Pastoral conference: openness and missionary creativity

Peter Scally SJ and the team from Sacred Heart Edinburgh
Peter Scally SJ and the team from Sacred Heart Edinburgh

Over three days last week almost 120 delegates from our parishes came together to learn from each other and from a panel of experts, how to breathe new energy into parish life to make them  “ centres of constant missionary outreach” (Evangelii Gaudiam 28).   Delegates from Scotland to the south coast, ranging in age from 21 to 89, and representing cultures on all continents, spent time together considering the three key documents issued by Pope Francis:

Evangelii Gaudiam – the first Apostolic Exhortation
Laudato Sii- the Encyclical on the Environment
Amoris Laetitia – the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation (following the Synods on marriage and the family in 2014 and 2015)

Dr James Hanvey SJ gave delegates an overview of the pope’s key messages for the Church and her people. He stressed that the Church needs to move outwards, to the margins, if it is to be truly a Church of the poor.  Quoting Evangelii Gaudiam Dr Hanvey called the Church “a mother with an open heart, not an institution”.

Peggy Tracey and Stephen Nolan, oldest and youngest delegatesIn relation to Laudato Sii, Dr Hanvey suggested that as God made the world for all, all have a right to a share in the goods of Creation.  But we should also treat Creation itself as “one of the poor”, one which requires our care and nurture.  On Amoris Laetitia Dr Hanvey reminded participants that the pope has called for a rebuilding of the family, as a response to the prevailing throwaway culture, believing that strong families will ensure strength and resilience in wider society.

He finished by quoting paragraph 28 of Evangelii Gaudiam “The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and community.”
Three groups then spent the rest of the day learning more about and discussing the three documents.

Fr Stephen Patterson SJ and Shirley Russo from St Wilfrid's PrestonOn Saturday parish groups met together to discuss how the key themes and ideas from the documents could be implemented  in their parish.  These ideas were shared in plenary and included:

More active welcoming at each mass
Having churches open for longer hours
Changing times for confession to make the sacrament of reconciliation more accessible
More ecumenical invovlement
Environmental audits of the parishes, resulting in policies on recycling, energy suppliers etc
Including environmental issues in homilies and newsletters or parish events
Solar panels on church roofs
Holding jumble sales to encourage re-use of second hand goods
Offering more support for married couples
Offering more activities for young people between the age of confirmation and becoming parents – many parishes acknowledge there had been a gap in provision for this age group.
Bereavement support
Visiting for elderly and disabled people, and dementia support groupsBokani Tshidzu from Farm St Church

Perhaps the most important outcome was the way in which participants took inspiration from each other, with parishes sharing ideas, experience, success and failure.

As one participant put it “I came away feeling valued, affirmed and energised”. 

Another commented “I really welcomed the opportunity to worship together, the liturgies were very enriching.  It is so refreshing to meet and learn from those in other parishes which share our values and Jesuit ethos.”

“We are all busy people but making time for an event like this really reminds us how Christ is at work in the lives of each and every one of us, and how we can make a difference even just in small everyday things.  I feel very blessed by this companionship” observed another participant.

A follow-up progress meeting is planned in twelve months’ time.

Celebrating mass in the chapel