By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Sharing faith with the uninitiated can be a daunting task, especially in societies dominated by secular worldviews. Many Episcopalians, like other Christians, do not know where to begin, even though experts on church growth and mainline decline insist they need to learn, and fast.
New help is on the way. This summer, a new school housed at an English monastery will begin training people of faith in the evangelistic arts, from apologetics to Christian living.
School of the Annunciation will be a Roman Catholic institution located at Buckfast Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in southwest England. But Christians of any tradition are welcome to enroll, especially if they have high regard for Roman Catholic theology and liturgy.
“This is the perfect program for today’s world for anyone working in a parish who cares about people growing in their faith,” said Caroline Farey, director of studies.
It’s also perfect “for those who get into conversations about Christ and need to be able to ‘give a reason for the hope within them,’” she added, quoting 1 Peter 3:15.
The school aims to be a worldwide resource for the New Evangelization, a concept developed by Pope John Paul II. The effort gained momentum under Pope Benedict XVI and has gained fresh traction under Pope Francis, who has made it a priority of his pontificate.
The New Evangelization seeks in part to inspire the lapsed to re-engage with parish life. Another goal: to see that faith is shared, authentically and lovingly, in segments of society where Christian touchstones no longer resonate.
“Evangelization (people, ideas and methods) needs to be renewed ‘in Christ,’ who is always new, and by the Holy Spirit, for new kinds of encounters,” Farey said. Renewal is needed for “new situations, especially where there is absolutely no knowledge and no language of faith, no known words like Jesus, Christ, the ‘Our Father,’ Bethlehem, etc.”
School of the Annunciation officially launches in August with five short courses; each will be four days long. They will bring participants to the medieval setting of Buckfast Abbey in the British countryside “to study and discuss the Catholic faith,” according to official descriptions.
This fall, the school will begin its first distance-learning program for those pursuing a diploma in New Evangelization. Those students will do most of their studies online in five modules per year for two years. They will also visit the monastery once a year during their program, each time for three or four days.
“The residential periods are designed to nourish all four of what the Catholic Church calls the four dimensions of the Christian Life — taken from Acts 2:42 — and this can only be done ‘together,’” in person, Farey said. Acts 2:42 describes the early Church after Pentecost: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (NRSV).
Modules will cover such topics as theology, philosophy, apologetics, catechesis, and new media. Participation in the distance-learning program will involve about 15 hours per week for 40 weeks of the year. The cost, including annual residencies at Buckfast Abbey, is £990 (about $1,660). Farey expects 10 to 20 percent of students will be Americans.
TLC Correspondent G. Jeffrey MacDonald is a freelance journalist and author of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul (Basic Books, 2010).