Saint Benedict, Halifax
Over 600 Catholic leaders from around the world attended the first ever Divine Renovation Conference (DR16) at Saint Benedict’s Parish in Halifax, Canada. The conference is the fruit of the best-selling book ‘Divine Renovation: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission’ by Fr James Mallon, parish priest at Saint Benedict’s. The book has sold more than 30,000 copies in English, French and Spanish since it was published in August 2014.
Among the guest speakers who joined Fr James Mallon and the team at Saint Benedict’s, to explore how a parish can become what Pope Francis describes as a ‘community of missionary disciples’, were Peter Herbeck of Renewal Ministries, Rick Fersch from the Archdiocese of Seattle, Patrick Lencioni, business author and founder of Amazing Parish.
Also speaking were Nicky and Sila Lee, founders of The Marriage Courses, who talked about their passion to turn the tide on marriage and family life and the role of the local parish in this mission. Listen to Nicky and Sila Lee’s full interview here.
The conference was an excellent opportunity to learn from and be immersed in the experience of Saint Benedict’s, which has become a genuinely evangelising community that brings people into an encounter with Jesus through a well-developed discipleship process. Fr James calls this process of discipleship the ‘Game Plan.’
The Game Plan has seven key ingredients:
1. Invitational Church
The starting point is to become an ‘Invitational Church’; which is not a programme but both an attitude towards those outside the Church and a parish culture. Saint Benedict’s measures ‘success’ not by the number that show up but by the number of invitations that are made by parishioners, recognising that the responsibility of the parish lies in the invitation being made, not the response.
Fr James describes Alpha as the ‘pump’; Saint Benedict’s primary evangelising tool that introduces people to the life of discipleship:
‘At Alpha, people hear the Gospel in a fresh way, they often encounter Jesus, experience the Holy Spirit and are welcomed into an experience of Christian community like no other. We have found that Alpha is the best first step for people who have been away from church or have had little to no experience of the Christian faith.’ Divine Renovation Guide Book.
Daniel Ang, Director of the Office for Evangelisation in the Diocese of Broken Bay, Australia, who attended the conference, commented:
‘The emphasis on Alpha as a way of ‘on boarding’ people into the life of discipleship recognises that the Catholic Mass presumes so much, being as it is worship for the initiated. St Benedict’s encourages all who wish to be part of the parish to take Alpha. The Alpha process provides an experience of hospitality and community life, exposure to the kerygma and group discussion that is welcoming of both newcomers and more established Catholics, recognising that people seek to belong before they believe and behave, and forms the primary evangelising tool at St Benedict’s Parish.’
Saint Benedict's uses Alpha not only to initiate the journey of discipleship but also to develop lay leaders. It also forms part of their RCIA process and is an element of their marriage preparation for couples.
3. Alpha Team
Following Alpha, guests are invited to come back as members of the team (the ‘A’ arrowhead) on the next Alpha. Saint Benedict’s aims to have 50% of first time team members on every Alpha and to move those who have already served on the Alpha team to other ministries, thereby creating a continuous leadership pipeline. No one can serve on Alpha for more than 2 years, creating space for new leaders to grow.
4. Connect Groups
Ron Huntley, Director of Pastoral Ministries at Saint Benedict’s, explains that ‘Connect Groups are where Alpha alumni go to connect and to grow'. Connect Groups (the circle of dots) are small to mid-size groups (around 20-30 people) that retain the key ingredients of Alpha such as eating a meal together, praise and worship, a talk by a member of the Connect Group, and prayer for one another. The groups, each led by four leaders, meet fortnightly in the homes of parishioners and their primary focus is to build community. This is how the parish ensures that all parishioners are known individually, loved, nurtured and taken care of. Members of connect groups are expected to have attended Alpha before joining the group.
The most trusted leaders within the parish are invited to pastor the Connect Groups and the parish leadership team prioritises investing in these leaders.
Any parishioner can take part in ministry, which is symbolized by a heart with a dot in the middle. Saint Benedict’s intention is that every parishioner is involved in at least one ministry. Connect Group leaders help identify parishioners’ gifts and talents and encourage and support their current ministry or to join one if they haven’t done so.
6. Discipleship Groups
Parishioners are also invited to get involved in Discipleship Groups that are focused on learning content, such as catechesis and Bible studies. Fr James explains that ‘unlike Connect Groups, they are temporary, only meeting to do a particular programme with no expectation beyond that.’ Parishioners are free to choose any programme approved by the parish and are expected to engage in one faith development programme each year.
The final icon represents worship; in particular, the Eucharist. Fr James says:
It is our conviction that it is only when the fullness of the Christian life is being lived with some kind of involvement in these other aspects that the Eucharist has its proper place as the 'source and the summit of the Christian life', as the Second Vatican Council said. When we are evangelized and in a discipleship process, seeing, experiencing and serving community, worship, especially the Mass, will come to life.
Saint Benedict’s offers a variety of styles of music during the Sunday Masses, including contemporary, traditional and contemporary choir.
Fr James’s vision is that more and more parishes will begin to develop a Game Plan of their own following the conference. Therein lies the challenge. What steps can you make to help your parish develop a game plan for mission in your area?
To get some ideas, go to divinerenovation.net