A future full of hope

Parish team and novices

A future full of hope was the title of the collaborative adventure in the parish of Christ the King, Wimbledon Park, last week. The Jesuit Spirituality team - Sarah Young, Vron Smith and Elizabeth Harrison - responded to a call in summer 2018 to plan a week to renew the parish community through a Parish Mission. Over a number of months, the team visited the parish to pray and discern with them about what was needed, to listen to their needs and to plan the week which took place from 11 to 19 May.

It was decided that the parish would benefit from the many varied gifts that the British Province could offer but that, more importantly, the week should bring out the gifts of those in that community and thus build something which would allow them to flourish and grow further in the future.

Speaking at the opening mass, Fr Simon Bishop SJ preached about the good shepherd, who by lying in the opening in the sheep’s pen would protect the sheep from harm as well as nurturing his flock, a reminder of the role of the priest of the parish, Fr Anthony Plummer, who had invited the spirituality team to the parish. The image of the good shepherd also reminded everyone of the members of the parish team whose energy and enthusiasm in bringing their gifts meant that the week was such a success. These are the sort of leaders the Church of today need: priest and people working together. 

In addition to forming the programme itself, Audrey Hamilton of Mount Street Jesuit Centre and her team of volunteer prayer guides led a Week of Guided Prayer for the parish to enable parishioners to come closer to God in prayer, most of whom would never have previously prayed in that way. This formed the foundation stone from which the rest of the week could be built.

There were daily events to enable members of the parish and local neighbourhood to drop by, each with their own emphasis. These were planned and led by the team of novices with Simon Bishop SJ who woke early to start each day with breakfast and prayer with the parish, and also reached out to the local community by inviting to join the talks. A prayer space was created in the parish hall, and a paper tree was placed on the wall so that people could add leaves expressing their hopes for their family and their community and the graces they experienced.

Daily Mass was followed by a ‘Faith and Life Café’ when people had the opportunity to talk about the issues which affect their life and what faith brings them. There was also an afternoon event for parents and children. The novices planned and led an evening interactive workshop for the secondary school age children of the parish which included drama and music to help engage them with the idea of a future full of hope.

“I was humbled by the ways in which parishioners expressed their love of God and the community” said novice Dunstan Rodrigues. “Just to mention few examples: one man called Martin sang heartening and beautiful self-composed songs on the keyboard at several Masses; a parishioner called Anna gently invited and accompanied several passers-by from the street for adoration on the Friday evening; a woman called Pam helped each day with great affection and peace. It was a privilege to be with, learn from and enjoy lovely moments with these and many other people and so to encounter afresh the Lord who is hidden in the hearts of the poor.”

Novice John Bosco Nornoha was particularly moved by how much people shared and opened themselves. “We laughed together, prayed together, debated together. Then, inspired by their love, we went out on to the street and took their love to the people walking by. Like the hymn, at times I felt I became a channel for the love they have for their neighbourhood. What did they bring me? Hope in the love of Jesus. Proof that he is working in the lives of his beloved sheep and that there is a hunger out there for his love.”

Laudato Si' workshop

Fr Roger Dawson SJ, Director of St Beuno’s, gave a talk on Tuesday and Wednesday on the theme “Life before Death: the Psychology of Flourishing”. Over a hundred people attended on both evenings to hear Roger speaking about the links between true flourishing and what God wants for us, and how Ignatian spirituality and positive psychology have much in common in helping us live good, indeed virtuous lives.

Fr Tim Byron SJ of the Jesuit Institute spoke on Thursday to around fifty people about ‘The Digital Life’. Fr Tim’s work in chaplaincies and for the Jesuit Institute has helped him see how the digital world can be harmful, but also the ways in which we are called to be digital mentors and even digital disciples: he spoke of how we can model the example of Jesus in various gospel stories in our online presence. Among guests there were two Muslims from the local area who had given up their time during Ramadan to hear the talk.

On Saturday the Justice and Peace Group of the parish and the novices led a special event in Wimbledon Park, a ‘treasure hunt’ for families based around themes from Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical on ecology. The sun even shone!

After the closing Mass on Sunday, members of the parish spoke of what a ‘joyous time’ it had been and emphasised how working together and getting to know people in the parish better had been one of the blessings of the week.

“It was such a happy week, jam packed with beautiful experiences,” remembers Anne-Marie, a member of the parish team in Wimbledon Park. “Our ‘on the way to work’ breakfast and prayers, the twilight workshops, the brilliant evening lectures and the opportunity to spend time with my wonderful prayer guide are just a few personal highlights. I’ll always remember our meeting at the end of the week when all the prayer guides and participants came together to share with one another our experiences over the five days of guided prayer. While this was happening, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament was taking place next door in our church. Throughout the evening passers-by had been invited to come in to pray and to light a candle. We joined them at the end of our meeting and the sense of peace as we entered our beautiful, candle-lit church was profound. There were opportunities for younger parishoners to come together too. My son loved every minute of the young people’s evening event and I know that he's gained a great deal from the chance to reflect on how his own faith is developing. And we all spent a lovely afternoon together celebrating our local environment as we sang and prayed together in Wimbledon Park on Saturday.”

"On a personal note the Mission has given me a tremendous sense of spiritual refreshment and I truly think that it’s kick started the process of renewal in our Parish. It's now down to us to carry forward the work started by the fabulous Jesuit team. We're very grateful to every one of them for all they've done for us."

The spirituality team return to the parish in early June to discuss how the mission went and to talk about follow up, and Jesuit Missions are also making links to work with the parish in the future. There is a feeling that seeds have been planted that will continue to grow in ways no one can imagine.