Last autumn a number of parishes responded to Pope Francis’ call for us all to become “missionary disciples” by signing up to take part in a project called Crossing The Threshold. This project is coordinated by Deacon Vince Purcell, our Diocesan Adviser for Evangelisation, with support from Clare Ward at the Home Mission Desk of the Bishops’ Conference in London. Here Vince updates us on what’s been going on…
The story so far…
After a number of initial meetings, each parish agreed an action plan designed to increase the number of opportunities for people to experience a more personal encounter with the Lord. These plans were underpinned and supported by the prayers of the whole parish – indeed, the first action point was to compose and print a parish prayer card. These cards were then distributed as widely as possible, not least among those who were sick and housebound but whose prayers could support the project nonetheless.
Advent – the beginning of the Church’s year – was the ideal time to begin and each parish involved in the project came up with different ways of reaching out to their own local area. For instance, Christ the King in Thornaby designed and built their own illuminated nativity scene for the external wall of the church – a stunning contribution to the town’s Christmas lights and a visible sign that the church was open for people to come in, light a candle and say a prayer. Local shops were asked to display posters in their windows to let people know when the church was open. Parishioners organised refreshments for those who came to spend time in prayer during Advent and offered them further invitations to all the Christmas Masses.
All the parishes involved recognised the need to offer hospitality to visitors and also understood the needs of people who might be unfamiliar with liturgical celebrations. The parish of St Thérèse of Lisieux, in Ingleby Barwick, produced a special booklet to help meet those needs – every bit as important as mince pies and mulled wine for people who might be coming to church for the first time or after a period away!
In the same spirit of hospitality and welcome, the parishioners of St Mary and St Romuald in Yarm used the occasion of the lighting of the town’s Christmas tree as an opportunity to invite bystanders to their carol service. The parish also worked with Yarm Traders to participate in an Around Yarm Advent Calendar and a special picture made by the Children’s Liturgy Group was displayed in church. This was also the day of that parish’s candlelit carol service and so it provided another opportunity to invite people to attend.
Meanwhile, in York, St Aelred’s Parish decided to involve their school children in the project by inviting them and their families to celebrate the Sundays of Advent at special afternoon services. St George’s parish aimed to welcome extra people to their annual carol service through much wider publicity than usual by sending out invitations to anyone who had celebrated the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation and Matrimony in the parish over the year. Flyers were sent out to all the primary school families and the team also contacted local media to ensure the event was advertised widely.
Both these York parishes invested in banners to be displayed outside their churches as a way of encouraging more people to “cross the threshold.” This investment paid off – at St George’s several people mentioned that they lived locally but had never been into the church before. They came for that evening’s service, they said, because they saw the banners and realised they would be made welcome.
The story continues…
After a short break, each parish evangelisation team began to focus upon activities for Lent and Easter. St Aelred’s Church decided to keep the parish church open each Friday afternoon during Lent. Again, they used banners outside the church and in the school to show that anyone could come in for quiet prayer or to light a candle, while soft music played in the background. The parish set up a prayer tree for petitions and Father Bill Serplus and members of the team were in the church if anyone wished to ask a question or just needed to talk. Even in the first couple of weeks, the parish received some promising enquiries – one from a lady asking about Baptism for her four children and another from a lady who said she was “testing the water for a friend.”
With lessons learned from the carol service, St George’s Parish set about publicising the Easter services by again using banners and postcard invitations. As part of the preparation for Easter, an hour of meditation and reflection was held, consisting of readings, music, silence and prayer. All Saints Secondary School students sang beautifully, as did the parish choir. At the end of the service delicious homemade soup was served and there was an opportunity to socialise. A number of people commented on how much they had enjoyed the service and hoped that the parish would organise it again next year.
Homemade soup also featured prominently at Christ the King in Thornaby, with Lenten lunches organised by different parish groups each Friday. Again, the church was open for private prayer and invitations to the services for Holy Week and Easter were offered to all comers.
Meanwhile, parishioners in Yarm seem to have taken very seriously Jesus’ words about the city on the hill that cannot be hidden! Their church stands in a very prominent position above the market place and is illuminated each evening so it shines out, showing a Christian presence to all who pass by. The church is open from after morning Mass until the evening, with new notices outside inviting people to enter and say a prayer. For practical purposes and for the sake of security, there is now the additional reassurance of a CCTV system in place. Like many parishes, Yarm celebrated Holy Week with an open air ecumenical service on Good Friday before people returned to their own places of worship.
The parishioners of Ingleby Barwick took a slightly different approach to marking Lent. Everyone who comes to Mass was offered a loop of purple ribbon to wear in their lapel as a visible sign for the whole of this important season. The hope was that other people – friends, neighbours, colleagues – might ask what the ribbon signified and that this would provide parishioners with an opportunity to explain about Lent as a time of preparation for Easter – and, of course, to invite them to come along and see for themselves!
So does any of this actually “work”?
That’s not an easy question to answer! We do know that Jesus promised that wherever two or three people were gathered in his name, he would be there. In one sense, then, our responsibility is simply to gather those two or three people together and so create the opportunity for the Lord’s presence to be felt.
We might find we don’t get huge numbers of additional people coming to these times of prayer, but that should never stop us trying. After all, the “success” of a project like this cannot be measured by how many people come. It can, though, be measured by how ready we are to invite. That much is certainly our responsibility because it is the only thing over which we have any control.
We can choose to “cross the threshold” ourselves and reach out to others or we could just sit and wait for them to come to us. In our heart of hearts, though, we know which of these Jesus is really asking of us. It’s up to each one of us to play our part in inviting as many people as we can to experience the joy and peace thatcomes from knowing the Lord.
Later this year, all our parishes will have the opportunity to become more focused upon mission as we celebrate Proclaim ’15. This is a national initiative designed to respond to Pope Francis’ call for us all to grow as “missionary disciples.”
More information on this will be sent out to all parishes in the autumn – but if you are interested in making an earlier start, please do not hesitate to contact Deacon Vince at the Curial Office. His phone number is 01642 850505 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
In The Joy of the Gospel Pope Francis writes;
‘I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world…’
Let’s do all we can to make that dream a reality!
What people say about Crossing The Threshold…
Elizabeth, from St Aelred’s, York: “Although we started slowly, it has proved very worthwhile and we are already making plans for future events. I know some people will feel unsure and might think that you need an in-depth knowledge of theology, but I would encourage anyone to join if asked to do so.”
Kathy Warrick, from St Thérèse of Lisieux, Ingleby Barwick, said Crossing The Threshold had brought to mind a saying of St John Vianney – “Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there; if you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.”
Christine Allen, from Yarm, said: “After attending the introductory meetings, and talking to people from other parishes, I realised there were lots of small, gradual steps we could take to encourage people to come back to church or just to be aware of our presence and what we believed.”
The parish prayer from Yarm reads: “Come oh Holy Spirit and fill our hearts with the joy of the risen Lord. Help our Church Family in Yarm to be a warm and welcoming community offering the hand of friendship and love to all we meet, both in our Church activities and in our local community. As a result, Lord, may we grow as a family of Faith.”