Fr Christopher Jamison OSB - monk, writer and broadcaster - gave a very moving lecture at Farm Street on Tuesday evening, to introduce Landings - a lay-led course for welcoming and accompanying people who have been been away from the Church for some time but are wondering about reconnecting with their faith.
Fr Christopher began by reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan: "let's focus firstly on the traveler as representing those beaten up by the world and, most distressing of all, those beaten up by the Church; secondly we'll focus on the Samaritan, the unlikely person who, together with the inn keeper, offers healing and hospitality."
"in order to be the church of the Good Samaritan, we need first of all to have some sense of who is lying by the roadside and how they have been beaten up.. not the simply lapsed but the deeply wounded" he said.
Some older people describe their experience of Catholic school as a nightmare. Then you have the unmarried mother with a partner who rarely goes to Mass but is looking for spiritual help. Or the transgender Catholic trying to find how they fit into the Church and the parishioners who find this difficult to handle. "What can we offer them?" Fr Christopher asked.
In the past, English society was broadly based on Christian values - and that supported the culture of the Church. But these days, Fr Christopher said, the old categories have dissolved. "There's no longer diversity - there's hyper diversity" he said, recalling one evening when he stood waiting for a train at a station wearing his monk's habit - and three Goths came up up to him and said "cool gear - where did you get it?"
The past Church provided a 'Totally Catholic' environment with schools, clubs, even football teams - but from the 60s onwards, the arrival of TV and mass tourism was embraced by the young Catholics - as well as members of the Anglican and Jewish communities - with enthusiasm - and church attendance declined dramatically.
The final blow to the Totally Catholic environment was the failure of the Church to deal properly with abusive clergy, Fr Christopher said.
"Between 1980 and 2000 Catholic Church attendance declined from two million to one million," he said. The figure has remained fairly static since then but, nowadays "faith can't be passed down as inheritance" he said. "We now have intentional Catholics."
Churches are no longer familiar places to most people. Fr Christopher illustrated this with an anecdote. Some people on a course were given a pound each and told to go a betting shop and place a bet. They'd never done this before and when they came back they said they's had no idea what to do and had been bewildered by the whole experience. "That's exactly what its like for most people coming into a church" Fr Christopher said.
So - its not enough to welcome someone and give them a hymn book. A church of the Good Samaritan must be a place of welcome. In the Rule of St Benedict guests are to have their feet washed and to be shown every kindness.
The future parish must move from being 'Totally Catholic' to welcoming people through social outreach - and moving out into the community to meet people where they are.
Fr Christopher went on to describe the work of Professor Peter Tyler, who believes from his research and studies that between the ages of approximately 12 and 25 everybody has a religious experience. Like in myth of Percival the young person finds the Grail - but asks the wrong question - and they are wounded.
"We need to offer them hospitality to help them process their Grail experience and heal the Grail wound."
To read the full text of Fr Christopher's see: www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=32092
Read more about Landings here: https://landings.org.uk
For more information about Landings at Farm Street contact: Fr Dominic Robinson SJ : DominicRobinson@rcdow.org.uk
or Ruby Almeida at: firstname.lastname@example.org