Executive Council Members
Paula Pearce (Minister) Dorothy Harte (Presence in the World)
Helen MacGilp (Vice Minister) Catherine Orobator (Youth)
Salvina Bartholomeusz (Secretary) Br John Cavanagh OFM Cap
Roger Yelland (Treasurer) Br Patrick Lonsdale OFM
John Power (Formation) Br Jesmond Pawley OFM Conv
I would like to begin with a reminder of the blessings we shared during the years of Br Peter Hall’s dedicated service. He died during our term of office. He is still sorely missed but we have access to some of the unique teaching and guidance he gave us over the years thanks to those members who made recordings of his talks.
Br Stephen Innes served us loyally and generously for 9 years and he also helped us greatly in the range of contributions he made as he gave himself unstintingly in his service for us. He has sent us his good wishes for the success of our Chapter and he thanked us for the donation we collected for him. We wish him well in his current ministry.
We have 3 new national Spiritual Assistants, Br Patrick ofm, Br Jesmond is our ofm conv spiritual assistant and Br John is ofm cap. We appreciate their commitment and dedication to the Order, especially as they are having to undertake additional work that would, in the past, have been shared among other Franciscans.
State of the National Fraternity
OFSGB continues to see a decrease in the number of members. The main causes are ageing and death. There are some people in formation but the numbers do not cancel each other out. I hope that all members will come to understand better the nature and identity of the Order through initial and ongoing formation. How can we promote the Order unless we identify fully with it and share the desire to belong to it?
There are 647 members who can attend meetings, 60 local fraternities, 20 of which are dormant. There is an imbalance in the size of regions – in terms of geographical area, this applies particularly to the South West and S Wales Region and to Scotland which are large, with some members having to make long journeys to participate in fraternity life. In terms of the numbers of local fraternities making up a region, London is disproportionately large in contrast to the neighbouring regions – specifically South East and East Anglia.
The outgoing council decided it was necessary to increase capitation. The priorities of the Council included membership and this, together with work on the website, led us to look at how we categorise members. It soon became evident that the categorisation on the old website did not follow the General Constitutions. Helen spearheaded the major work of addressing this, preparing an explanation and giving a suggested approach to tackle this. These were sent to the regions to take the work forward. National Council became aware that this sometimes caused anxiety and even distress. It has to be emphasised that such significant changes demand personal contact and dialogue with members who are unclear or uncertain about their status, or about whom local fraternities have concerns, for example, through absence. This has helped us to update membership records. Regions have been diligent in their efforts and I have been very grateful to receive accurate information. The information is available in soft form.
The new website has been launched after a lot of hard work. We thank Michael Hagger for his dedicated long service to ofsgb.org.uk and Angela Bradley who was delegated to help as Communications Officer. It was decided to concentrate on building a new website. I hope that members will come to feel ownership of the new website and that, in time, it will reflect our membership which is rich in its diversity. I want to thank James Ingmire and Roger Yelland, in particular for their commitment and also to thank everyone else who has worked hard so that we could see it launched before this Chapter.
Formation has undergone major change thanks to the work of John Power who produced a new format using the CIOFS Formators’ Manual. John piloted “Vocation, Mission and Charism” by sending it out to the regions. John has run 2 national weekends to help members to learn how to use the resource and he has travelled to regions to train formators. A programme of core material for visitors and enquirers has been agreed by National Council. More work and clarification is necessary before the Candidacy formation programme can be presented in full. The minimum period of formation is thought to be too short but the outgoing council did not manage to complete the work.
Independently, Merle O’Driscoll has also updated “Growing in Love” and this will be an additional resource that will become available on the website.
We have been given some work to do by CIOFS on managing the Order. This is ongoing but there is a deadline. The responses are still arriving and will be given to the new council which will have to take this forward urgently to meet the international deadlines. A common response is that those who have managed to take time on the document think we need to take this seriously and some feel almost a need to begin again, to go back to the Rule and Constitutions. It has increased awareness that members belong to an international Order.
It has not been possible to finalise the amendments we have been asked to make to our National Statutes.
Two council members suffered serious personal difficulties during the three year term. We thank them for all their efforts on our behalf.
The Chapter of Mats was a loving testimony to the nature and dedication of our members. There was a real joy in this celebration of fraternity and belonging to something shared. This was a highlight during our term. 130 people attended. Every region embraced the work of preparing a display and presentation on their particular element of the Canticle of the Creatures and of telling their own stories. The end result demonstrated that as many individual members as possible were involved in preparing for the weekend. Regions took the initiative very much to heart. Gibraltar led the entertainment for our social evening on Saturday. They were well represented. The presentations on Sunday caught the spirit of our Order and many emotions were touched. The active and contemplative aspects of our life were evident. DVDs of the Chapter were made available to regions and could be a useful resource for some time. I have always had the intention to make a paper record from this, as a way of providing information about ofsgb for all our members and others who may be interested. I was overwhelmed by the contributions and thank everyone for all they did. The event was very much a celebration of fraternity.
There have been 2 national seminars, one on the biographies of Francis and one on the prayers of Francis. There was also a study based on a Franciscan perspective on the beauty of God.
The Youth Gather held in July 2013 was very much appreciated by the few who attended. It was a learning curve trying to promote this in parishes and asking them to send young people. There were real concerns about a weekend where young people would be away from home at an event that was unfamiliar and that was not parish or deanery led. Those who attended experienced a family event – a range of ages and representatives from first order and third order regular Franciscans. It was a programme that the Cold Ash team adapted specifically for us. It made a strong impression on the young people who took trouble to write about their experience afterwards. Gibraltar was well represented and has since made great progress towards beginning Youfra and their presence at the Mostar Youfra/OFS congress will help them to encourage and guide us nationally. Stratford also began a youth programme thanks to Catherine. There is interest in youth from other fraternities. There will be a World Youth Day in Cracow next year with the usual Youfra gathering around that event. I hope some young people will be attracted to the Franciscan way as a result of this. Experience shows that Youfra will not develop quickly here but I believe the seed that has been sown is growing so we can now say that we have healthy young shoots.
The priorities of communication, evangelisation/mission and visibility/membership have provided a framework for much of the work of the last 3 years. Evangelisation was at the heart of everything we undertook rather than being a specific focus. We acknowledge the spur that the election of Pope Francis gave us and some of our work, esp PIW, has taken great inspiration from this Pontificate. Dorothy Hart ran national days on Trafficking of the human person and an introduction to and study of some of the Pope’s homilies, “from Francis to Francis”. Dorothy has already contributed to the new website showing it to be a resource for PIW links and developments.
Much of our work has been on developing communication. The newsletter was replaced by a number of different documents from some of the National executive members. The Advent tweets (and other communications) were sent out to as many email addresses as possible, thanks to the work of Angela Bradley. She maintains communication with many members and devotes a lot of her energy to our Order and others by her commitment and creativity. The new website has been set up with the intention of improving communication. There has also been a growing number of Facebook groups throughout GB.
Visibility is not a natural strength in ofsgb. We wrote to all our bishops to tell them about our new acronym, OFS, and to tell them something about us. About half replied and the replies were supportive and positive. I went to the installation of the Archbishop, Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon OP, in Liverpool with Peter Bamford. This was a great celebration and showed the concern of, and interest, in the various lay organisations that the Archbishop has. I believe we have an opportunity to become more visible as the Year of Mercy dawns. At this time we also see the huge migration into Europe. I am sure that both of these will draw on our Franciscan mission and charism.
Membership has been a major consideration – the raised capitation and the effort, through the categorisation of members, to create a new database and to give a reason to dialogue with those members who cannot attend or no longer feel part of ofs, reflect our concern with membership and for those who do not have a sense of belonging. There is a lot more to do.
I was able to attend the international electoral chapter in Assisi and found it inspiring and challenging. Growth is not in the industrialised and developed world – it is from much poorer nations. I learned a lot about how important ofs is in a range of situations and from the witness I experienced from hearing about other national fraternities and the huge work CIOFS do.
I visited Denmark with John Power and really enjoyed this experience of how others live fraternity in very different circumstances to ours. Meeting the members was great. I also visited Jersey with Betsey for what might prove to be a beginning towards re-establishing this fraternity.
The Assisi visit was possibly one of the best I organised. Most participants happened to be ofs members.
Some thoughts on the future – tentative suggestions
We are running out of handbooks. The handbook needs revision and this should not be rushed. The incoming council may give consideration to what action to take.
The website will only develop with the involvement of members. There will be people in the regions who will be able to make lots of contributions and we need variety. Our members express our charism individually as well as fraternally and everyone should find something that feeds them on the website.
Promotion of ofsgb, building on the beginning of a youth initiative, taking the words of Pope Francis on board and acting on them are some things that might be considered.
The work of ofsgb could be shared more. Regions and fraternities could work together or join together for special days. National council might consider weekend meetings, rather than single days, in order to build fraternity and do justice to our mission.
At the electoral chapter we agreed to add one additional members to the executive council so there are 8 elected members. Roger Yelland is the additional member and has been asked to continue his great work on communications and the new website. One personal observation is that even if a councillor has a named responsibility, the work they do has always to be explained clearly, with a progress report given at each meeting and only implemented when approved and fully endorsed by National Council. It is possible to get very involved in a task and think everyone has been kept up to date.
We have been given a space in Manchester by the OFM Conv that, I believe, was used for printing. We have not yet had access to this but the intention is that it will be our national seat. The new council will decide how best to use the facility.
There is a lot of consolidation to be done following the present council’s term of office.
I think we are still all on a journey of understanding better what ofsgb is and what we can offer at a time when many people lack direction and a sense of fraternity. We know that our earth is fragile, we have a whole new European crisis in providing a means of helping migrants until life in their own countries is possible. We know that events make very big ripples – we can bring the blessings and gifts of our faith to pray, to be witnesses and to offer help.
Some of the gifts we share are: seeking to have peace of heart; seeking to bring about better understanding and striving for reconciliation; prayer and contemplation; concern for ourselves and for those around us; and the belief that all things will only find fulfilment in God. This makes us better placed than many to be caring and to give hope to others. Fraternity plays a vital role in helping us recognise and use our gifts and in providing mutual support and strength.
Paula Pearce Sept 2015