18 February 2015, The Tablet

Don't judge, just invite people in, says evangelisation bishop

The bishop responsible for evangelisation in England and Wales has unveiled a radical plan for reform in his own diocese and encouraged parishes to take risks or face extinction.

“A sobering question to ask ourselves is, ‘Would it make any difference if our Church wasn’t there?’ ’’ the Bishop of Plymouth, Mark O’Toole said in a pastoral letter to the diocese issued last month.

His message, delivered first to clergy and then to delegates at another gathering, stressed that parishes needed to take risks, metaphorically and literally, by going out on to the streets, opening up church buildings and auditing their evangelisation efforts.

“We need to be courageous. We live in a time when Europe has in many ways become tired of its Christian roots,” he urged.

He outlined a new strategy for evangelisation in Plymouth which includes the creation of a Vicariate for the New Evangelisation, Catechesis and Schools.

The Church, the bishop explained, must think creatively about evangelising and adopt a non-judgemental style.

“In this missionary key, we recognise that we do not try to argue people into faith, or badger them about what they are doing right or wrong in their lives,” he writes. “We provide opportunities for them to see or experience the beauty of an encounter with Jesus. The Sacraments, the Church's liturgy, Eucharistic adoration, sacred music, the beauty of the Church building, are all important in discovering this way of beauty.”

Bishop O’Toole added that initiatives run by Evangelical churches should be considered including a clothes swap event for women and a day for fathers when parish centres cooked them breakfast and they “were able to read the sports pages” while their children played together.

A priority should be to get people across the threshold of church buildings, he said, and gave the example of a Catholic initiative called Nightfever, in which passers-by are invited into church to light a candle.

Parishes were asked to pray for the initiatives throughout Lent and Eastertide, and in particular ahead of a national evangelisation event in Birmingham in July called Proclaim 15.

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