The challenge of linking faith and life

The Down and Connor 'Faith and Life' convention takes place on Saturday September 26
The Down and Connor 'Faith and Life' convention takes place on Saturday September 26

THE challenges of linking belief to practice are ever-present, with the Ireland of 2015 presenting a range of particular difficulties - and opportunities - for the thoughtful believers, writes William Scholes.

Different denominations, dioceses and groups are exploring their own ways of meeting these, with the Diocese of Down and Connor working its way through a Living Church project.

It started with a 'listening process' across the diocese, the largest in the north, to gather the thoughts and opinions of lay people and clergy about how Down and Connor should reorganise and refocus for the 21st century.

Several priorities emerged, with the idea that lay and clergy should work more closely together - or with co-responsibility, to use the jargon - a recurring theme lent added potency by the pressures faced by a dwindling number of priests.

Other milestones on the journey to equipping the diocese for the present age included a congress in the Waterfront Hall in 2013, the development of pastoral communities and an annual Faith and Life Convention, the second of which is due to take place on Saturday with a wide range of speakers and workshops under the theme 'What hope for faith?'.

Fr Alan McGuckian, a member of the Jesuit community, is director of the Living Church initiative. He said the convention was "a forum for people to gather and participate in a range of conversations about the meaning of faith and its relevance to their everyday lives".

"One of the key elements in Living Church is the building up of the understanding of our faith," he said.

Throughout our conversation, the word 'gathering' peppers Fr McGuckian's speech; just as a parish community meeting together is fruitful, so too is the gathering of people from across a diocese.

He refers to the atmosphere at the first diocesan congress: "Early in the morning you knew that something great was happening, people were making connections again with people they hadn't met in years.

"People realised they were part of something beyond their parish, something that stretched from Ballycastle to Newcastle. There was excitement and energy.

"I believe very strongly that the convention is a platform to facilitate that sort of gathering and coming together.2

'Coming together' speaks also of building up cooperation and co-responsibility between clergy and lay people - work, Fr McGuckian says, which is being put into action through parish pastoral councils.

The Living Church programme has also seen a number of parishes involved in developing a "ministry of welcome".

"It has been a very rich process of reflection in certain parishes as they think about how welcoming they are to others - it's a process that leads us from thinking about those immediately around us to way beyond that, to people who are arriving here from elsewhere," said Fr McGuckian.

The convention will be followed on November 21 by a conference featuring American biblical scholar Jeff Cavins, author of A Quick Journey Through the Bible.

"People have said to us, 'We love our faith but we don't know our bibles well enough," explains Fr McGuckian.

"Jeff Cavins is an expert on handling and explaining the bible and will be able to help us get to know it better."

:: The Down and Connor 'Faith and Life Convention 2015' takes place from 10am on Saturday September 26 at Our Lady and St Patrick's College, Knock. More information at