Philip Corbett reflects on opportunities for mission and spiritual growth in our parishes
It is said by some that it is impossible for us to flourish in the Church of England, the naysayers and peddlers of negativity would have us all pack up and give up. We have however a great opportunity for Catholic Mission in our Church of England and to encourage the faith and spirituality of the people of our parishes. With desire for spiritual growth in mind the parish of St Stephen’s Lewisham asked Fr Damian Feeney to visit the parish last year to speak about the possibility of us holding a Fan the Flame Mission. In May this year that first tentative and prayerful enquiry bore fruit in a five-day mission. Our Mission week was led by Fr Mark Gilbert and Canon Jo Gavigan who guided the parish team through the week and offered encouragement to them to tell their stories and share experiences. The week is very much in the hands of the local mission team who work with the visiting missioners who act as teachers and facilitators.
If you have never been to a Fan the Flame Mission service, the structure is very simple. The evening begins with praise and prayer with a testimony or reflection on faith by a member of the community. This is followed by a time of teaching and then a period of response with ministries offered. The teaching takes a congregation back to the basics of the Christian faith and encourages them to rediscover their zeal for what drew them to Christ and what sustains them on their Christian journey. The teaching begins with a session on baptism and moves through the Saints and Our Lady to forgiveness and reconciliation, and finally the last session teaches about that central act of our Christian life, the Mass. For those parishes who have an experience of Walsingham some aspects of the week will be familiar. There is an opportunity to reaffirm baptismal vows, to be anointed and to receive the laying on of hands.
There are two very powerful aspects of the Fan the Flame week. The first is the way in which people open up. By the end of the mission people are clamouring to give their testimony and to speak about their faith. Many beautiful stories were told and a real sense of sharing with the Christian family was expressed by those who spoke. Secondly, the week has an emphasis on what Christian vocation is all about. People were invited to pray with one another and to take part in the ministry of the laying on of hands. This is a powerful expression of the Christian life of prayer and reminds that we can and should offer to pray with people and not be afraid to mention God to them.
I can heartily recommend a Fan the Flame mission to parishes in our constituency. The time is now to seek to reinvigorate our parishes with teaching and prayer. We have a great work ahead of us but we have been called and challenged to flourish and we must take up that challenge. A Fan the Flame mission will be a time of challenge but most importantly it can be a time of reawakening, a time when we can see what our Christian life is really all about. As a priest I was greatly encouraged by the mission as it reminded me what matters – we are called as our forebears were to preach the Catholic faith to this land to promote our sacramental life. So do not listen to the naysayers but rather begin to fan the flame of faith in our parishes so that we can live out our vocation of calling all men and women to the love of God in their lives.