Our Parish Day was inspired by the recent letter of Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) and led by Brian Purfield from the Jesuit Centre, Mount Street. We focused on two areas for reflection and the following themes emerged from our discussions:
1) Christ in our daily lives: our personal encounter with Jesus and our relationship with him.
Importance of personal prayer and creating opportunities for this in our busy lives; moments for silence and stillness. A practical suggestion would be to have the church open more often so that people could call in to pray. Some encountered Christ in those who were suffering and the need to be conscious of them when we pray. Our relationship in prayer could be expressed in shared prayer; allow people to pray with someone else for a particular need, gather with them after mass and say someone is available to pray with you. Useful helps to prayer: daily bible reflections or day by day. The habit of giving thanks at the end of the day for the good things that happened or appreciation of what we have been given. Some parents mentioned the simple act of saying good night to God with their children was an inspiration for them to take prayer more seriously.
Developing Prayer life through retreat, Eucharistic adoration, scripture sharing as preparation for Sunday, help for parents to pass on prayer and faith to children, importance of being thankful in prayer. Take the Apostles for example: they were weak but found their strength together. We are individuals but are strengthened through belonging to a community of faith. More opportunities to meet and share faith. Some found different websites useful such as Jesuit website Sacred Space which gives a reflection for each day. Our actions show our personal relationship with Christ: how we welcome others and respond to needs. We find it difficult to put faith into actions and live it as our way of life. This all begins in discernment in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to guide our actions and undertakings. It was felt that the sense of prayer both individual and as a community, should be developed and encouraged. Moments of stillness and silence brought inner peace and time to let go of stress. Making time to read the gospel before Mass. The Wednesday Word was a good preparation however, while this was available through school it could also be given in the parish. Special times of the year such as Advent or Lent could be used to have meditations or Stations of the Cross as a focus and way of praying together.
2) The challenge to encounter Christ in our Parish Community and in others.
Encourage a friendly welcoming community, be conscious of those on their own without family around them. Also those whose children who attend different schools -be receptive of what they have to offer. There are many young single adults in the parish try: to be inclusive of them. Is there a possibility that they could come together and meet with one another? Take risks. Invite others to join in coffee after mass or to come along to parish events through personal invitation. Welcome afternoons for new parishioner were good moments to communicate what takes place in the parish and to include new parishioners. We are blessed to have so many young families in our parish.
While it was acknowledged and appreciated that many had shown strong commitment over the years, we have to invite new people to be involved in the life of our parish. More people should be involved in ministries: Readers, Eucharistic, music, children’s liturgy, collectors, servers, catechists and welcomers. However, this involvement should always have an element of preparation and on- going formation for a clear understanding of what ministry is about and how it enriches the community. About service, not about doing a job or marks of status.
More connection to other Christians in the neighbouring churches and those of other faiths. While Churches Together in Putney had been strongly supported in the past it seems to have waned and needs to be revived from St. Simon’s side. Also mentioned was the inter faith dimension: how do we establish links with our neighbours of different faiths?
Needs of the Poor both local and international. What projects can we engage in and support? Local food bank, CAFOD, visiting those lonely and vulnerable, and the homeless. Twinning with another parish in another part of the world. Provision for seniors. What is our effect on those around us? Are we a church of the poor, willing to reach out to those in need? We should look and see who are on the edges of our community, who are the over looked?
While many expressed a good community spirit at St. Simon’s some felt it could be difficult to be included….more occasions could be provide for people to come together. While many came to Mass many did not know each other’s names! The need to take risks and introduce yourself to those who recently joined. The parish hall could be used more often by a wider section of the parish and become more of a meeting place. Make provision for the needs both spiritual and social of young people. In the past some neighbourhood groups had been set up and were found to be a useful support and they still continue. Perhaps some new groups could be formed -small groups seen as fostering community.
Communication In order to build community people need to know what is happening: up to date website but also a steering group or Pastoral Council to coordinate and be a channel of communication within the parish but also externally to the Deanery, Diocese and beyond.
The need for the personal skills necessary to communicate the gospel to others came up. How do we communicate what we believe, ‘the Joy of the Gospel’, in a non-threatening and non- preachy way? A beginning for this was not to under estimate the value of good example and to begin where we are.
Our day finished with a time of prayer. St Teresa’s prayer, ‘God has no hands but yours’, was sung and was appropriate to summarise our need to be a living church reaching out to those around us. A display of the vine and the branches was carried to the altar reflecting the John 15-5’ I am the vine.’ Grapes on the vine symbolizes the many groups that were in the parish and represented the fruitfulness of our activities. One of the parish gave the story of our parish and the history of St. Simon’s. From this emerged a sense of rootedness that we build on the generosity, prayer and commitment of previous generations. Again the idea of a living community came through that as a parish we are changing and evolving with each generation something different and new is added.
Where do we go from here?
Many good things happen in our parish, however these need to be consolidated and shared with more people. So working with what we have already is a good place to start! Much of the discussion provides a map to guide us for the future. Many families said they would have liked to attend and would prefer something shorter and to include the children. Hopefully we will organise a mini reflection in the Spring , especially for young families and those who would like to attend.
The general atmosphere was very positive and we felt that the message and style of Pope Francis had brought a new impetus into the church and many had felt encouraged that this is a time to renew their own faith. Evangelisation begins firstly with ourselves. Despite our own lack of confidence hearing others speaking about their faith gave the reassurance that we faces the same challenges. Perhaps this presents a way ahead for the future that we need to come together to get to know each other more and share faith in order to be strengthened like the Apostles. So that we can be equipped to go out to others. Some of the practical suggestions can be introduced in the short term but others will take more time.
My thanks goes to all those who participated and organised the day so let us continue to take heart from the Joy of the gospel, and pray for our parish, and our future.
Canon Michael O’Dea.