‘I enjoyed the conference immensely. It was helpful in so many practical ways. I now feel confident to try these ways to grow our church within my own parish,’ was delegate Judith O’Sullivan’s summary of the ‘Growing Our Church’ conference held near Wellington on the last weekend in January.
Judith, from Christchurch, was one of over 200 enthusiastic and inspired delegates who heard just how easy and necessary it was to ‘Go forth’ at a parish level ‘and make disciples of the whole world’.
Bishop Colin Campbell of Dunedin opened the conference by saying we are all called to be fishers of men. ‘We don’t need theology degrees to do this,’ he said. ‘All that is needed is our availability and a willingness to share what God is doing and has done for us.’ He asked what good are the fishing boats in Bluff if they don’t go out and fish.
The chair of the National Servant Group, Brendan Woodnutt, then set the scene by talking about the complete lack of goodness in some parts of the world and the importance of meeting the simple, basic needs of people to be loved and accepted. He challenged everyone by saying that we can all make a difference. ‘We need to pray and ask God what he wants us to do; we then need to listen, to believe and trust. Finally we need to act.’
On Saturday morning the keynote speaker, Michelle Moran, a founding member of SION Catholic Community for Evangelism in the UK, explained that there were different types of evangelists and compared Billy Graham with Mother Teresa. Both had their own calling to evangelise and each had brought many people to God.
Not everyone is called to be a Billy Graham but everyone is called to make disciples. Mother Theresa did it by loving people and meeting their needs. This prompted those receiving the love to ask why and Mother Theresa could then explain the Good News that Jesus loved them. Many people were touch by God in this way.
Michelle, who has had over 20 years of experience in growing parishes and is known in Catholic circles for her involvement in the CaFE programme, then gave examples of how parishes had done this in simple ways in the UK.
‘It is so important for us not to be seen as another welfare agency; we must tell people about Jesus.’
She quoted a Nigerian Baptist Minister who said that he loved Catholics because he had been brought up in a Catholic orphanage, attended a Catholic School and been looked after in a Catholic hospital. But the Catholics had never told him about Jesus.
Michelle strongly emphasised that absolutely no growth could or would happen in parishes without the Holy Spirit. She mentioned that the CaFE programme had been developed to help the Holy Spirit be released within parishes. She then described very simply the following four steps to grow a parish.
%uF0A7 Grow the spiritual maturity of the parish by feeding and nurturing its people
%uF0A7 Build communities so people feel they belong. This will ensure that those who come into the parish don’t leave.
%uF0A7 Once the people have been fed and nurtured and the parish has a sense of belonging, the parishioners need to go out and meet the needs of the wider community. If people feel genuine love they will ask questions and want to belong.
%uF0A7 This then leads onto the final stage, which is growth. Genuine, sustainable growth of a parish occurs once the previous steps have occurred.
A healthy growing parish is one that:
%uF0A7 Seeks the Lord’s vision for it
%uF0A7 Looks outward
%uF0A7 Is dynamic and open to the Spirit’s leading
%uF0A7 Is welcoming and inclusive
%uF0A7 Is focused on Jesus -doesn’t take on too many tasks but does a few things well
%uF0A7 Always seeks God in prayer
Workshop topics in the afternoon sessions included the youth, children, the family, parish councils, small groups, preparing for growth, becoming a welcoming parish, worship and healing.
‘I was encouraged to find that my parish measured up very well against the template of the parish council workshop,’ Ellen Fowles from Palmerston North commented, ‘but there is always room for improvement and learning.’
The conference ended Sunday lunchtime after an amazing celebration of the Eucharist. Before Mass delegates spent a quiet time seeking God’s call for them in helping to grow their parishes.
Many were touched during this time and were truly inspired. After this quiet time people moved into small groups based on parishes and prayed powerfully for growth and for the release of the Holy Spirit.
With strong feedback from this conference, there was overwhelming support for another next year.
A DVD or CD of the conference presenters is available for $10. Recordings of all workshops are also available. To order, email ParishGrowth@gmail.com