The Catholic Bishops Essay
The Catholic Bishops
Evangelisation in England and Wales is a report written by Philip Knights and Andrea Murray for the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales published in 2002. Knights is a member of the Catholic Missionary Society. Murray teaches at Ushaw College, Durham. The bishops commissioned the report to assist the Church’s evangelisation efforts in the new century, aware that congregations were declining in size and that members were growing older. The report consists of eight chapters and 172 pages of text.
There is also a foreword by Crispian Hollis, bishop of Portsmouth and Chairman of the Mission and Unity department of the Bishops Conference. The “Introduction” (7-10) describes how the research was conducted. A section follows this on “Theological Background” (11-55). Section three continues theological reflection with an exploration of the concept of “Missio Dei” (56-67). Section four discusses the contexts in which evangelisation takes place (68-79) then section five describes the “Framework of Analysis” (80-84), leading into the presentation of data in section six (85-132).
Section seven, on “locations of evangelisation” (133-156) begins to suggest “some possibilities for evangelisation” while the final section offers “some recommendations” (157-169). The research behind the report included reviewing theological material on evangelisation including Church “documents and statements”, participant observation, interview and use of a questionnaire (7). The questionnaire was sent to several constituencies. These were Catholic parishes, priests, seminarians, bishops and diocesan officials.
The largest constituency was the first, since more than four million people belong to Catholic parishes. The authors’ describe “Participation and Sample Size” in an Appendix, commenting that in order to ensure at least 1,000 responses from parishes, 5,000 questionnaires were distributed in 1250 “randomly chosen Catholic parishes” (171). 23% of these were returned. 1250 priests were sent questionnaires, of who 36% responded. 55% of bishops and officials responded of the 120 who received questionnaires. A 44% response rate came from seminarians.
Pilot surveys tested drafts of the data-collecting instrument before the final version was distributed. All sections draw on the results of the social science type research and quotes from respondents are used throughout, placed in text-boxes. Section begins by defining the meaning of the term “evangelisation”, commenting that Catholics prefer this to the word “evangelism” which is widely used by Protestants. The Catholic Church has preferred the term “evanglisation” since the 1970s (29). The term “mission” has receded in usage, in the main due to colonial connotations (30).
“Evangelism” tends to be associated mainly with personal or individual transformation: evangelisation has “a greater sense of the cosmic” (30). On the one hand, the terms ”evangelism” and “evangelisation” can be used interchangeably (20). On the other, evangelism is more commonly associated with presenting the Gospel to “those who are not Christians” (12) often verbally, while “evangelisation” has a broader scope. Indicating that as many as 79 definitions of evangelisation are available, the authors offer their own definition, emphasizing that “evangelisation” includes living the Good News as well as proclaiming it.
Evangelisation does not end when people become Christian but continues in formation and renewal of existing Christians and of converts and in transforming the whole of humanity and the world so that God’s kingdom of “love, peace and justice” become a reality (14). This broad definition of evangelisation challenges the tendency, noted by the authors, to limit its scope to trying to persuade non-believers to believe. The authors stress that evangelisation is God’s work, not an human work.
God’s presence may be found in “unexpected places” (16) and the Church must not be regarded as having an exclusive claim on God’s presence or on God’s actions. As well as bringing new members into the Church, evangelisation also seeks to make less active members more active, to win back those who have left the church and to develop the life of parishes (18). Evangelisation, too, has a special concern for people on the margins, whether due to poverty, social circumstances or other reasons (16). Pages 23-29 trace the derivation of the word “evangelisation” from the Biblical word for Good News, or Gospel.
Taking the Good News into all the world, the authors say, which Jesus entrusted to the apostles and they entrusted to the Church, involves more than winning converts. It has to do with manifesting God’s love in the world (28), establishing loving communities by deeds as well as by word. Throughout, the authors are eager to stress that evangelisation is the task of all Christians, not of a chosen few or of priests and religious only. Those who have been evangelized must become evangelizers (48). People’s gifts vary but all have a part to play.
Building on their biblical research, the authors use three terms to indicate what might be understood as stages of the evangelisation process, kerygma (proclamation), koinonia (fellowship) and diakonia (service) which “cooperate in the task of arousing and fostering a living faith” (33). The author’s also link “evangelisation” and Trinity, arguing that it is not so much the Church that “does” evangelisation but that “evaneglisation happens to the Church” (36) which is “rooted in the Divine Communion of the Trinity” (46).
There is a need to avoid the temptation to limit the scope and meaning of “evangelisation” to “any single activity” (36). The social circumstances of the twenty-first century, that is, a society of mainly unchurched people with Britain as one of the least religious countries in the world (70) demands new methods of evangelisation, new “means of communication”. The section on “Mission Dei” builds on the theological reflection by locating everything that the Church does within the “activity of the Triune God” (56). Mission is God’s work.
Mission aims to “gather all things” to God through Christ and the Holy Spirit is the main agent of mission. The Spirit is not confined to the Church but is present in the world and active “in all people” including those of other faiths (61; 71). The term “mission dei” is popular with Evangelical as well as with Catholic thinkers. Again, personal responsibility for mission is stressed: because we have been transformed, “we must transform the world” (58). The aim of mission is not to preserve the Church but to establish the conditions required for God’s kingdom to dawn (62). God’s kingdom is intended for all humanity (63).
The Church, however, is also central to the work of mission, the “primary participant in the mission dei” (64) because it anticipates the Kingdom (66). The Church is, the authors say, “a sacrament of the communion with God and unity among all peoples that we recognize as the kingdom of God” (66). Discussing the context of evangelisation, the authors argue that the Church needs to consider the “context” in which the people she seeks to address are located. The Church must have an intimate knowledge of society and be aware of social changes, both those that can be affirmed and those that should be “challenged and resisted” (69).
Evangelisation reaches out to people in specific social, political and economic contexts. Membership of and participation in religious communities has seriously declined and younger people especially tend to have no “religious adherence” (70). Others are committed members of other faiths and of other Christian churches. Such people are to be respected. Cooperation rather than competition with “ecumenical partners” is to be preferred (71). Historically British Catholics have seen themselves as outside the mainstream of religious life and have adopted a “fortress mentality” (72).
This has declined and Catholics are now better placed to engage in constructive Dialogue with thir “neighbours in Civil Society”. Decline in priestly vocations, too, impacts evangelisation, resulting in a need to reorganize parishes and to spread fewer resources more widely (73). Discussing contemporary culture, the authors argue that the trend towards fragmentation and individualism presents challenges. The post-modern idea that “great stories” and “meta-narratives” are not to be trusted challenges the Gospel, which is regarded as the definitive all comprehensive narrative.
Institutions, organized religion, authority figures such as priests and bishops are distrusted as people pick and mix more freely. The Catholic Church is perceived to be out of step with some social trends, such as lifestyle choices but also on the role of women. Increasingly empowered in the wider society, the place of women in the Church appears to “lag behind” (76). Again, the authors highlight that the poor and marginalized have a special claim on the Gospel. Here, they refer to the ecumenical programme Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation as having particular resonance with the concerns of the age.
Lobbying on issues of economic justice, environmental health are all aspects of evangelisation perceived as kingdom-building. British Catholics can help globally as well as more locally to deal with such issues as relieving the debt-burden of developing nations and with issues related to asylum seekers and refugees. Section five, on the “framework of analysis” is a brief explanation of how the social science research data was analyzed, as presented in the next section. In analyzing the data, the authors “found two frameworks helpful”.
These are derived from the literary research summarized in preceding chapters. The frameworks are described as the “triangle” of “kerygma, koinonia and diakonia” and as “parish vitality”. The authors suggest that Catholics are weak at initial proclamation, that is, at attracting converts and traditionally stronger at fostering faith and serving society. Vital Parishes would function as places of “witness” of “welcome”, of “catechesis” and of “growth” whereas at present the former tends to be carried out elsewhere, such as through small-groups or special initiatives.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 27 December 2016
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