Making Disciples in Leigh-on-Sea
A while back we had a really good Parish Mission at Our Lady of Lourdes & St. Joseph. The wonderful Norbertines from Chelmsford came and led a really powerful retreat which drew incredibly positive feedback from across the Parish family.
Out of the grace that flowed from that week, Fr. Kevin was determined to capitalise, and asked me to present to the Parish Council on the possibility of running the Apprenticeship in Discipleship programme based on Sherry Weddell's Forming Intentional Disciples put together by the Diocese of Plymouth Evangelisation Team. I met the team when they came to London in October last year and ran a training day on disciple making disciples. The Plymouth team have developed a comprehensive and continuing programme to develop, mobilise support and sustain parish evangelisation teams. Through this programme, they have found that many individuals experience a deepening personal relationship with Jesus. This naturally leads to a hunger to know more about Jesus through scripture and Catholic teachings, and this is the core energy that fires the desire to evangelise.
In the year that the programme has been running in Plymouth, thirty three parishes have engaged which amounts to in excess of four hundred delegates, who, with growing confidence witness to their faith as a normal part of daily life. Parish teams are inspired and motivated to maximise opportunities within the parish as well as proactively reaching out to the lapsed and unchurched.
Last night saw our fourth Forming Intentional Disciples meeting in the Parish and we are keeping the numbers of attendees steady between 30-40. This strikes me as unusual and very impressive. It really shows how vibrant our Parish community is, people's commitment to this project and their hunger for more: more involvement in the Church community, more knowledge of Jesus Christ, more prayer, more Catholic!!
A lot of people attending have found the book challenging, especially at the beginning where it contains quite a lot of statistics. This is a natural reaction I've heard from almost everyone who's read it and is to be expected. The thing is, the stats are important simply because they put the following discussion in factual context. You don't have to know all the stats, just have a broad idea of what they mean.
The book then asks us to look at our relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ, is this normal for us? If it is not, it should be. Does being a Catholic mean that you regard yourself as a Catholic? Or that you:
- live in relationship with Christ
- journey into the Church through reception of the Sacraments
- actively practice in the life and mission of the Christian community through attendance at Mass & reception of the Sacraments.
This is what "discipleship" means. It is this relationship; this discipleship which is the beating heart of a Parish fully living the Gospel. Personal discipleship should be the norm, not a kind of optional spiritual enrichment for the exceptionally pious or spiritually gifted.
Our Parish have now moved on to beginning to discuss the thresholds of discipleship and they are finding this very rewarding reading which has generated a lot of animated discussion. There is no getting away from how challenging the book is and one inevitably encounters moans about the style and content of the text. It is difficult, but important to remind people we are not a book club; we are not attending to critique a literary work. If the book is challenging you - GOOD! That is the whole idea! I have read it many times now and always find something new and exciting to take away from each reading. It is really valuable and extremely well observed. I find myself in so many of the categories and descriptions of what we do as Catholics that does not ultimately bear fruit.
I am so thankful to God for the energy our Parishioners are pouring into this project and excited to see where it leads us as we seek to develop a team of disciple-making-disciples who will share the joy of finding new and exciting ways to evangelise in Leigh-on-Sea.