During Carnival Day in Downham Market Festival Week, at the end of May, the big parade comes right past St Dominic’s Church. As a parish, we always like to join in the festivities.
We serve refreshments and sell cakes and plants on our stalls. It’s an ideal occasion to open our doors and welcome passers-by to our church. Over the years, though, it’s become much more than just a refreshment-stop.
This year the Parish Evangelisation Team joined other parishioners to invite people into our church. We welcomed non church-going Catholics, Christians from other churches and others who were curious about us. We invited people to light a candle and to add a simple prayer to our prayer board.
Many people wanted to talk about their experiences of church. A couple who had drifted away from their church decided to give it another go after talking about what being part of a Christian community had meant to them. One man sat quietly in church and thanked us for giving him that peaceful time. We invited people to come back and join us for Mass when they were ready.
Outside the church, the team used a simple ‘personal belief survey’ to open conversations about God and to let people share their ideas about what happens when we die and whether prayer works. People talked about bereavement and their worries about suffering and evil in the world. We were ready to explain our Catholic understanding of these matters when it was appropriate. We weren’t the only ones sharing our faith. One woman spontaneously prayed for us and our work in the street. As the carnival floats went past someone in the crowd said to us, ‘God gives us this joy.’
Even with a lot of prayer asking the Holy Spirit for courage, it was a bit scary approaching people in the street but most people were happy to explore their thoughts with us. We offered to pray for the people we had spoken to. So, with a long list of names, when the crowds had gone, all the parish helpers came together in church to pray for the people we had met and for all their needs.
For me, taking part in the personal belief survey was an amazing experience. I was really struck by people’s readiness to tell their stories and engage in a conversation about their beliefs.
It was daunting at first but by following some simple guidelines it became more natural. Listening is key and being open, friendly, interested and sincere help to build a bridge of trust. The experience also helped me to grow in confidence and see how we may evangelise as part of our everyday lives.’
Pictured above are members of the evangelisation team: from the left, Eddie Luyten, Godfrey Dennis and Joe Walton.