Michael Bailey on a mission initiative that aims to give renewed confidence and hope to parishes

Fan the Flame is a week of teaching and renewal. St Paul writes to Timothy encouraging him in his ministry. All of us from time to time need to be rekindled and renewed. St Albans, Romford was the first parish to have the relaunched Fan the Flame, which was originally started by Bishop Lindsay Urwin OGS, now the Shrine Administrator of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Time of transformation

Bishop Lindsay adapted the Mirfield Missions led by Fr Augustine Hoey CR into a week of teaching and breaking open the Sacraments. Instead of a large team descending on a parish, the teaching weeks are led by a local team from within the congregation and two external missioners who lead the teaching week. Bishop Lindsay found this model to work because the parish owned the whole process. The Mission was led by Fr Norman Taylor ssc and Fr Michael Bailey.

Fan the Flame can be a time of transformation. It can enlarge our vision of God and his Church and give renewed confidence and hope to the people of God in their worship and witness. The home team worked very hard before the missioner arrived and this was led by Derek Greening. The parish asked for this process to happen through a PCC resolution and then two missioners were appointed. The lead is Fr Mark Gilbert ssc or Fr Damian Feeney ssc. The Mission is prayed for by religious communities and all that are connected with Fan the Flame. A Prayer Wall is established to root them in prayer.

Sound teaching

The week starts on a Saturday where the missioners meet with the home team and they were joined by Bishop John Salt OGS and the week was planned and prayed over. Fr Norman led a mediation before the Blessed Sacrament and this provided us with the right focus for the journey. The two missioners were then commissioned with the home team to lead the parish in sound teaching and spiritual care at the Parish Mass.

The first evening focused on baptism and Fr Michael looked at emptying ourselves of all unnecessary baggage for the weeks journey of teaching and renewal. The second night Fr Michael looked at grace and filling ourselves with the love of God and a fabulous painting of Our Lady was provided by a Year G student in the local secondary school. Fr Norman looked at the Crucifixion and how it reconciles us with God. The fourth night focused upon how the healing touch is needed to replenish us for our journey in faith. The final night was the fulfilment of our need for Jesus in our lives through the Eucharist.

Spiritual and social encounters

Each day and night was carefully prayed over and planned. The Home Team focused upon hospitality and they provided carefully coordinated meals where the missioners met the community. Fr Michael gained Gibs in just one week! The joy of these encounters was that people that had not encountered each other in a social capacity were given the chance to mingle. At the beginning of the week the missioners were well behaved, but come the end of the week there was no hiding place from the banter that went on! The social encounters were just as important as the spiritual ones.

Each night was led in thebeginningby the home team, in which they choose the hymns and organized the testimonies. A testimony is one of the hardest things to do for us Catholics within the Church of England but they managed it very well. The testimonies focused on how people came to faith and how faith changed their lives. This was done by the young and the more mature in years. A personal expression of faith can be very emotional and it was. People whom you have sat next to in church for years opening their hearts, is an incredibly moving experience. Each night happened through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Continuing process

Planning per se does not happen as you would do in normal life. The missioners quickly became used to each other’s way of working and the dynamic between the missioners is crucial. It is a very special privilege to lead one of these weeks and therefore it is of the utmost importance that one honours the tradition and the liturgy in which one finds oneself. One cannot evaluate a week like this. It is a process, and the process starts the minute the PCC chooses that they want this to happen. Then the weeks that lead up to it again are a process of planning and prayer. Then it happens and the week builds and gets more and more intense. The effects afterwards is up to the parish to decide what to do next. Fan the Flame is a way to invite those that are on the periphery of Church to see the faith in action. It is not necessarily about numbers! It is a process that goes on and on — a journey of deepening our faith and at the same time seeking rest for our weary souls and to be filled with Holy Spirit.