franciscan - May 1996
© The Society of Saint Francis, 1996
Brother Damian, Minister Provincial of the European Province of SSF, writes:
I put the phone down in deep discomfort. Into our modest vicarage-friary in Scunthorpe a thoughtful rector, somewhere on the other side of the country, poured out his vision: ‘You Franciscans have a key rôle to play in the renewal of the Church.’ Under my breath I muttered, ‘Thank you for choosing SSF.’
What kind encouragement. Doubtless he realised our numbers have been falling, those leaving presently out-numbering those who join - and stay. Community looks attractive on the surface, until you try it. Francis is the popular saint of the century, if you don’t get too close. It was Chesterton who claimed that no one has yet fully tried to live the Christian faith, and probably SSF deserves to be written off with all the rest.
But yes, we have benefited of late from the thorough Provincial Review. We are beginning to re-shape ourselves into custodies, four groupings of houses which no longer cover the length and breadth of the land, but identifying with those who are in reach. The trimming, the pruning, the strengthening of the friaries that remain, will certainly channel the available energy more efficiently, more effectively; at least, that is the theory.
Five years ago, I took over from Brother Anselm a Province that was made up of fifteen friaries and hermitages, spread across the country. Now it seems that the Minister might devolve the care of the houses to self-supporting custodies. Would that then leave me redundant? Hardly!
There remains a number of projects and programmes, represented by thick files on my desk - all about outreach in
one form or another. I can tell you about three of them. The first is about SSF and young people. Last February,
several of us, brothers and sisters, First and Third Orders, met to consider what more we might be doing to encourage
and evangelise young people. Yes, the Hilfield camps continue, and we go to Greenbelt, we visit schools (one brother
managed a whole term recently), army camps, theological colleges. Yet we recognised that perhaps our best opportunities
arise when young people come to us, to see and experience community, to share in prayer and worship, to drink our
coffee and talk freely: an alongside encounter.
My third file is on the Third Order itself, an outreach within the Franciscan family itself, where it is now well-established that our separate Orders are very much engaged with each other. This shows most effectively at Alnmouth, with a succession of Third Order helpers living there. Parochial missions are usually made up of mixed teams, sometimes led by Tertiaries. Perhaps the linking of Areas and First Order Houses has not been allowed to flourish across the whole country (once again, because of our reduced numbers) but the exchange between us is based on a growing knowledge of each other and a respect for each other’s vocation. Many of us will be celebrating together at Salisbury on 20 July.
No, my clergyman on the telephone was definitely over the top. But I do see that the Society, in all three Orders, as it slims down and matures, has been blessed with three precious gifts which precede and are needful towards any work of proclaiming the gospel: the willingness to live alongside; a spirituality that transcends the denominational divisions; and a family, whether home or away, which is disciplined in prayer, service and study, and therefore is ready for missionary encounter.
A blessèd Eastertide to you all. f
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