Bringing people closer to Jesus Christ in HOPE and JOY
It’s incredible to think that I’ve now been with you in this parish for two years now and I’m loving it. I’ve been blessed and humbled and nourished in so many different ways by so many different people. Thank you.
As I look ahead over these next few years, the mission is to help us develop as a parish community. To do this, I would like to propose a common mission for us all, together: Bringing people closer to Jesus Christ in hope and joy.
Another way of looking at the mission is to find new ways to release the incredible potential that the people of St Peter’s and the Winchester Martyrs have been given, to be the parish God is calling us to be, to be a community where people flourish and blossom, where any visitor will see that we are fully alive and brimming over with joy.
To make that journey we need to come closer to Jesus ourselves and have a sharp focus on bringing other people closer to Jesus Christ. This is what allows us to do so in hope and joy: Jesus alone has the power to transform lives; perform miracles; offer meaning and purpose and hope for people’s lives. There are so many wonderful things about our parish. And yet I know we are capable, with God’s help, of so much more. And so much more is needed.
Most of us know personally of family and friends who have drifted away from the faith. We are also aware of the global challenges to our Catholic faith (e.g. the very serious scandals, a culture hostile to faith, the fall in numbers of priests and mass attendance in the Western world). Our diocese of Portsmouth has a population of 3.1 million people. Did you know that about 250,000 (almost 10 per cent) are baptised Catholics, and yet only 35,000 (1 in 7) of these are practising?
Many of you took part in our Gallup survey earlier this year and some of the statistics are fairly stark. The survey showed that only 20% of our adult parishioners are “engaged”; with 51% “not engaged” and as many as 29% “actively disengaged”.
The clear message to the Church is that what we are currently doing is not working as well as it could be and we need to do some things very differently. That is why, as many of you will know, I have asked for support and help from the Divine Renovation (DR) Network which has had great success in helping parishes like ours become a more dynamic faith community.
Sharing the Vision
I have shared with many of you that the vision, which I believe God has placed in my heart, is rooted in the healing of the paralysed man in the second chapter of St Mark’s Gospel. Over the last few months I’ve been trying to elaborate this vision, to imagine what our community might look like in five years’ time if we are being faithful to that call. Our parish Evangelisation Strategy Group (ESG) has been helping me to formulate a “vision statement”, to try and capture something of the essence of the vision. This vision of the future for our parish gets me excited (and terrified!) every time I think about it.
Our proposed parish vision statement starts with our mission: that our parish will be a place where every day We are bringing people closer to Jesus Christ in hope and joy.
This is what we need to do make the vision a reality, just as those four men brought their paralysed friend to Jesus. Bringing people closer to Jesus Christ is something we, as individuals, families, ministry groups, our school, and the parish as a whole, are called to do, just as those four men worked together. And we need to allow others to bring us closer to Jesus too.
We do so in HOPE – not just a blind “glass-half-full” optimism – because we know God loves each and every one of his children, we know the power of the Resurrection, and we know God has wonderful things in store for all of us. We do this with JOY – because we have taken on board the Good News; we know what Christ is capable of; how he can make even the desert bloom.
Why? Why bring people closer to Jesus Christ? Why bother?
So that Jesus can heal our souls and bodies and restore our broken lives by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the episode with the paralysed man, Jesus heals the man’s soul first through the gift of forgiveness and only then, seemingly in response to the grumblings of the assembled scribes, does he heal him physically. I’m in deep need of healing myself and I’ve yet to meet anyone in this parish (or elsewhere) who doesn’t need God’s healing in some way. This will ultimately be through the future resurrection of our bodies but, even now in our parish, God is and will be bringing about extraordinary healing in us and in countless others as yet unknown.
To allow this to happen in the future, it will also be true for our parish that:
In humble hope we are surrendering ourselves to the Lord.
In joy we are praising:
▪ The Father who holds us as we journey in faith;
▪ Jesus who transforms us through His Word and Presence;
▪ The Holy Spirit who fills us and sends us out into the world.
The Next Steps
There is nothing “magical” about the process. It’s pretty much a good dose of common sense mixed with a complete reliance on the Holy Spirit – working as if everything depended on us; praying as if everything depended on God. I’m so excited about what this parish could look like in five years’ time and the journey which we will be making together.
And the effect could be transformative, when we realise that we are called to be much more than we are; that the parish could be even more than it is; that our parishioners could cease to be consumers and instead experience the JOY of being a true disciple.
The DR support has led me to consider five key stepping stones for this journey, which I believe we as a parish need to recognise and embrace:
Alpha which over a hundred of you have already experienced, is our primary “tool”, to help us do the main thing of bringing people closer to Jesus Christ in hope and joy and to develop a culture of hospitality;
Small or Medium-Sized Groups – where we can come to know each other’s name and story and where everyone experiences love and support on their pilgrimage of faith;
Ministry – each and every one of us has the opportunity to love as Christ loves and serve as Christ serves, through our various ministries and teams. Here especially is where we recognise Christ in the lost, poor and needy and overcome all obstacles in bringing them to the feet of Christ;
where everyone has the opportunity to love as Christ loves and serve as Christ serves. To which ministry team are you called?
Discipleship Groups – these are the various ways in which the young and not-so-young can gather to sit at the feet of Christ, to learn more about Jesus and know him better and grow in love for him through prayer and reflection;
Prayer and Sacraments – all of this leads to the source and summit of our faith, which is to discover, rediscover and savour the presence of Christ in his Church – in the sacraments and in our daily prayer, in private and in each other.
Will you join me in this project?
I would love us to work together, to gain your wholehearted support for this vision, so that we take as many of us as possible on this journey. I am looking for your consideration and support. I also hope to find a way for our existing groups to spend time in prayer and discussion around this vision.
God is constantly calling us onwards in our journey towards Him and the fullness of life He promises us in heaven. We see this time and time again in the Bible. My role as leader of this community is to ensure that we are being faithful to where God is asking us to go. In that privileged position, I also, please, need your help, your support, your discernment and your prayers.