Shortly after assuming office six years ago, The Holy Father set out his vision for what has become

known as Divine Renovation. “I dream of a missionary option,” Pope Francis revealed. “That is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, languages and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self preservation."


The challenge had been laid down – and parishes around the world enthusiastically embraced it. It also led to a best-selling book by Father James Mallon, a parish priest of Saint Benedict in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which provides guidance on how parishes can move from what he refers to as maintenance to mission.

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Adam Wlasak, Alpha team member at English Martyrs, Reading, talks with participant Aaron Franklyn at the weekly Alphaget-together.

The vision has certainly been proactively seized upon by the parishes in the Portsmouth Diocese with many now looking to embark on a maintenance to mission journey. Others have already taken strides down the road in fulfilling their mission of evangelisation and bringing more people closer to Jesus Christ through the Church.


Initiatives are already up and running in St Joseph and St Margaret, Clitherow near Bracknell; English Martyrs, Reading; St Joseph and St Edmund Parish, Southampton, and St Peter and The Winchester Martyrs.

Through the senior leadership teams in the parish, specific programmes are co-ordinated and projects tailored to the needs of the local community are agreed upon – all aimed at expanding the Church’s reach and appeal.

Tracey Gurr, who is a member of the Parish Leadership Team at English Martyrs, said: “We have been looking at parish renewal for around 2 years. As a team we meet once a week and after a prayer and gospel reading we discuss strategy. We use Father Mallon’s book Divine Renovation as our guide but do not follow the model exactly as we look to focus on the issues that are relevant to this parish, the needs of the people in it and the resources that we have available."

“One of the first things we did was to agree a vision for our parish: ’English Martyrs is a welcoming community, inviting, encouraging and supporting all to have an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus. We are inspired to show God’s love to the world with joy and hope.’ This guides all aspects of our renewal and provides the soil from which the seed of a mission focused parish can grow. The team is working with many different groups within the parish to move closer to the vision. For instance, we’re working with the Welcome Co-ordinators for each of our four weekend masses, to really think about what welcome means and how we can make it a part of everything we do, beyond a warm greeting at the church door.” 

The parishes that are taking the journey towards mission also use the ‘Divine Renovation’ five-system model to help achieve their goals. The pillars of this are – evangelisation, ministry, community, worship and discipleship. Tracey added: “We are holding meetings with the leaders of all our parish teams, bringing everyone together under these five broad headings, to look at everything from hospitality, finance and music, to baptism, youth groups and Eucharistic ministry. The aim is to develop connected processes of evangelisation and discipleship rather than individual programmes or projects."

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Alpha team member Sen Buhay serves a meal to participant Cyndy Hamerston.

Key to this is Alpha, an initiative that encourages us to voice our questions about the Christian faith and  to  share our understandings and experiences. Running for eight weeks at a time, 20 to 30 guests meet to share a meal, watch an informative film about an aspect of Christianity and then gather into small groups for discussion and fellowship. One recent participant said: “For me, this is what the life of the church should be about."

Participants Saffi Bangura, left, and Terry Harris, right sing worship songs with Alpha team member Chin Hamerston,  centre.

It's given me a wonderful opportunity to deepen my relationship

with Jesus and to get to know people I hadn't met before. It's given me more confidence to share the joy of my faith with others inside and outside the Church.

The fruitfulness of Alpha is shown by the desire of guests to join the Alpha Team and to form discipleship groups after it has finished, as well as the enduring relationships that help to build community. Young people are also central to the journey from maintenance to mission in the Diocese. Everything from youth groups to youth Alphas and new junior choirs have been set up to help reinforce a strong bond. Regeneration and restoration of buildings and facilities are also important aspects of parish renewal. These physical manifestations demonstrate a commitment by the Church to divine renovation and can lead to an expanding role in the community. 

For example in English Martyrs parish, not only has refurbishment work been carried out on the church but the leadership team is now looking at major improvements to the parish hall and other facilities, in consultation with parishioners. Tracey explained: “We have drawn up architectural plans and are very excited about what we could do with better facilities."


Everything from more youth groups and social activities to initiatives which reach out and help people in the wider community, such as the homeless, as Jesus would have us do. “So while there are challenges ahead as we continue our journey, there are so many things to be positive about, as we see the Holy Spirit at work in our parish, bringing us together and making a real difference to people’s lives.” 

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Reverend Canon Michael Dennehy pictured in the newly refurbished Bethlehem chapel at English Martyrs –an example of the Parish’s physical commitment to divine renovation.