I wasn't able to attend in person, but I was able to participate through the Livestream video of the plenary sessions which were uploaded to the internet. http://livestream.com/accounts/6379109
It is worthwhile watching them all, there's no question about that. But you will have a greater appreciation if you have read the Divine Renovation book first: https://www.amazon.com/Divine-Renovation-Bringing-Maintenance-Mission/dp/1627850384
You will find a lot of references made during the conference to something called Alpha. In essence it is a course run over several weeks which helps people come to a personal decision about who Jesus is. If you know nothing about Alpha, then these links might be helpful:
This Monday 13 Jun 2016 Plenary Part 1 had a few technical difficulties. The best way to see it is through YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cb6VuTroUb4
Here follows a rough transcript of that Plenary Part 1 and then my own response to it.
Why bother? Not everyone likes getting their information via video, and going through the process of taking notes and typing them up enables the message to take deeper root – and there's no guarantee how long the Livestream option will be available for. Good stuff deserves longevity.
This session was entitled 'Vision, Passion, Hope'
Fr James Mallon, the parish priest of St Benedict's, began the session by welcoming the international participants to the conference, and those who had come from other Christian communions. As part of that introduction he said that it is good for us to get out of our everyday boxes for a while, and that Unity follows Mission, and not the other way around. Unity is a fruit of the Mission.
What is vision? Vision is a picture of the future that produces passion in us. Having a vision is essential for leadership, but it is not enough just to have the vision, you have to communicate that vision to others and you can't communicate the vision without passion.
In the account of the feeding of the 5000 by Mark, we see Jesus and the apostles seeking some quiet time only to find when they come ashore a huge crowd. Mark tells us that Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw them. At other key pivotal moments in the life of Jesus we see this happen, before He acted He was moved with compassion. The root of this word refers to the intestines or the guts, 'splankna'.
Splankna is the disposition of God towards ourselves. If our parishes are to become the missionary disciple making machines that they are called to be, then it has to start with spankna.
If we are not feeling it, we are not going to lead it.
The chapter in Divine Renovation called House of Pain was written after listening to many priests. Those who are able to maintain passion have an underlying reality of hope.
There are many ways to lose hope:
• been hurt
Renewal does not come about without pain. Cynicism is wisdom stripped of hope. Our hope is in Jesus, in Him who can restore our hope.
Picasso said that good artists copy, and great artists steal. That's what we did, we went looking for things that were working elsewhere and tried them. Some worked for us, others didn't.
Renewal has to involve a cultural shift, and culture is composed of the values we hold dear to us.
It is possible for parishes of any size and in any location to be healthy.
Just like in the battle scene of Braveheart where a warrior can't get his head around the fact that William Wallace isn't 7 foot tall, in these days of the conference may you be underwhelmed by us and overwhelmed by God.
Flavia told us that 5 years ago her life was empty, she felt lost and without meaning, even though she was going to Mass regularly. In 2010 she signed up to do the Alpha course, as a team member. On the Holy Spirit weekend she experienced God's love in an overwhelming and life changing way. This enabled her to invite God to take control of her life. This almost didn't happen, because 3 weeks into the Alpha course she wanted to quit it completely. Following this powerful encounter with God's love, she had a desire to share His love with others. She became aware of a fire in her heart, and a call to serve, but she had no idea how God wanted that to happen. Things became clearer after Flavia and her husband attended an Alpha conference, and she knew she was called to serve in a prison. So with the support of the parish, that's what she has been doing. The first Alpha in a local prison was run in 2013, and so far 5 have been run for women in prison and 5 have been run for men in prison. Her vision is to bring Christ to all the prisoners in Nova Scotia and a neighbouring state. Her husband isn't here with us at the conference, because he is in Kuwait to bring Alpha there.
Flavia has invited hundreds of people to Alpha. One person she invited 7 times before he came.
Robert told us that at that time he wasn't really interested in God, and he was experiencing a lot of pain and grief. Flavia said that I would feel peace if I came to Alpha. Finally, Robert decided that he'd either have to try this Alpha thing or leave the parish. 'If I go, will you leave me alone?' Going to Alpha was amazing. I went in with lots of doubts and cynicism. At the Holy Spirit retreat weekend, God introduced Himself to me. My whole life has changed. I used to be sad and depressed, now I am happy, I'm 100% different. I have a relationship with Jesus, which to me is amazing. Now I am leading an Alpha group in a pub.
Rosemary and John were attending Mass in the parish, it was routine for them and they weren't involved in the parish. Fear, though, was a part of their lives. After 27 years in the pews trying to stay awake through the homilies, with Fr James around it was easier to stay awake. We started seeing the positive fruits of Alpha in those who had done the course, and we wanted that for ourselves. The weekend away gave us a sense of connectedness and purpose. All the fear I had has been washed away, and the love of God has filled me.
My own response
It was good news to hear that passion is good, and that it is necessary to bring about the changes God wants in parish life. But to be a lone wolf with passion, that's not going to end well. If you have that 'splankna', then you have to find others who have it too, together you can make things happen.
In order to retain both hope and passion in ministry, you need reminders that God is still active even if you can't see the evidence in your patch of the world. That's why some kind of yearly conference is necessary. That's why I get my weekly dose of The Journey Home from EWTN, to hear a conversion story. That's why the quarterly Ave Maria magazine is 'must read' material for me (to subscribe write to PO Box 118, Midland, WA, Australia, around $20 per year for Australians, a bit more for the rest of the world).
We need, as the good song says, to be reminded that
'God can do it again, and again and again
He's the same God today as he always had been
Yesterday and forever, He's is always the same
There's no reason to doubt, God can do it again.'
As much as this session at DR16 gives me hope, I grieve for the many priests in my own region who have lost hope through at least one of the reasons Fr Mallon gave us. Who will bring the fire, the splankna, back to our priests? Without them engaged we can do so very little. We need to pray every day for them, asking the Holy Spirit to work in them.
Lots of us need healing. Just about anyone who serves in parish ministry gets hurt and gets hurt badly. Ecclesiasticus 2:1-2 is real. Rarely do those hurting ones find anyone who cares that they are hurting. We need to lift our game in supporting and caring for one another.
Alpha, Alpha, Alpha. It is certainly working for them. What would it take for it to work here?