Jesuit Parishes Conference

The variety of parishes served by the Jesuits in Britain could almost be considered a microcosm of the church in this country. Inner-city, multicultural, rural, coastal, affluent, deprived, multi-lingual, Polish are all words which could apply to one or other of the ten large and six smaller Jesuit parishes spread throughout England and Scotland.

Last month over 100 representatives from the ten largest parishes - plus the Jesuit pastoral centres of Mount Street in London and Lauriston in Edinburgh - met for three days in Hertfordshire to discuss their work. Under the title of SHARING MINISTRY – the developing Jesuit parish. Parish priests and groups of parishioners spent three days exploring ways to respond to the call of the Jesuit Pope Francis, ‘that all those who come to the church find the doors to meet the love of Jesus’.

The conference opened on the first evening with an address by the Jesuit Provincial, Fr Dermot Preston, who spoke of the challenges he faced. The shortage of Jesuit manpower was a cause for concern and the dilemmas he faces when in deciding where best to send his men.

The conference’s facilitator, Br Ronnie McEwan, a Marist Brother and a director of the Scotland’s Kinharvie Institute, then led a series of enjoyable exercises to help delegates get to know each other. He explained that the conference would be divided into three sections: dream, connecting up and sharing.

On the morning of the first full day delegates spent time learning what was working well in each other’s parishes. Fr Simon Bishop, the Jesuit Director of Spirituality, then explained the use of the Examen prayer. The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection which the founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius Loyola, used to discover the hand of God’s at work in everyday events. It is something Jesuits use twice each day and Simon explained how it could be of individual help and for work back home in our parishes.

The afternoon was spent in working groups discussing how the concept of Jesuit parishes being centres of Ignatian Spirituality could be developed. Are we just parishes doing good works, attending Mass and administering the sacraments or are we striving for more?  Are we striving to become dynamic centres of Ignatian Spirituality, helping ourselves and each other to ‘find God in all things’?

The day ended with Mass followed by a lively social with songs from Scotland, England, Poland and elsewhere.

On the final day delegates were encouraged to formulate an action plan for their own parish; something which could be implemented on returning home. The twin aims of Sharing Ministry and Increasing Spirituality were to be the main focus.

At the closing Mass Fr Provincial missioned the delegates return home with their plans and to begin to ‘open the doors of the church to the love of Jesus’.