Image: New Directions


Anne Buhrmann, member of the Scottish Laity Network, reflects on the recent Open House conference on the future of the church in Scotland  in this week's blog.

A church event filled to capacity with engaged lay people, all willing to play their part, is every bishop’s dream. As Open House opened the doors of its June conference, that dream became reality. ‘New Directions’ was sold out to laity seeking to bridge the ‘gap’ we all sense in our current model of Church.
Priests are frustrated when the lay don’t ‘step up’. The lay are frustrated because often we don’t know how. Passive, we’ve waited for practical guidance on how to build the co-responsibility of Vatican II.

‘New Directions’ offered such guidance.
Facilitated by the Kinharvie Institute, we were first offered the ‘World Café’ technique, a discussion format easily replicable at parish level. 
Asked to move both psychologically and physically towards each other, attendees were invited to ‘go for the dance’, rotating from table to table, telling our stories and allowing ourselves to be inspired by the Holy Spirit in each other.

And the Spirit was clearly at work. A year in the planning, Open House’s chosen questions echoed the ideas at the very heart of Predicate Evangelium, Pope Francis’ soon-to-appear apostolic constitution. Our speakers picked up its core themes.
Bishop Leahy of Limerick shared, with admirable humility, his own learning experience of synodality, describing the prayerful process of elected parish delegates labouring in God to create a concrete plan for their diocese. How, though difficult, they had learned in that process to ‘love one another’.
Next we were given a new lens on subsidiarity by parishioners from the Galloway diocese. They had prayed their way to a dedicated lay Pastoral Committee with actual decision-making powers. Community discernment meant laity were being trained to lead funerals, and a new hospitality centre offering skills for young people had brought new life.

The third ‘new direction’ focus was Divine Renovation, a theological and pastoral approach developed by Scots Canadian Fr. James Mallon. To begin, a priest/parishioner team from Glasgow described their hopes starting out on the Divine Renovation journey. Then the Leadership Team of South East Edinburgh inspired us with stories of Spirit-filled lay/clergy collaboration as they lived out Divine Renovation’s principles in their Cluster.

After every input we listened to the Spirit, and to each other. How might we apply what we were learning in our home parishes?
In the cross pollination of ideas I watched emerge new energy and possibilities, recognising the ‘polyhedron’ model of church Bishop Leahy had described. In it, the hierarchical and prophetic meet, co-equal and co-essential. This was the creativity and collaboration prophesied by Vatican II.

That co-responsibility necessarily means bishops trusting us, like Brendan Leahy, as they learn to share power and authority. My take home message from ’New Directions’ came from a bright-eyed, seasoned priest. ‘You have the church you have due to passivity,’ he asserted, and not too gently. Then, with love, he went on: ‘You were given those rights by God. Don’t let the hierarchy take them away from you.’

Image: Britain in 21st Century


This week in our blog, Sr Margaret Rose Bradley shares a reflection she has written on the reality of life in Britain today for those struggling to afford the basics.

The children are hungry and cold;
there's no money left on the fuel card.
To eat, their mother has to go to the food bank;
she seldom eats much, saving it for the children.
Her husband is on a Zero Hours Contract,
but has no work most weeks;
no work means no pay; no pay means no money.
He doesn't qualify for Employment Allowance
because he is employed; on paper.
The snow comes that morning and the children
stay away from school;
they really like school but their wellingtons
are too small for their feet now,
there's no money to buy new ones.
In the hallowed halls of Westminster,
in those historic corridors where the
great and the powerful walked,
there's a trail of those going to have their afternoon tea,
subsidised afternoon tea
for why should MPs pay full price?
After all, they're ruining the country,
Oh, sorry, running the country;
running it into the ground, I think;
running away from the real needs of the poor,
the homeless, the hungry, the old and the sick.
Food banks don't serve afternoon tea;
Food banks feed those who are hungry;
Homeless making shelters of cardboard
to sleep in?
They don't need to do that you know,
it's all done to get notice.
After another day spent arguing about Brexit
MPs make their way home in their chauffeur-driven cars,
some of them to their second home.
No need for them to call at a food bank on the way home;
no need to worry about a fuel card,
their homes are well-heated to keep out the cold;
no need to worry about where the next meal's coming from;
No one worries about that these days,
especially if you live in 21st Century Britain,
trying  to exist on Universal Credit.

Margaret Rose Bradley

Image: Prophets and Radicals


In this week's blog, Ross Ahlfeld reflects on some of the issues of our time and warns against a passive acceptance of injustice.

Glaswegians of a certain vintage may recall a well-dressed gent who used to stand at the bottom of Buchanan Street, being ignored by all the shoppers he was calling to repent, while wearing a huge sandwich board which read ‘The End Is Nigh!’ in reference to his expected Biblical Apocalypse described in the Book of Revelation.

These days, you don’t see such evangelicals around the city centre, which is ironic considering these billboard-wearing Christians were correct: the end is indeed ‘nigh’. Especially according to a report by the National Centre for Climate Restoration think-tank in Australia which suggests a high likelihood of human civilization coming to an end starting in 2050. 

Depressingly, and much like Glasgow shoppers ignoring street preachers, most of us, including our governments, don’t seem bothered by the terrifying flood of pessimistic (and scientific) predictions of climate catastrophe. Subsequently, Extinction Rebellion has been forced to come into existence and take direct action.

Similarly, a recent UN study blaming austerity for increasing poverty levels seems to have barely registered. The report states that a fifth of the UK population, 14 million people, live in poverty, and 1.5 million experience destitution.

Yet, not only has this shocking report been ignored, it has also been denied by Chancellor Philip Hammond who simply rejected the claim that vast numbers of Britons are living in poverty.

For me, the two worst aspects of this are to be found in our passive acceptance of austerity and food banks as the new norm; and the advent of post-truth politics which allows the likes of Philip Hammond to dismiss obscene levels of poverty as ‘fake news’.

Don’t get me wrong, food banks are needed but they are no substitute for a decent welfare state. We are duty-bound as Catholics to engage in action against the root causes of poverty. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said -

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” 

In modern parlance we might say that our Christian charity is incomplete without a pursuit of justice and for us in 21st century Scotland, this pursuit of justice must include the restoration of a fair national living wage.

Bonhoeffer knew exactly what the ‘Banality of Evil’ looked like; he’d seen how easily we Christians could be scandalised through our submission to tyranny.

Therefore, in this post-truth age, it is vitally important for us not succumb to a passive acceptance of injustice. Rather, we Christians must discern everything together, pray and defer to Church teachings.

In doing so, we may well be out of step with wider society. Anyone familiar with the pro-life movement will recognise that sense of being at odds with the prevailing culture of the age.

In his book The Audacity of Hope, even Barack Obama ponders the idea that those holding the reasonable centre ground are rarely vindicated by history. Rather, Obama suggests that it is often the radicals who over time, are proved correct, slavery being a case in point.

Perhaps elderly Glaswegians wearing sandwich boards are prophets too.

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