Fr Peter Verity, chairman of Lent '88, previews the inter-church process for this year, and tells how to take part
A MORE active, out-going, united Christianity, this is the aim of the nationally coordinated course, entitled "Who on Earth are You?" which thousands of people from all denominations will be taking part in this Lent.
The idea of having a nationally coordinated course during Lent, in which local radio statiuons would play a major role, was started two years ago by the Inter-Church Process "Not Strangers but Pilgrims". In Lent 1986 over 50 radio stations took part in a course entitled "What on Earth is the Church for?" It is estimated that over one million people took an active part in the discussions.
Many groups continued after Lent and because the membership of groups was interdenominational, people found that their understanding of other Christian traditions was increased. Lent 86 was hailed as a success by the churches and the radio stations alike.
The results of the questionnaire in Lent 86 were published in "Views from the Pews" in which people called for more help in living their Christianity. As a result of the success of Lent 86, the Steering Committee of the Inter-Church Process decided to run another nationally coordinated course in 1988. This course would take up the challenge which people had asked of the churches. Early in 1987 a Planning Group was called together to see this through. "Who on Earth are You?" is the result of this preparation.
So how is this course meant to lead to a more active, out-going Christianity?
Each of the five sessions deals with different aspects of relationships. In each case, groups are encouraged to look at relationships and to see how these can be improved locally. It is hoped that this will lead to united Christian action to help people in practical ways. The result of Lent 88 should not be more words but real practical action. Some examples from the course will help to illustrate this.
The first session examines the labels we put on people. Do we put people into categories when we know they belong to certain groups? When someone tells us they are a Methodist, a Catholic, a bank manager, unemployed, does it make a difference to the things we presume about them? Being aware of this can affect the way we treat people. Is the person at the supermarket checkout faceless? Do you know the name of your postman? Having discussed this, the group is then asked to find practical ways to get behind the labels.
The second session moves on to look at relationships in the family, including the family of the Church. How important is it that we are part of a family? What must it be like for people who have no family? The young and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. Is there anything we can do as a group to help those who are lonely? Can the family of the parish do something to help?
The course then goes on to look at what it means to belong to a community. What are the communities to which we belong? Are we excluded from any communities? Do we even subconsciously exclude people from our communities and what can we do about it practically?
The fourth session explores what it means to belong to a worldwide community. Some of the actions we take locally have global repercussions. What can we do to help to bring about a better world?
The final session asks people to look back over the course to see what attitudes have changed. Practical action which can be done individually or as a group should be planned in this session.
In all these sessions, stories from St Luke's Gospel are used to help people to reflect. In this way it is hoped that Christians from many denominations will come together to reflect on the Scriptures, to pray together and to act to help other people.
Already many thousands of people across the country are preparing in groups for these discussions. Nearly 50 local radio stations are taking part. Most are putting on special programmes while some others are including special items in existing programmes. The Radio 4 Sunday morning service at 9.30 am will be using the themes throughout Lent. Information will also be given on Ceefax 294, Oracle 694 and Prestel 288098.
A few copies of the workbook, price £1, are still available from the Catholic Truth Society, 39 Eccleston Square, London, SW 1PD, The Bible Society, Stonehill Green, Westlea, Swindon, SN5 7DG or the British Council of Churches, 35-41 Lower Marsh, London SE1 7RL.
There is also an audio cassette for group leaders, price £5, and free A4 and A3 posters with plenty of room for overprinting.