent document from the Congregation of the Clergy on the “The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church” says that the goal of parish reform is to move parishes from a “self-preservation” model to an evangelizing one. (https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2020/07/20/200720a.html)
The instruction invites the parish community to be missionary and to reform its structures and ministries according to the demands of evangelisation of today. How can this be done in our parishes at this time? It can be hoped that the Parish Alive – Forming Missionary Disciples programme for the implementation of the Bishops’ Pastoral Plan will start the ball rolling again, raise questions and discussion, and inspire imaginative initiatives to bring about a renewed personal encounter with Jesus for our people and communities.