Jesuits reaching out in Salford diocese

View of St Joseph's Mossley where the week of guided prayer took place last week
View of St Joseph's Mossley where the week of guided prayer took place last week

For this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Jesuit spirituality team is undertaking  weeks of guided prayer in 20 Salford parishes.

“This initiative is a wonder-ful example of collaboration,  encouraging the gifts of Jesuits and lay people to work together for the greatest good” says Fr Simon Bishop SJ, Director of Spirituality for the Jesuits in Britain.

This ambitious project had its source and inspiration in a week of guided prayer (WGP) led by Fr Tim Byron SJ, senior chaplain at the Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy, at Gorton parish last year.  In a WGP a group of parishioners sign up to a daily prayer programme and to meet with a guide each day for 30 minutes.  The weeks also include workshops on different ways of praying, as well as on Ignatian discernment, decision making and vocation, helping the participants to recognise how God is making use of their unique gifts and how they might make more use of them. Fr Simon explains “Our weeks of guided prayer are founded in the spirituality of St Ignatius and are suitable for complete beginners as well as those with long experience of prayer.  The aim is to help people to come closer to God and find Him at work in their daily lives.”

“We hold regular weeks of guided prayer here at the chaplaincy,” explained Fr Tim, “and a number of our students were displaying gifts to become spiritual guides themselves.  Steve Hoyland, the Jesuits’ Head of Outreach, came to train these students and we were invited as a team by the parish priest at Gorton, Fr Andrew Stringfellow, to offer a week of guided prayer to his parishioners last year.” 

The feedback from Gorton parish was so good that Fr Tim thought similar weeks should be offered more widely around the diocese. Bishop John Arnold responded very positively to an approach from the Jesuits, and asked for WGPs in twenty parishes during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

“Jesuits are always up for a challenge, we are good organisers, and see this above all as a fantastic opportunity to help hundreds of people to deepen their special relationship with God as well as to spot new potential prayer guides” says Fr Simon.  “The team at St Beuno's Jesuit Spirituality Centre in North Wales, the student guides, the Manchester Jesuit community, Fr David Stewart SJ of the Pope’s Global Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer) have all responded with great generosity to form teams of skilled prayer guides to lead and support these weeks.  The parish priests and parish communities have been very welcoming and open, and we have received some wonderful feedback.”

Steve Hoyland gave this report from a week in Colne parish: “It was an excellent week in Colne.   Around 30 people did the 1-2-1, individually guided retreat, and others attended workshops to add to the healthy numbers. People prayed; they talked about their prayer and many realised they were praying more than they'd thought; they learned some new ways of praying; God showed up; we made a note of people we reckoned might enjoy and benefit from some training in accompaniment and they were pleased to hear they'd be kept informed of developments.  Fr Chris would like to build on what we've done here in order to liberate yet more of the charisms that the Spirit is wanting to draw out in people.  We're talking about that.  The more Weeks of Guided Prayer in parishes we can do, the better!”

Ten WGP have now been completed in Salford diocese, with around 150-200 people receiving individual prayer guidance, and a larger number attending workshops and special prayer services.  Ten more will be completed by 20th November, the feast of Christ the King, which marks the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  This will be celebrated with a day of reflection at Salford Cathedral for all the guides, parish priests and participants in order to consider feedback and next steps.  “We are hoping to recruit and train many new prayer guides from this year’s participants” says Fr Simon, “as well as to help others recognise their own unique gifts, so that the giftedness of each individual can be allowed to flourish in the service of the Church and of those most in need in our world.”