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New synergy between charismatic and institutional in the UK

The Holy Spirit is moving like wildfire among Dioceses in the UK, with bishops and priests clamouring to promote and take part in Life in the Spirit seminars, says Kristina Cooper.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II underlined that the institutional and charismatic dimensions of the Church were co-essential and the importance of them working together. This had been key in the revival of the Church in Latin America where the support by the bishops of the catholic charismatic renewal had stemmed the haemorraghing of Catholics to the Pentecostal and charismatic churches. By harnessing lay giftedness and the power of the Holy Spirit a very vibrant and effective Roman Catholic Church had resulted.

His experience in Argentina was no doubt one of the factors behind Pope Francis’s very positive attitude to the Charismatic Renewal and his call, when he became Pope, to the CCR to run the Life in the Spirit seminars as an instrument of renewal in the Church worldwide.

In England, however, there has always been a certain ambivalence by the institutional side of the Church towards the charismatic renewal – worrying perhaps that it was a bit too protestant and over enthusiastic in its expression. This has resulted in Charismatic prayer groups being tolerated, but not always embraced for the grace they have to offer the whole Church.

Bishops with personal experience of the Charismatic dimension

This attitude, however, seems to have been changing over the last couple of years helped by the appointment of bishops like Archbishop John Wilson, of Southwark and Bishop David Oakley from Northampton, who both have personal experience of the Charismatic dimension. This has led them to also appoint others in their diocesan structures who are open and value the charismatic dimension.

Nowhere has this new synergy been more evident than in the recent Life in the Spirit seminars that have been gradually growing in momentum in several dioceses round the country. The first diocesan wide life in the Spirit seminars in Southwark were in 2020 at the behest of Mark Nash, the director of the diocesan agency for evangelisation and catechesis. As it was during Covid, these were run on zoom. But in 2023, Fr Michael Branch, the dean of St George’s cathedral asked the Southwark CDSC (Charismatic Diocesan Service of Communion) to run the seminars for his parish community.

This was then streamed to 8-10 hubs in the diocese as well as being on zoom. About 450 people took part on the different levels. This culminated in a special retreat day when everyone gathered in the cathedral for the praying over on Pentecost Saturday. These seminars were so successful that the format was taken up by other dioceses. Thus in 2024 diocesan cathedral- based seminars streamed to local hubs were taking place concurrently in Southwark, Northampton, Arundel and Brighton, and latterly in Portsmouth dioceses.

The seven Northampton hubs were Luton, Milton Keynes, Aylesbury, Slough, Corby, Bedford and Cranfield University with about 200 people participating. Southwark this year had ten hubs ( Beckenham, Canterbury, Battersea, Kennington, New Malden, Orpington, Sevenoaks and Tooting as well as three hubs in Westminster diocese (two in Twickenham and East Ham) which Teresa Carvalho, the mission co-ordinator for Westminster diocese is hoping to expand in number next year. Teresa herself helped the Southwark team to facilitate the zoom sessions and ran a baptism in the spirit session on the Friday before Pentecost led by Michelle Moran for those who couldn’t make the Southwark retreat day.

Priests giving a 'powerful flavour' to talks

St Mary’s, West Croydon the biggest parish in Southwark diocese, ran its own Life in the Seminars, where all the talks were given by their parish priests which lent a particularly powerful flavour. The All Nations Catholic Charismatic Renewal prayer group network also ran an independent seminars at St Andrew’s parish in Thornton Heath in the same Easter tide period..

In Arundel and Brighton diocese, although he was initially cautious of Charismatic Renewal, it was Bishop Richard Moth who approached the CDSC team to run the life in the spirit seminars at 4 hubs round the diocese (Farnham, Cranleigh, East Blyth and Bexhill). This is to support his pastoral plan after he saw in a diocesan survey the spiritual fruit that came from the seminars. He is hoping that, each year, a different hub will host the seminars.

Stuart Burman, the co-ordinator of the Arundel and Brighton CDSC team, said the team made a big effort to help those apprehensive about the CCR to feel comfortable by inviting well known diocesan priests as speakers, apart from Michelle Moran who gave a key talk before for the praying over. Another important element Stuart felt was asking all the participants to pray the Pentecost novena to create a sense of expectation for the praying over session. This praying over was done after the vigil Pentecost Mass at the cathedral with worship and adoration.

Stuart commented that 80% of the 200 people or so who participated had had no experience of Charismatic Renewal or the Life in the Spirit seminars before. Yet, despite this, he said he had never had so many people asking to receive the gift of tongues. He felt one reason for this was that, as MC, he had prayed over all the speakers in tongues before they gave their talks so people became accustomed to tongues in a natural way and saw that it was not something to be worried about.

'The response was fantastic'

All the diocesan teams had endeavoured to emphasise the complimentary nature of the charismatic and sacramental dimensions. Thus in all of the seminars the sacrament of confession as a preparation for receiving prayer for baptism in the Holy Spirit was underlined. This was provided either on the retreat day as in Southwark or on the Tuesday before as in Northampton.

Stuart Edwards from Battersea in Southwark ran a small hub in his house for 10 people. He said: “It was a great experience. It was just so easy to run. I just invited the people and we watched the talks and praise and worship on my smart TV in my front room.” Apart from helping smaller groups like this, run the seminars, Yoofi Clarke commented on the sense of solidarity and bonding that the seminars had brought about in the diocese. “ In the beginning I was worried that we wouldn’t get enough people to serve in the hubs,” he said. “But I was mistaken-the response was fantastic.”

The Northampton hub team members all met on the Monday evenings for a zoom meeting to pray for the seminars. This was also an opportunity to bring up any difficulties they had. In the process, they discovered a long existing prayer group in Wellingborough of which they had been unaware who sent some of their experienced leaders to help with the praying over. The retreat day in Northampton cathedral was electric, said Yoofi. So many people came that they had to bring out more tables to deal with the registrations.

As a result of the seminars a new prayer group is starting in Corby. A celebration day is planned for 27th July in Milton Keynes with Charles Whitehead, when there will be testimonies from the seminars. The Southwark Life in the Spirit seminars also finished with a celebration evening of praise and worship, testimonies and Mass celebrated by Archbishop John Wilson.

Prayer as key to transformation

Hexham and Newcastle diocese also ran their own seminars in Lent 2024, with new bishop Stephen Wright delivering the talk for the final session. The Hexham and Newcastle seminars are growing strong, with Hexham priest Fr Jeff Dodds immediately starting a new seminar in his own parish of St Mary's, Hexham, after attending a session in Sunderland. Further seminars are planned for September 2024 in Newton Aycliffe as the Holy Spirit continues to touch people, communities and prayer groups throughout the North East.

Andy Drozdziak from the Hexham and Newcastle CHARIS team underlined the importance of prayer and unity in the build up to the seminars in Sunderland.

"We organised a daily prayer rota for our team to intercede for each part of the seminars, including worship music, speakers, venue, hospitality and more," Andy said.

"We really stormed heaven so that, by the time the seminars came around, we could sense the power of the Spirit in the room.

"Prayer is so key to preparation, imploring the Spirit to come and move and receiving an insight into the heart of the Father to meet with His people. There were lot of blessings, and hearts were touched. Two of the participants have now gone on to join our CHARIS team, sharing the love of God with the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. God is on the move."

All the talks given in the Southwark seminars are available on their YouTube channel, as are the Northampton talks, and those given in Arundel and Brighton for those who would like to listen to the Life in the Spirit seminars in their groups or in their own time.

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Thank you, God. People are returning to You.

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