In a small town in Nova Scotia, a parish Priest, Fr James Mallon had an idea, that too many parishes were too minimalist in their approach to the outside world. The parishioners came forward for the sacraments but not a lot else.
His idea is that parishes should be more evangelising, in which there is more discipleship. Both Jesus and Pope Francis see a missionary church in which we are called on as Christians to be disciples and to help those in need.
Fr James has written a book called Divine Renovation, in which he sets out his ideas for parishes to become more “missionary” and to engage with their local, national and
international communities. There is an abbreviated version available here at St Joseph and St Margaret Clitherow for those interested.
Fr James has adopted modern management techniques in the development of his ideas in his parish which includes a Senior Leadership Team and I have the privilege of being the Director of Justice, Peace and Social Responsibility in ours at St Joseph and St Margaret Clitherow having taken over from Bernadette Fisher. She has moved on to set up the Recovery College for anyone experiencing any kind of challenge to their mental, emotional or physical wellbeing or those who support them
The key letters in my title are the S and the R, Social Responsibility. In our society wealth, opportunities and life chances are supposed to trickle down from the top. We all take these opportunities and use our own abilities to carve out a living, and hopefully be happy.
But it seems at the moment that this isn’t working. There are too many people here in the UK and in other countries living in poverty or with few if any life chances. So for these people it means that there is no justice. I suspect that many wake up at 3am wondering how to pay a particular bill or to deal with some crisis so there is no peace for them either.
Jesus and Pope Francis have placed upon us in St Joseph and St Margaret Clitherow parish the responsibility to get involved to support justice for all God’s people, particularly the poor and to be good stewards of creation.
As a church then we need to get involved in a whole range of human life issues: from those campaigns against abortion and beginning of life matters, through campaigns to do with childhood and old age, the care of wild animals, justice, peace and reconciliation in our own society and overseas, plus concerns with environmental resources, bioethical matters and end of life care.
Our Action Plan
The Justice, Peace & Social Responsibility Group has been running for a few years now to encourage and stimulate a real passion for social justice within the parish and the town. The plan is to find more volunteers to help those where they may need it and to try to expand our activities into new areas.
Are gather information and form a network of what is already happening locally in the area.
To prioritise key focus areas to which we can contribute & identify leads to develop. Fr Mallon has written that we will probably make mistakes. We may choose some activities that come to naught. That’s OK, we just do as the old song suggests, “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and start all over again”.
To highlight to the parish particular national & international action campaigns e.g. World Food Day, Climate Coalition Week, One World Week, Cop26 and other initiatives.
Over the last few years our parish has been involved in these activities:
- The Homelessness Shelter being supported by Pilgrim Hearts
- We are looking at how we support refugee families, making them feel welcome and part of the community.
- St Vincent de Paul provides practical assistance to those in need locally.
- CAFOD provides support to those in some other countries who are just managing to cope but then, when some crisis arises, they cannot.
- We continue to fundraise and work closely with our twinned diocese in Bamenda, Cameroon.
- We, together with some other Bracknell churches, have joined with the Berkshire Credit Union to help those who don’t have much money or are bad at managing it, to provide contact points across Bracknell.
Some of our parishioners help with;
- the food bank at the Kerith Centre (The Trussel Trust)
- the Berkshire Womens’ Refuge
- the Medaille Trust (support for victims of modern slavery)
- Bracknell Life house (pro-life)
- The clothes bank (organised by St Mark’s Church, Binfield).
- …and others that I don’t yet know about
If you are a volunteer engaged in something not on the list above, could you let me know please. It will save me or someone else having the same idea with the resultant duplication of effort. Also I may be able to find someone to help you.
Expanding into new areas
The list above is concerned with actually helping those in need. We should also try and prevent people from being in need in the first place. We should be talking to our elected leaders, both national and local to put our points of view on the lack of a social responsibility. We should be engaged with the news media and social media to try and change attitudes so that there is more. CAFOD has already started down this road with meetings of local parishioners and their respective MPs. Several parishes in the Portsmouth Diocese have already met with their MP and we in Bracknell have emailed our MP on several matters.
As a society, we are developing concerns about the changing climate. Five years ago, Pope Francis wrote the Encyclical “Reclaim our Common Home” and to help to fire us up, CAFOD started a “Live Simply” award. I would like our parish to take part in this. It’s not too late.
This encyclical discusses the changing climate and things that we can do to alleviate the rising CO2 levels. A side effect of the changing climate is to force more people around the world into poverty. We must try to do something to help.
It’s obvious that our parish is already doing a lot but it’s possible that our current volunteers could do with some help. Also if we want to expand into these new areas we will need more, please.
In particular CAFOD has upped its appeals (probably because of COVID). We now receive more requests for help from them in addition to the normal Lent and Harvest appeals. It used to be done by one person, it probably needs two now, one to deal with the routine appeals (which we have) and another to deal with those extra ones (which we don’t). So I would like a second volunteer to take on this extra activity please.
If anything above strikes a chord or if you can think of new areas in which we could help those in need either locally or further afield then please get in touch. I usually attend the Sunday 8.30 Mass or my mobile and email are shown below.
We welcome especially enquiries or offers of help from our younger parishioners, say 18+. Reports from around the world show that many of them are concerned about the effects of the changing climate and the apparent increase in poverty, and they want to help.
I envisage that any particular volunteer would spend about an hour or two a week helping for a specific task or a part of a specific task and for, perhaps 6 months or a year, at which point they can opt out.
The challenge seems vast but we are not alone in our concern. All over the world and here in Bracknell there are groups trying to help. If we align ourselves with these other groups I am sure that we can make a difference, even given our relatively small size.
We must ask ourselves; “What can I offer?” “How can I help?”
Please keep an eye on the newsletter for requests for volunteers. Thanks for any help that you can give.
Bill Taylor – Director of Justice and Peace
PS. This website, https://journeyto2030.org/parish/ is worth a look, developed by the Jesuits at Oxford University, it shows a route for parishes to improve things by 2030, “A Parish Guide to Laudato Si”.