The newly established Lay Formation Fund enabled a group from Liverpool to take part in an event in London examining parish renewal. Thirteen people from Our Lady’s, Gateacre visited the parish of Our Lady of Walsingham (POLOW) in Docklands in the heart of London's East End.
The event was an ‘Open House’ opportunity to see some of the mistakes, learnings and fruit in POLOW’s efforts to be a Catholic community that makes a difference. The ‘Open House’ conference drew people from different parts of the United Kingdom as well as Germany and even South Africa.
‘The event was really inspiring. It was a thought-provoking day and I am excited about trying new things in our parish,’ said Sally Green, who subsequently has gathered young people who play music to pray and share together.
The day was led by the parish team of POLOW, which covers two worship sites in the East End, and the workshops organised covered three so-called ‘keys’. The first was parish culture – seeing what the soil is like in a parish, where there is rocky ground and where are potential areas of growth. How parish culture can change from maintenance to mission.
The second key examined the Sunday experience. What do new people encounter when they come through the door of a local parish? POLOW shared where they have come from and where they would like to be. The third key was exploring how Alpha can be a non-threatening environment in which to receive new people. How Alpha can form relationships or conversations, stimulate questions and ease people into the Sunday experience.
Sylvia Cawley reflected. ‘I felt the day energised me. The welcome made me feel that they really wanted us there – listening to people’s stories and hearing how the church community helped them. But what struck me most was the diversity of ages and how they all seemed to work together, each doing their own tasks but united in the church community.’
The welcome experienced was a true model of what a Catholic community can be. This sentiment was echoed by Sean Keyes: ‘The way we were received left a glow in my heart, [of] feeling really valued and important.’
For Shirley Green, it was the ‘candidness’ of the discussions and testimonies that most impressed her. 'There was no hiding from the challenges and the difficulties they have faced. I was taken too with their wanting to share and celebrate all the good things that are happening.’
Since the trip, the group have met on several occasions and have compiled a list of action points that are being followed up. They have also spoken at Masses to share their experience with other parishioners. The group will now meet with other north-west parish groups in November to move this valuable journey – facilitated by the Lay Formation Fund – another step forward.