It is very easy to feel downhearted about the Church within our nation today. So many developments seem to be about managing decline and coping with a fall in the number of priests and laity. However there are great signs of growth which we can celebrate thanks to some of the new communities that have been developing within the Church over the last thirty years. These communities are faithful to the Church and her teaching and yet present the faith in a way that is dynamic and fresh. They can teach us a great deal about how small communities can be effective in presenting the faith to our generation. Here are three of the many communities that have emerged which represent some of these exciting new communities.
The Ceili Community was founded in 2000 as the Irish branch of the Sion Community (another new community who do wonderful work in the area of Evangelisation). After several moves the community now resides in its community houses in Horseleap and Mullingar, County Meath.
The community’s, founder Monsignor Pat Lynch always felt that he had a vocation to develop a community whose task was evangelisation. Today’s Ceili seeks to live out one of the visions of Vatican II by growing a community where lay people, priests, religious and families minister together in the world.
As well as a corporate life of prayer the community run parish and school missions throughout Ireland. The life of the Ceili is distinctively catholic and seeks to combine traditional spirituality with an openness to the presence and working of the Holy Spirit.
Craig Lodge Family House of Prayer is located in the stunning west Highlands of Scotland. Craig Lodge was a hunting lodge which Calum and Mary Anne MacFarlane-Barrow ran as a guest house after they purchased it in the 1970s. It was in 1983 that Mary Anne and Calum’s children, friends and cousins visited Medugorje in Yugoslavia. This visit was to have a profound effect upon their children’s lives and became a real watershed for the whole family.
Mary Anne and Calum both noticed the change in their children following their visit and so decided to go to Medugorje themselves in 1984 with a small group from Glasgow. They too came back changed and began to run small retreats during the closed season at Craig Lodge. After a great deal of prayer and discernment Mary Anne and Calum made the decision to convert their home into a house of prayer in 1988 began to welcome retreatants with their now renowned hospitality and care.
After arranging successful youth pilgrimages to Medugorje a small community was formed at Craig Lodge which allowed young people aged from 20-30 years to come together and spend a gap year drawing closer to God through prayer, fasting, hospitality and service. Well over 100 young people have now benefited by this transformative experience .The community became known as the Craig Lodge Community in 2000 and now includes permanent members who reaffirm their commitment annually.
Many vocations have emerged from Craig Lodge and as well as providing wonderful hospitality the community now assist in local missions and with youth work throughout Scotland and in schools. The community’s life revolves around the Daily Office, Rosary and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Charismatic worship also occurs during the week which draws people from long distances.
Although a separate charity, Mary’s Meals is based in a shed in the grounds at Craig Lodge. The vision for the charity’s work developed through the visits of the Macfarlane- Barrow family to Medugorje. Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow (Mary Anne and Calum’s son) who founded Mary’s Meals tells of their inspirational story in his book, The Shed that Fed a Million Children.
I spent a few days at Craig Lodge several weeks ago and found it a place of real hospitality refreshment and vitality.
The founding Mass of the Community of Our Lady Walsingham was celebrated on the Feast of the Epiphany 2004 in the Slipper Chapel at Walsingham. The call to found the community came many years before when Sister Camilla began to recognise that there were many young people who felt unsupported in the discernment of the vocations.
Sister Camilia gathered together a group of friends to discuss their sense of vocations in 1999. The group members found encouragement from their fellowship, prayer and study and the group grew. It was from these regular gatherings that the vision for a new religious community began to develop. Six woman felt that they should discern more deeply their vocation and a discernment community called the Cornerstone Community was formed. This involved praying together and developing a common life around work and other commitments.
Sister Camilia began to write down some of her ideas during her time in the Cornerstone Community which eventually formed into the statues of the Community of Our Lady of Walsingham.
Since 2004 the Community has grown from strength to strength. Although still a small they have developed a very high profile within the Church and are recognised by their distinctive habit. The sisters now run Abbotswick House of Prayer in the diocese of Brentwood and are now establishing a permanent base in Walsingham where they are running a retreat centre for the Shrine.
Whilst there are a few exceptions, it seems that the days of large religious communities have largely past. The emergence of new, small and dynamic communities are a real sign of hope. The three that I have listed only give a glimpse of a growing tapestry of communities who are bringing renewal. I find inspiration in their faithfulness to the Church and their ability to bring new enthusiasm. Many of these communities have developed patterns of life which include traditional Catholic spirituality which previous generations had rejected. As our parishes shrink we could look to these new communities for inspiration and example of how small and dedicated people can make a difference.