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East Anglia challenge to become missionary disciples

A challenge to become missionary disciples and missionary parishes was issued at a New Evangelisation conference in Newmarket on Saturday January 13 when a team from the Diocese of Plymouth shared their experiences with over 50 East Anglian delegates.

Representatives from parishes across the diocese gathered to hear Fr Jon Bielawski and Michele Thompson from Plymouth, whose evangelisation strategy has had a wide-reaching impact.

Opening the conference, Bishop Alan said: "As we share our faith with others we become the gift of the good news of Jesus Christ to them.

"As individuals we all have to become missionary disciples. As the local Catholic church in a town or village we have to become a missionary community and as the Diocese of East Anglia we have to become a missionary Diocese.

"Too many of us are content to sit back and say we do not need to worry about the rest. But this is not the view of Jesus. The challenge is for each one of us to take what we hear today back to our parishes and help them to become missionary parishes."

Explaining their approach, Fr Jon said: "The key thing we look at in the workshop, and which we want to be carried through into the teams, is that discipleship comes first and evangelisation flows from this.

"You can read a lot about evangelisation, but we do not get much help in how to evangelise. We believe that you must start where you are and then push yourself out of your comfort zone bit by bit at your own pace.

"Listening to people is so important, as it gives you an opening to be able to make a relevant point about Jesus or your faith in the context of the person's life.

Michele said: "This is for everybody, we are all called to make disciples and I am convinced that everybody has the ability to share the faith that they have with somebody else. It is all about getting over your inhibitions and growing in confidence to be able to do that, opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit and trusting that this is what the Lord wants us to do.

"We want people to feel able to do this immediately. It is about now and learning through a living apprenticeship.

Fr Jon said: "You learn to evangelise by simply evangelising and learning as you go along and sharing that learning with others. It is really uplifting for other people when they hear of people's encounters.

Michele said: "We form a team of people in each parish so that we can learn and grow together in how to go out and do this in our communities and in our everyday lives."

Fr Jon explained that there three specific areas that they focus on: "Firstly, spreading this sense of evangelisation amongst our congregations, then reconnecting with non-church-going Catholics and then reaching those who have no connection with church whatsoever."

Conference organiser, Rebecca Bretherton, said: "The Diocese of Plymouth is very similar to that of East Anglia – it is very rural with a scattered Catholic population. When I heard what they have been doing there I thought it be very applicable to us here. We have successfully piloted the parish evangelisation programme at St George's in Norwich and now plan to form missionary teams in parishes across our diocese to mobilise people and reach our communities with the message of Jesus."

The Plymouth programme is based on the book Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell.

If you are interesting in finding out more or joining a team in your parish, contact Rebecca at

Pictured above Fr Jon Bielawski and Michele Thompson from the Diocese of Plymouth at the Newmarket conference.