Thank you for so generously supporting the Cardinal’s Lenten Appeal. With your help, people taking on leadership roles in our parishes have an opportunity to explore their faith – and ultimately strengthen our Church communities as a whole.
Many of us learn the foundations of our faith as children, remembering what we learnt in preparation for our First Holy Communion and our Confirmation, many years later.
As such, the earliest years of our lives are well established as a time of exploring, learning and strengthening our beliefs. There are a significant number of people who join the Church as adults, but for most of us, any experience of catechesis in later life is likely to be focused around the sacraments, including preparation for marriage and the baptism of our own children.
Fr. Chris Vipers, Director of the Agency for Evangelisation at the Diocese of Westminster, believes people should have opportunities to develop their faith at every stage of their life.
'It’s not unusual for people’s faith to have remained largely unchanged since their time at school,' he explains. 'One of the ambitions of our Evangelisation team is to whet people’s appetites for life-long learning, and then to make it as accessible as possible.'
Fr. Chris has a passion for learning.
'As well as my role in the Evangelisation team, I have two contrasting parishes, one on the edge of the City of London, and another in the middle of social housing, where there are real families facing real challenges.
'For me, every day is a school day as a priest. There’s a lot to learn. As a team, we’re not sitting in an ivory tower. We’re all deeply rooted in our communities and any suggestion we make is based on real experiences.'
The mission of the team at the Agency for Evangelisation is three-fold:
- To proclaim and live the Good News of Jesus Christ
- To form missionary disciples
- To help build missionary parishes
As part of fulfilling the three-fold mission, the Agency has created opportunities for formation, offered to parishioners under the banner of ‘Learn From Me’.
These opportunities are focuses around:
- Diocesan Short Courses for catechists, usually hosted in parishes
- Certificate courses, including Catholic Certificate in Religious Studies (CCRS)
There is a whole array of short courses to choose from, including introductions to scripture, prayer and the liturgy. For anyone taking part, there are always suggestions of books to read, and encouragement to develop their own spirituality and prayer life. Some people find it hugely rewarding to begin with short courses, before then going on to commit to the two-year CCRS.
'Once you’ve got the bug for learning, you keep going,' says Fr. Chris. 'It’s like mining. The deeper you go, the more you find.'
A formation for every ministry
In every parish, there are large numbers of people who are taking on important duties, from acting as Eucharistic Ministers to reading at Mass. Fr. Chris notes that it’s important to recognise that these aren’t just roles that people take on, they are ministries.
'If you think about the ministry of the priesthood, there is an established formation,' explains Fr. Chris. 'That should also be true of other ministries, if we’re to honour the people who step forward to serve our Church communities.'
Mary Crowley and Anna Dupelycz are both Catechesis Advisors, working alongside Fr. Chris. Mary explains that the team is trying to support the many volunteer catechists in the Diocese’s 220 parishes.
'There are volunteer catechists in every parish, supporting the sacramental programme. Their role includes sharing their faith and, with our support, they can also develop and deepen their own knowledge and beliefs.'
Increasingly, catechists see themselves as working with the whole family, so that as their children grow, so do they.
'We have a real care to build up a community of lifelong learners and open up a door for them,' adds Fr. Chris. 'We want parishes to be places of formation too. One size doesn’t fit all. So, we’ll work with you to find a model that works in your setting.'
Thanks to your support of the Cardinal’s Lenten Appeal, people who may go on to leadership positions in their parish and community, can apply for a bursary to join the CCRS course. That means there’s a route for all catechists, regardless of the funding that’s available from their parish or from them as individuals.
A stronger faith. A stronger Church
Fr. Chris explains how, by supporting ‘Learn from me’, you are helping to strengthen not only one individual’s faith, but parishes and communities too.
'I asked one of my parishioners to consider doing the certification in pastoral mission and ministry. She was a little reluctant. She said she hadn’t done any study for a long time. So, I reassured her saying, "Look we’re going to help and support you".
'As a parish we helped to fund her because we wanted, in a sense, to grow her as a leader. The course gave her increased knowledge and confidence, and she’s now leading our ministry with children and young people. It’s been really beautiful to see. She loves it. Recently, she asked me, “What next?” meaning not just “What next can I do in the parish?” But also, “What next can I study?"
'That to me is a beautiful example of what we want to do. It’s one person’s story, but we want it to be many people’s story.'
The next step
With your support to the Cardinal’s Lenten Appeal, more people with a ministry in our parishes will be able to receive a formation.
'What we are working towards is an idea of certification and accreditation for the ministry,' explains Fr. Chris. 'That’s the way to go. It’s bringing to life the challenge that Pope Francis has put out there – collaborative ministry. We all have a ministry. We all have a role. We all have co-responsibility for the life of the parish and the mission of the Church.'
You can find out more about ‘Learn From Me’ at www.rcdow.org.uk/evangelisation/resources-for-parish-ministry/learn-from-me/