Many apologies for the lateness of the posting of this week’s blog – as the saying goes “circumstances beyond our control”!
It was one of those blogs that you can’t prepare in advance since the plan was to share the story of something that happened on Sunday morning (21 June) that could provide ideas for evangelising and witnessing to the joy of being people of faith to people who wouldn’t remotely set foot through a church door (save for “hatchings, matchings and despatchings”).
A bit of history first… In 2006, our diocese created Pastoral Areas in which parishes would be encouraged to work more closely together and support each other in developing the faith lives of the people in their Area and in reaching out to others. In my own Area, there had often been the thought that it would be good idea to come together for a shared celebration but, with 1500 Catholics, no venue was readily available. However, across the road from one of the churches, which is geographically in the middle of the Area, is a park – and in the park is a bandstand. The bandstand is host to concerts during the summer and, in years gone by, was the focus of the parish’s Corpus Christi processions. These had ceased years before though many parishioners could remember their First Communion year in which they wore their Communion Day clothes and scattered rose petals before the Blessed Sacrament – when the Polish community turned out in force in national dress – and when people in the town would stand and watch. Quite what they made of what they saw no-one knows but it was an event that was part of the town’s calendar and proclaimed that here was a community confident in its faith.
And so, in exploring the possibility of a Mass for people across the Pastoral Area, the thought of an Open Air Mass on the bandstand grew. A team of volunteers came together to plan the celebration – which, to run smoothly, had to be organised a bit like a military operation. The PA system for the bandstand and its operators had to be booked (fortunately, a Mass in the Park for the church’s patronal feast last year had given them experience of what would be required). Chairs were also borrowed to supplement those brought by participants. Banners and bunting decorated the bandstand and volunteers were working on moving altars and lecterns, chairs and flowers from 7am on the Day. The list of songs to be used was posted on the PA website and circulated to the mailing list. Readers were invited for the different churches as were Ministers of Communion. Children who had made – or are soon to make – their First Communion brought forward the Gifts, which included pictures and a prayer commemorating the event which would be blessed and taken back to the six churches in the Area. Young people rehearsed and performed a mime to accompany the proclamation of the Gospel. Car parking was made as easy as it could be for people who did not know the area with maps and information circulated through the website – and, on the Day, a team of welcomers and ushers (identifiable by their green sashes) made sure that everyone was made welcome and had Mass booklets, those with disabilities seated so that Ministers could bring Communion to them and generally keeping an eye out to iron out potential hiccups.
On the day, all three priests from the Pastoral Area concelebrated – joined by deacons and those in training … and around 500 people came together to sing, pray and worship together. It was a memorable experience and one that we hope will be repeated. But, such a public act of worship does not go un-noticed. The park is a major thoroughfare and people going backwards and forwards to the shops slowed and watched what was happening.
Children and parents heading to and from the play area looked at the unusual spectacle of the decorated bandstand with priests, deacons and servers.
Dog walkers settled their dogs and, for just a few moments, became part of something very different from their usual Sunday morning stroll.
To cater for those who might have been attracted by what they experienced, a note was put into the Mass booklet inviting people to pick up “Seekers’” leaflets and to come along to an evening in a couple of weeks to find out a little more about these people and their faith.
How many will take up the invitation we don’t know – but in drawing communities together and proclaiming our faith to local people, hopefully a few will be drawn to find out more – and those in the various churches will be as welcoming and as joyful as they were at the sunlit Midsummer Mass in the Park.