Two years ago, it took just a couple of parishioners to introduce LiveSimply at a parish meeting and then speak about it at Mass to get the parish started. From the talks at Mass a group of 12 people volunteered interest and started by reflecting on all the things the parish were already doing. And with great support from Fr Frank Smith developed a future plan under the headings of Living Simply, Living Sustainably, and Living in Solidarity with the poor.
Repairs and renovations to the church hall were already underway and the unexpected receipt of a bequest meant we could plan to add in many environmentally friendly measures such as superb insulation, better heating controls, automated low-energy lighting, and solar panels. A new porch was built to conserve heat and the church was completely insulated too, also with modern lighting and controls.
The other large project was to start Community Sponsorship to resettle a Syrian refugee family in Settle. The parish is too small for such a substantial undertaking alone, but it has been a wonderful opportunity to involve the rest of the town and form a diverse group of volunteers. The group asked Catholic Care Leeds to be our lead sponsor and are delighted we have now been delivering practical day to day support to a family for the last 6 months. The benefits of working together with so many new friends of different faiths and none has been at least as great as the undoubted benefits for the family themselves.
The parish LiveSimply plan was launched eighteen months ago at a special week-end near the Feast of St Francis during the Season of Creation with special prayers, a leaflet encouraging personal pledges to change, refreshments to encourage chatting and displays to browse about past and future ideas. Since then parishioners have come forward creating ecumenical liturgies for Lent and Advent focussing on Laudato Si, Refugees, and peace. Others have built nest and bug boxes given away after Masses. Yet others have arranged for dementia friendly signage, supported the Diocesan Gianna project, Tools for Africa, or provided talks on Laudato Si. And a rota has formed preparing a LiveSimply tip or thought every week for the parish bulletin. Fr Frank has instituted an annual day of Blessing of Animals.
One of the assessors for their award was Michael Emly from our Lady of Kirkstall parish (who received their own Live Simply award in 2019). He commented “We were particularly impressed by the way such a small parish has initiated and embraced the Community Sponsorship project, with a massive impact on the whole local community. The refurbishment of hall and church has also been a major achievement with ongoing benefits for the environment. Congratulations! But we also want to highlight the small changes to daily living that have been promoted each week through the bulletin. This is so much in line with the approach of Pope Francis – the little things matter (Gaudete et Exsultate #169)! Or as Fr. Frank put it, “keep plugging away until it’s natural”. Add up all the small changes made by each member of the congregation and you really make a difference.
So, what of future plans now the parish has gained the award? Paul Kelly was one of the parishioners who raised the possibility of LiveSimply two years ago. He said “Everyone is delighted we have been given the award but we are all so aware this is really a beginning, not the end. The Gospel call to eco-conversion, the care of all life and the environment that sustains it, is central to my faith but it is a massive change, almost too overwhelming. For me it is essential to have the support of other people with the same challenges and that is what has been special about doing LiveSimply. We all agreed getting the award is not what’s important but it has been a real help to focus us.”
The parish now have plans to plant a wildflower area around the church to attract wildlife and to develop a resource centre about Christian care of the environment. Paul added: “Most of the things newly started will continue with services and bulletin items regularly refreshing ideas for Living Simply. We are not going to change the world, but we can make a difference to our bit of it in our own lives. Pope Francis did say it’s not optional. Wouldn’t it be amazing if everyone was doing something for their own bit of the world?”