Ann George was enlightened and encouraged by the Fulham Lay Congress
The chairs were packed tightly together in St Alban’s Holborn Parish Centre, but more and more were still being brought in, as around 200 people from the see of Fulham (comprising London and Southwark) came together on Saturday 15th September to attend the Fulham lay congress, entitled ‘Living the Gospel’. After a short prayer time we settled down to hear Father Peter Anthony open up some of the secrets contained in St Matthew’s Gospel 13.44-53, the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price. (Did you know that pearls were the most sought after jewels in the Ancient World and that Cleopatra dissolved one in vinegar and drank it? Did it actually have the desired effect?) We then spread ourselves around the church and parish centre in groups to discuss our own religious treasures, new and old.
Back together again we had the privilege to hear our keynote speaker, Mark Russell, Chief Executive Officer of the Church Army, speaking dynamically and persuasively about the process of evangelization, and sharing a wealth of stories and some straightforward advice about first-time visitors to our services, gleaned from his own experiences when visiting churches up and down the country:
- Welcome them with a smile and friendly voice;
- Don’t tell them not to sit in a particular seat;
- Make sure they’re included in the Peace;
- Talk to them after Mass, invite them to the social gathering afterwards and make sure they are included.
Everybody was rocking with laughter, but his stories emphasized how easy it is to alienate a potential new worshipper.
A splendid High Mass completed the morning and was followed by a wonderful sandwich, cake and fruit lunch.
The afternoon commenced with 5 members of Fulham parishes talking about serving Christ in daily life, a wide-ranging discussion that included themes such as daily praying the office and the relevance of the psalms in prayer to practical work for the church community and advocacy among young people at risk. We then heard from Bishop Jonathan about the papal encyclical: Gaudete et Exsultate (rejoice and be glad). Bishop Jonathan spoke on Pope Francis’ call to holiness for all the baptized, and what we can offer to our modern age: the gift of hope. Appropriately, he then asked us to renew our baptismal vows before Benediction, which concluded a thought-provoking, encouraging and lively day. Thank you very much, Bishop Jonathan, and all your team for arranging this event for your parish laity!