Catholic Parish Summit: Hope and inspiration on show for the renewal of Catholic parishes

June 28, 2024

The Universe Catholic Weekly highlighted that "plenty of hope [was] on show at the Catholic Parish Summit in Harrogate earlier this month" reporting that there were "lots of ideas and opportunities for parishes to grow and flourish."

The three-day conference (12-14 June) aimed "to inspire Catholics with a vision of a renewed Church that is apostolic at its core, equip them for mission, and usher in a decade of missionary renewal leading up to 2033 — the 2,000th anniversary of the Great Commission".

A number of diocesan parishioners journeyed to the event, which was also attended by Canon Kieron O'Brien, Canon Rob Esdaile, Fr Nick Harden, Fr Chris Benyon, Deacon Jon Harman, Deacon Nick St John and Formation Team members Katherine Bergin (Marriage and Family Life) and Lizzie Wakeling (Youth).

Fr James Mallon, parish priest of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and founder of the Divine Renovation Ministry which seeks to support parishes seeking to cultivate vibrant and dynamic parish communities centred on missionary discipleship, spoke at the event about the origins of the Divine Renovation Ministry:

“I saw so many of my brother priests getting the life crushed out of them. There’s a series of small deaths that will happen and you see guys who were vibrant and passionate become shells of themselves. It broke my heart”.

Describing the approach of Divine Renovation as ‘theologically conservative and methodologically liberal’, Fr Mallon is convinced that the models used and the way that mission is carried out "has to change" - even though "we cling so tightly to the way we do things."

Fr Mallon marvelled at the sight of around 140 priests vesting for Mass on the Thursday of the Summit. In fact, it took so long for the priests to enter the auditorium that the worship band had to repeat verses of opening hymn Amazing Grace.

“When I see priests coming to life and getting a sense of dream and excitement and saying that this has changed my life - I just feel so much joy,” Fr Mallon said.

Dr Hannah Vaughan-Spruce, Executive Director of Global Mission for Divine Renovation, was very encouraged by the gathering in Harrogate of 19 countries. She told the Universe:

“There’s been a real sense of the global church here-quite prophetic in a way. As the church moves into this new apostolic age, it kind of gets smaller because all the different countries are learning from each other and the need is similar in every country, so there’s a beautiful missionary network of parishes around the world. We get a real sense of an international feel.
“There’s an openness and hunger among the participants for change. There’s so much that doesn’t work anymore. I have a vision for something that is extraordinary and that is possible because of the Holy Spirit.”

Speaking shortly after the event, Lizzie Wakeling said:

"The Summit was a joy to attend on so many levels; from a professional point of view, it really affirmed all that Bishop Richard is encouraging in his Pastoral Plan – that the Church needs to become more missionary, not for the sake of its own survival, but for the good of all. We have been thinking of ourselves as being in a post-Christian era – which is useful, because it helps us to understand the culture we are living, working and ideally evangelising in – however, one of the key note speakers, Stephen Foster, really encouraged us to see this time as a pre-Christian era, a time of harvest, where new people are able to discover the love of Jesus for the first time – and isn’t that wonderful!
"On a more personal level, the event offered an opportunity to encounter the Lord very deeply through prayer and worship, strengthening me in my own faith journey, so that I can minister more effectively alongside others in this wonderful Church, the Body of Christ here on earth. I have returned home enthused and inspired, with an increased desire to help more people to know Christ."

On the back of the influence of Fr Mallon's book, since 2016, nearly 1,000 priests from 39 countries have benefitted from coaching offered in 9 languages, while over 5,000 parishes from 95 countries have benefitted from events and other resources. As a donor-funded ministry, supporters from around the world ensure that parishes have access to coaching and accompaniment at no cost.

You can find out more about the Summit, and Divine Renovation here.