Up to three quarters of Catholics in the UK drift away from the church after their Confirmation. Forgotton by overworked parish priests, most of them live on the fringes of Catholic life, coming to church for weddings and funerals and the odd Midnight Mass at Christmas. A new lay-lead initiative is now underway to welcome them back. Devised in America by a Paulist priest, Fr Jac Campbell, 'Landings' is a structured programme of discussion, faith sharing and prayer, conducted over an eight to ten week period. in parish groups of around seven or eight practicing Catholics and two or three 'returners'. Since Landings was launched six years ago, many thousands in the US and Canada have taken part and returned to actively practicing their faith.
Fr Jac said: "They are Catholics already. We're just there to guide and accompany them back. It's about sharing and healing rather than instruction." Last summer, Fr Jac gave the first Landings training workshop in the UK at Ealing Abbey. 60 parishioners from ten dioceses in England, Wales and Ireland, took part. Many have now set up their own parish groups. On Saturday they held a reunion to share experiences and discuss how they were progressing. Representatives came from Arundel and Brighton, Portsmouth, Brentwood, Westminster and Southwark. Organiser Pauline Gilbertson said:"The idea is to provide a safe landing place.
While some are comfortable returning to the church simply by celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then attending Mass again, others may need more support and a period in which to explore their faith. We're a listening ministry and don' t comment on people's faith histories. Of course if someone has other issues uch as emotional or addiction problems - we refer them to specialist support." Ian Johnson Landings parish co ordinator at Ealing said: "These sessions are good for deepening everyone's faith and understanding. We are all on a journey together."
A spokesman from Arundel and Brighton said it was important not to get disheartened if people did not return. He said: "We are just sowing the seeds". During the meeting, one person said she was concerned that after the intimacy of the small group, some people might flounder in a larger parish that did not have many lay-led activities. "We've got to think about why they left in the first place and what we're inviting them back into," she said.
Pauline responded by saying the experience elsewhere was that after Landings many parishes have naturally developed other kinds of groups and activities. "It has generally had a revitalising effect on parish life," she said. Further Landings training workshops will be held on: April 12/13 2002 in the Diocese of Portsmouth (led by Fr Jac) April 15/16 2002 in Jersey (led by Fr Jac) June 28/29 2002 at Ealing Abbey (led by Fr James Leachman, Pauline Gilbertson and Kate Harris)
For more information contact: Pauline at Landings UK (tel. 020 8862 2164 or e-mail: LandingsUK@hotmail.com) or, for April 12/13, Kate Harris at Portsmouth Diocesan Curia Department of Catechesis (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit the Landings website at www.landings-international.org