At the 10 o’clock Mass that morning, it was encouraging to hear Deacon Stephen Morgan, our Leader for the Day, in his address to parishioners, explain how evangelisation in the parish needs to start within each one of us. ‘The change that is needed, the change that says ‘yes’ and does yes in response to God’s invitation begins in each of our hearts and cannot come to fulfilment without that loving, healing, forgiving embrace of the Lord in the Sacrament of Confession as a necessary prelude to a fruitful union with him in Holy Communion.’ 

No less than 48 parishioners later trooped into the Marian Hall, to find the ceiling festooned with balloons kindly left by our Indian community, giving it a festive appearance. Trestle tables had also been laid out with a tempting array cakes and desserts, plus salads, cold meats and cheeses. We were all invited to sit ourselves down in groups of six - composed of members of the PPC, Finance Committee and other parishioners - at one of several circular tables placed around the hall and facing the windows that looked out on a parish garden bathed in sunshine. 

Deacon Stephen sat at a table opposite to us, just a few feet away. Following  a warm welcome by Fr. Jean-Patrice, he rose to his feet, introducing himself with some details of his personal life. Yes. He was a Deacon for the diocese of Portsmouth, and was also married, with three children, aged 18, 20 and 21. From the outset, his lively manner and quick sense of humour engaged everyone in the hall.

Moving on to the purpose of the Day, Stephen explained that ‘Yeovil needs to become a place of evangelisation, new in its ardour, methods and expression, aimed at bringing ourselves into a personal, passionate relationship with Jesus Christ in his body, the Church.’  To this end, the morning was spent in discussion of five ‘Essential Ingredients of the New Evangelisation’:  ‘Personal conviction, Community, The Word of God and the teaching of the Church,  Liturgy and the sacraments,  Courage and creativity.’ Having discovered exactly what was meant by evangelisation; having the light of love and trust in God and witnessing by our words and actions in response to others, we took a one-hour break for lunch. Some appetising aromas invaded the hall as members of the Indian and Phillipino communities served hot meals to many of our parishioners.

Following lunch, we took a first step in starting the process of this New Evangelisation by asking ourselves as parishioners  …   

‘What it is to be a Catholic - in the family, workplace, and community.’ 

Each table would be given ten minutes for discussion and five for feedback.  

Taking the family as our starting point, Stephen asked for views and comments from people on each of the tables in turn. Most of us reported that we always said night time prayers with the children, but fewer extended this to meal-times, perhaps because food is now so plentiful and for most of us, affordable. However, since most children are aware that other children of poor families living in parts of Asia and Africa, often go hungry, as would some in our own parish of Yeovil were it not for the food banks, many of us include a bed-time, if not a meal-time prayer for them, too. 

Stephen also mentioned that at times when children are unhappy about something, or have been quarrelling, a good way of bringing them back together is to say with them a simple prayer for peace. ‘Has anyone tried this?’ he wanted to know. Some hands went up, and everyone agreed that it was a good idea. There is probably a lot of truth in the saying that ‘the family that prays together, stays together.’ 

An interesting point was made that when we read stories about the life of Jesus to our children, they are all too often about the start of his ministry, and the many miracles he performed. However, they also need to learn about his life as a child, as this will be more relevant to them. Sending your children to Children’s Liturgy is also important to their understanding of the life of Jesus and how they can follow him.

It was generally agreed that in the workplace, Catholics can sometimes be presented with working practices which run counter to our Faith and give rise to a crisis of conscience. However, the consensus was that it is sometimes possible to evangelise through our interactions with and response to others, as we had discussed earlier. Fr. Stephen Wang in ‘The New Evangelisation,’ quoting from the Assembly of 1974, wrote: ‘Every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelisation of culture, or cultures by an encounter with the Gospel … This can only happen if the Gospel is proclaimed by witness of one or more Christians in terms of their love and care for one another.’ 

But why a new evangelisation, you might ask? A number of reasons were suggested: the spread of Atheism, a lax attitude towards morality, and the modern ‘Me’ culture, none of which are conducive towards an appreciation of the Gospel message.  

Finally, we talked over what might be achieved in terms of evangelisation in the community. Deacon Stephen reminded us of the words of Bishop Declan, that we are ‘Called to be a people of Hope.’  So we started to think about what could be done to deepen the knowledge of the Word of God in our Church within the faithful. A wide range of suggestions were given, including a  Parish Retreat to either Lee Abbey or Buckfast Abbey, the production of a booklet on Evangelisation, a Children’s Mass with a Harvest Festival, and more involvement of children during Mass, and, in December, an Open Carols Day, and International Evenings held during the year. Thanks were expressed to Fr. Jean-Patrice for coming into St. Gildas School to work with the children, and it was suggested that the Parish Mass could sometimes be amalgamated with the School Mass, which would draw the school and parish communities closer together.

We have the first bricks in place on which to build the new evangelisation of our parish, and are looking forward to working towards the realisation of our ideas.