MISSIONARIES GO OUT ON STREETS TO EXTEND ARM OF FRIENDSHIP TO STRANGERS
Throwing open the church doors and extending the arm of friendship to strangers may seem like a simple metaphor for promoting the Catholic faith, but in Gosport it has become a very real and tangible way of encouraging people to join parishioners in worship. Through the Nightfever project, the team at St Mary's Church literally walk out onto the adjacent high street armed with lanterns, tea lights and prayers and invite those walking by to come into the venue to pray or join the adoration.
Father Serafino Lanzetta, parish priest at St Mary's, said: "We run Nightfever on one Saturday evening every other month; it is something I call a Eucharistic outreach. It has been a very successful way of inviting people into the church and joining us in adoration – we can get 60, 70 or even more people coming into St Mary's, lighting candles, praying.
"Often the people who take up our invite are lapsed Catholics who have not been into church for sometimes, but we also get people who have never been to church before or only ever attended a wedding ceremony or funeral.
Street missionaries join parish priests and other voluntary members of the congregation to reach out to passersby, accompanied by the gentle sound of choral music emanating from the church which is lit with the warm glow of candles. The approach appears to have an inspirational effect on lots of people – many who were simply going for a night out in Gosport find themselves kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament writing out a prayer card or lighting a candle to remember a departed loved one.
Street Missionary Aidan Joseph helps Gosport resident Beryl Cantle light a candle in the church.
I think the attraction starts
with the initial approach. The conversation is as simple as 'our church is open tonight, do you wish to come in and light a candle?'
Many write something or ask for prayer – a small number request to stay a little longer, which is great. There are also practicing Catholics who take the opportunity to go to Confession. Afterwards we give them a newsletter containing our contact details and encourage them to keep in touch. For some it is a one-off visit but for others it is the start of a new way of life. We have even had people who have gone on to be baptised after joining us through this process.” Based on the success of the project, it has now been extended to daylight hours.
Father Lanzetta said: “We now run a similar project called Dayfever, which takes place every Thursday afternoon and, if anything, is proving even more effective in encouraging people to come into the church. I think it works so well because it gives people, often with no Church connection, an
‘experience’ of a sense of the holy place – a prayerful space and a church that is open.”