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Enquirers’ course moves spirituality to centre stage

04 October 2013


A NEW course to introduce people to Christianity was launched at Lambeth Palace on Tuesday, accompanied by a warning that, in many parishes, the lack of such outreach had become "a scandal".

Pilgrim, which is being promoted as "a course for the Christian journey", is the culmination of the commissioning by the House of Bishops in 2011 of "new material to help the whole Church grow through the making of disciples".

Comprising eight six-session short courses, it is divided into two stages, "Follow", for enquirers or newcomers to the faith, and "Grow", for those who want to learn more. In the first stage, the courses are structured around four key texts: the credal questions asked before baptism, the Lord's Prayer, the Commandments, and the Beatitudes. Besides passages from the Bible, there are readings from sources such as St Augustine, Julian of Norwich, and St Anselm.

On Tuesday, the Bishop of Stockport, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, one of the authors of the course, warned of a "culture of amnesia" in Church and society, which the course sought to address: "We trivialise the past or jettison our tradition. We want to enable a new generation to get the riches of the Christian tradition."

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, another author, said: "We have looked back into church history to the first Christians, to say 'How did they do it?' . . . The Christian message spread through learning certain texts by memory and rooting your understanding of the Christian faith in them."

Bishop Cottrell emphasised that the new course was not a rival to the Alpha course: "I really, really don't want to knock Alpha, because this is complementary. If you are using Alpha, and it's great, please don't stop. That's not what Pilgrim is about; but you may want something else to go deeper with people.

"The other thing about Alpha and many of the other courses is they are doctrine-led, whereas Pilgrim does contain doctrine - in fact, in many ways, more than other courses because of its length - but also it's really spirituality-led; so it is about saying 'Let's learn how to pray, how to read the scriptures,' and . . . my hunch is that that fits in with our culture. Yes, of course there are some people saying 'Is it true?' But I wonder whether there are rather more people saying 'How does it work?'"

Another author, the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, referred to research from King's College, London (Experiences of Ministry), and said: "One of the biggest factors of whether a church is growing or not is the frequency of nurture courses like Pilgrim; and [it is also] one of the biggest factors in the job satisfaction of the clergy."

Facilitating the Church's growth is one of the three Quinquennium Goals set at the General Synod in 2010. A progress report from the Archbishops' Council and the House of Bishops, published in June, referred to "a particular Anglican dimension which, at least until recently, has militated against a culture oriented towards growth - the assumption that growth is a core concern for one party within the Church and can safely be left to them". It called for "deep cultural change", through "a powerful narrative which supersedes old ways of thinking".

The Leader's Guide produced by the authors of Pilgrim (Dr Paula Gooder is the fourth) urges churches that believe that the course is beyond them to review their priorities: "Where are the time, energy, and resources going if you do not have the time and resources as a parish church of the Church of England to offer one opportunity each year for new people to learn more about the Christian faith? In many parishes, a situation has become so normal which is in reality a scandal."

On Tuesday, Dr Croft said that clergy were dealing with demanding workloads. They might not feel confident as a "teacher of the faith", or might fear that existing courses were not suitable for their tradition.He urged churches not to be discouraged by small numbers: "People have felt that if they couldn't gather 12 or 15 people together it wasn't worth doing. And one of the things I try and say . . . is it is worth doing for two or three or four people. Eventually, they will grow in their faith, and they will be confident and equipped to help others."

Pilgrim resources are published by Church House Publishing.


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