St. Benedict’s – from the inside

I spent Sunday morning, August 11th, in St. Benedict’s parish. I participated in the 9am Mass. Afterwards I met with Dinah, who has responsibility for Worship, Sacraments and Disciple formation team. I dropped in on the Children’s liturgy, known as SHINE and then later had lunch with Fr. Simon, Dinah and Fiona from the DR office.

The Sunday Mass

I needed to put aside the comparisons with Nativity. It is not the same, they are not trying to be the same, and it is not necessary to compare the two.

Each of the Masses at the weekend are different in the style of music they offer and the ‘audience’ they aim to attract. The music was vibrant, the church was quite full and overall there was a sense of engagement and being part of something.

Fr. Simon delivered the homily, it was about 20 minutes long, and it was engaging. There were appropriate slides along with it and there was, to me anyway, a good mix of humour and catechesis to engage those taking part in the Mass. It was the first homily in a series of four, entitled Amazing Race. I will want to follow it over the coming weeks.

There was a baptism of twins during the Mass. Communion was under both species and all in all the Mass lasted 1 hour and 20 minutes and nobody was complaining or leaving early.

Meeting with Dinah

I had a long and fruitful conversation with Dinah. I’ll write more in it shortly.

SHINE – Children’s Liturgy

This takes place, in a large room downstairs, for the full Mass, during the 9am and 11:15 Masses. Parents are invited to sign their children in before Mass. There is also an invitation given before the liturgy of the word for any who wish to go to do so then.

Children preparing for First Communion and those who receive communion, return to the church after the homily. Parents of younger children can also opt to have their children return at that time if they so wish.

The programme on each Sunday involves a snack, music, play, catechesis and prayer. The theme follows that of the message that the adults are following upstairs at the Mass.

I sat in for a short while, during one of the catechesis moments. It was typical of such a programme. I’d imagine the leader is tired after the morning.

Laura currently is the primary leader, She is developing others who are involved, through the ministry leadership programme.

Lunch with Fr. Simon

I’ll write more shortly

The DR Office

At 8:30am on Friday the 9th August, I joined the team for prayer, a light breakfast of coffee and home made muffins and good conversation. What a way to start the work day. There were nine people there plus myself. From the moment I arrived I was made to feel welcome, with comments of, ‘oh you must be Paul’, I knew it was known that I would be there, and that was nice.

I got a tour of the offices and then we got talking about some of the questions that I am carrying with me.

First off I had a conversation with Fiona. She is involved in the area of leadership coaching.

We covered a wide range of ideas, too much to write about here. Some of the key ideas I took from her are as follows:

  • Start with forming a leadership group and have that group study the Divine Renovation book, ideally using the reading guide.
  • Identify some areas, from that, as a place to start and use the study guide to help work out an approach.
  • Use their freely available podcasts and videos relevant to the area of interest to go deeper.
  • It takes 3 to 4 years to get the concept of change embedded
  • It takes another 3 to 4 years for the change to become norm.
  • Start small.
  • Focus on one or two or three Masses and build them into vibrant liturgies.
  • Link in with other parishes in Ireland and the UK who are on this journey also.
  • Keep going.

The underlying approach to bringing change to parish is outlined on their website as:

We believe that there the three keys to parish renewal: the primacy of evangelization, the best of leadership principles, and the power of the Holy Spirit held together by the celebration of the Eucharist.

Divine Renovation inspires and equips parishes to move from maintenance to mission. This is accomplished through events, resources, and hands-on coaching all designed to help parishes make and form missionary disciples.

Next I met with Pam on Sacramental preparation.
She is part of the team in St. Benedicts and also works in this area in the DR office.
Again I got a lot of information from her about what works for them and how their methods have changed over the years. A couple of key areas she mentioned were:

  • Their preparation programme for First Reconciliation and Communion (PACT – Preparing And Celebrating Together) takes place in Autumn / Spring.
  • It takes place after the 9am Mass on alternate Sundays.
  • Parents and children are expected to attend all sessions.
  • Each session has a family part, then the adults and children separate for catechesis, then they are back together to complete the session in prayer.
  • There are companions who accompany the families, taking part in the programme sessions. These companions are people who themselves completed some programmes in the past.
  • It is open to everyone, but the expectation of participation in the weekend liturgy and beyond the sacramental moment itself is highlighted.
  • The numbers are small, though they fill each programme and have a number that they cannot accomodate in the current year, each year.
  • They see a 95% follow through
  • Having a path beyond the preparation programme is critical for them.
  • Following through into the liturgies is critical also.

I’m looking forward to Sunday as I will be participating in the Masses. Between two of the Masses I will have a conversation with the sacramental co-ordinator in St. Benedicts itself and then I am also having lunch with Fr. Simon.

Moving on

My time with Nativity and the Rebuilt model has come to an end and I’m turning my focus now to St. Benedict’s and Divine Renovation in Halifax.

In preparation for the journey I’ve been reading two books. The first is a set of reflections really, by Fr. Simon Lobo. The book title is Divine Renovation Apprentice: Learning to Lead a Disciple-Making Parish. As the title suggests, it is his writing on taking over as the pastor of St. Benedict parish and his journey of learning to be part of the leadership team there.

In talking about Alpha, he points out that many parishes use it as a tool to grow those who participate in Church. He acknowledges that this has its uses, however he goes on to say that the real power of it that he has discovered is in it “Giving people, the ‘unchurched’ a ‘shallow end’ through which to enter the deep waters of discipleship.

Divine Renovation Apprentice p.107

I will be meeting Fr. Simon on Sunday the 11th August.

The other book is divine renovation itself. I’ve read it before, it is different reading it a second time, knowing that I’ll be meeting the people and also hoping to be able to shape questions that will add to the knowledge in it.

Making disciples, is the lens through which we should evaluate all activity of our church.

Divine Renovation, p.22

I will be visiting the Divine Renovation office on Friday 9th August.

Sacramental Preparation @Nativity

I spoke with the two co-ordinators of the Sacramental preparation programmes, Maggie, Director of Children’s Ministry, looking after Baptism, reconciliation and Communion and Daniel, Director of Student Ministries, who looks after Confirmation and beyond.

Chatting with Maggie.

Baptism: Parents presenting a child for Baptism, for the first time, take part in a preparation programme. The Godparents are expected to attend also. The purpose of the programme is to bring people into a conversation on why they want their child baptised. They will be registered with the parish and will receive an invitation to take part in Access Point:

Access Point

Access Point is a casual and conversational environment where you can get to know Church of the Nativity, our programs, services, mission and message. You get a behind the scenes look at what we do and how we do it, and you get to meet our staff.  If you would like to join our Church, we’ll help you do that too. We meet one Sunday each month in a comfortable setting on the Church campus. Whether you’re new to Nativity, or have been attending for years – Access Point is for you.

First reconciliation and Communion. There isn’t a school feeding into this parish. The programme for the children, aged 6 to 9, is a two year programme called Quest. This is based on the small groups concept. It takes place every Sunday from September to Easter during each of the Masses except the Sunday evening Mass. It is compulsory. There are up to 4 small groups, 10 to 12 children in each, at each of the Mass times. It is an ‘in-house’ developed programme. In year two there are 4 evening meetings with parents and children, again compulsory. The first two focus on reconciliation, the others on Eucharist and Mass.

Confirmation is for 15 year olds and so does focus on the youth and not so much on the parents. It is an evolving programme, this is Daniels third year as director and he is bringing some change to it. Having said that, it currently involves a retreat day to open up the programme and then meeting as part of small groups each Sunday outside of Mass times.

Some general comments:

  • The sense of integration is obvious. Each programme is built around working in small groups. A message is delivered over a number of weeks. It is not the same message as is taking place in ‘Big Church’ as the message for Communion preparation can repeat, to some extent, year on year, while the weekend message is building on past messages.
  • The message and activity for the Communion preparation is co-ordinated with Time Travellers so as to be different. This means that families who have a child in the communion programme, who want to attend Mass together also, can do so and the child who was on the communion programme say at 9am Mass can go to Time Travellers during the 10:30am Mass and hear a different message. It is this kind of deep integration that makes the overall experience really impressive.
  • They trust in the ‘product’ they have on offer. The parents coming to church with a child for a sacrament, encounter the weekend experience and all that is around it.
  • I asked about numbers continuing beyond the sacraments, or drop off afterwards. It’s not something they specifically measure, but they know there is a continuity that is well above the norm, and I can vouch for that through what I have seen.

Monday is meeting day

Monday meetings work around the staff lunch.

At midday, I sat in on the review of the past weekend. Various staff members took part along with Fr. White. The first part was to score various elements of the weekend using a green, yellow, red status. Based on that, the remainder of the meeting looked at yellow or red items and then moved on to items dealing with planning for August and beyond.

After lunch, the meeting I attended focused on the message series. It dealt with:

  • the message session delivered at the weekend,
  • the final session next weekend in the current series
  • the first session of the next series
  • the advertising / trailer being developed for the message series following that again.

In all of this, and I’m not going into detail of the meetings, the key was, review what took place, plan the next weekend in detail taking in learnings etc. and look at the longer term items.

Staff lunch started, with everyone, about 20 people, gathering around for a conversation. People were invited to share a positive experience from the previous week. We then shared in a tasty buffet lunch followed by a briefing by Fr. White on upcoming events.

There were various other meetings among groups taking place over the afternoon.

The overall impression I had was one of an approach of do everything well, review it constantly, build in improvements and start again.

Behind the scenes this Sunday

I was invited to take part as an observer behind the scenes around all of the Masses on Sunday.

Production Meeting

I arrived at 8am for the Production Meeting.
Held in the Pastor’s room, all of the various people involved in the production discussed the choreography for the Mass and made changes based on the experience of the evening before.

Ministry meeting

At 8:20am we were in the Ministry meeting
Held in the ministry room, those involved in the various ministries at the Masses are briefed on any specifics for that day. This weekend the main points relate to the prayer ministry group who are leading prayer for forgiveness over those who want it, arising from the message this weekend which is focused on ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. The other item relates to handing out a notice of Mass time changes coming into effect from the beginning of August.

8:40am Next Steps Desk

I wandered around then in order to speak with people involved in the various ministers.

At the next steps desk, I met Jennifer and Steve. They are a married couple of a mixed religious background.

They told me how after they were married they wanted to find a way that they could celebrate liturgy together at the weekend. Their plan was to find a Catholic Church for one weekend and an Evangelical one for an alternative weekend.

They came to Nativity together and found that it enabled them to share the weekend experience in the one place. Jennifer, the non Catholic partner, found that the liturgy was enriching for her also.

They now minister together in the church. There is no issue with Jennifer not being Catholic, as long as what is taking place there is aiding them in growing as disciples of Jesus then that is all that is needed.

The next steps desk is where people go, generally after Mass, to find out more about being part of the faith community there. Next Steps is mentioned during the 5B4 messages etc.

Mass at 9am:

I attended the 9am Mass, and in all of the size of the place, the couple I met in North Carolina sat in front of me, it was only at the greeting at the beginning of mass that we realised we were in front of each other I was included in the hugs as a result. And it made a difference.

Invitation to prayer. As I mentioned previously, the current message series is exploring the Our Father over 7 weekends, On last Sunday, the phrase ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’ was the focus.

The message ended with an invitation to sit for a while in quiet to reflect on areas in ones own life where forgiveness is needed. In addition, across the front of the Sanctuary there were a number of prayer leaders, in pairs, to who you could go if you wanted to pray for or be prayed over.  There was instrumental music playing throughout this time.

It was effective. Many left straight away, a large number stayed for a while and a small number went to the prayer leaders.

10:30am Mass in The control room

For the 10:30 mass I was in the control room, it is a mini TV studio, well not all that mini. They manage all of the lighting, the 7 cameras and the music flow from there. As a techie I was delighted. But also from the perspective of the liturgy, it was incredible to see the professionalism that goes into ensuring that it flows. The music is coordinated, the timing is controlled centrally with a metronome and audible countdown for each of the verses, chorus, etc. on speaker in the control room and transmitted to the ear pieces of each of the musicians.

The cameras are directed from this room and the slides, text on screen etc bright in also.

11:10 – Time Travellers

The children’s liturgy, known as Time Travellers, was taking place during the message delivery at the end of Mass. I went out with the group and sat at the back there.  It takes place in what is known as the Theatre, it is the former church.  

It was engaging for the 30 or so young people who took part.  There is a person there controlling the sound, light and music and they receive a two minute warning from the central control room and then a final call to return to the church.

Midday – Back in the ministry room – taking part in conversations.

During the midday Mass I was in the ministry room, drinking coffee, eating doughnuts and, oh yes, chatting with various people on the different elements they are involved in. The enthusiasm is infectious

Some of the comments were:

  • Our focus here is on those who don’t attend not the committed Catholics.
  • I have friends in Dublin, do you know them?
  • I came here in search x years ago and it was the message that kept me coming back.
  • The message and small groups encourage you to be engaged.
  • I’m going to Dublin in August, where is your parish so that I can go to Mass there?
  • Monday is the big day here, we critically asses what took place on the Sunday and plan for the coming weekend.