2020 has been a year of upheaval, anxiety, loss, sorrow, and great challenge. But amidst all of this I hope you are still a people of faith, a people of prayer, and that means of course praying with faith. As you do this, I hope you will pray especially for this parish and its direction, development and future.

Over the last couple of years, the clergy team has been discussing five key areas of parish life. These are Personal Witness, Liturgy, Faith & Formation, Pastoral Outreach and Organisation. Throughout this process we have been looking at what we have done, how we do things and how we can do things better. This is not so that we can tick a box, pat ourselves on the back and congratulate one another on what a fine job we are doing, but so that we can truly and effectively serve every member of St Edmund’s community and indeed those who live in our neighbourhood and wider locality, with priority given to those in great need. How do we draw people to holiness, to greater faith, to become confident in living their faith?

The inspiration and catalyst for the clergy coming together was Fr James Mallon’s book, Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish, which was published in 2014. I think I have mentioned it to you before. Essentially, it is a blueprint for vibrant parish renewal. Every parish is in need of this, St Edmund’s is no exception. We are by and large a parish that maintains itself whereas we need to be more outreaching, more imaginative and more visionary. Above all we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us become a growing community known for its love and respect, honesty and courage, and its compassion and forgiveness. These values need to shine out in all that we do. All of us have a role to play in this and we start right now by praying for it.

In Divine Renovation, Fr Mallon recalls how Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (the future Pope Francis) when at the conclave that eventually elected him pope, described in a reflection the type of pontiff the church needs in the world today. Essentially Bergoglio said he would have to be a person who would help the Church remember and sustain her true identity, i.e. to come out from itself and evangelise, to go to the peripheries. If it fails to do this the Church is in danger of becoming self-referential and sick. This self referentiality ends up with the Church glorifying itself instead of Christ. Because of its loss of identity, its sickness, the Church has become a house of pain.

When I describe St Edmund’s as a maintenance parish, I do not want in any way to appear derogatory. Maintaining a parish well is an admiral achievement: doing things well in liturgy, catechesis and administration to name a few areas of parish life, is to be encouraged. Also, there are individuals and groups who go far beyond a maintainable existence. But we need to move forward, still maintaining what we do well but now with a new missional thrust, where, as disciples we both seek to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ and share the treasure of faith with others. This is not change for change sake, this is all about becoming what we are meant to be as individuals and as a parish community, evangelising disciples, helping others as well as each other to reach salvation.

Fr Mallon says that we can change meetings and courses in our parishes but real change ‘is nothing less than changing the culture of the parish, which ultimately means a conversion of our values’. The clergy team here at St Edmunds named the following values borne out of love as key: Respect, Honesty, Courage, Forgiveness, Growth. We can agree they are commendable, or we can get on and live them radically in the power of the Spirit. My sincere hope is that we not only choose the latter but embrace it.

Thank you for the great love and faith, courage and generosity you have displayed in helping one another during the pandemic. You are an inspiration to me and many others. However, as you go about doing good works please pray and think on how we can move forward. The image that comes to me right now as I close, is of a sailing ship that has spent too long in the harbour, finally setting sail on the ocean seas.