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How are mission and evangelism lived out practically for Franciscans today? This is a question that we in the First Order Brothers of SSF have been trying to give more attention to in recent times. Over the last couple of years the Brothers’ Mission Group has been renewed with an influx of new brothers into the group and a lot of new ideas about how SSF can be involved in mission and evangelism have emerged.

The Mission Group is an extension of our Annual Brothers’ Meeting (often called ABC) and we try to meet at least three times each year, other than during the ABC meeting in May/June. At these meetings we try to map out how we will be engaged in mission and evangelism.

SSF has for a long time been very well known and respected because of its engagement in traditional parish missions, where one or several brothers and/or sisters would join a mission team in a parish somewhere in the country for one or two weeks of intense teaching and outreach. For various reasons there has been a drop in the number of invitations to parish missions. There have also been changes to the number of brothers and sisters who are available to go away for a week or two for a mission, without putting too much strain on the staffing of the friaries or houses where they live and work.

Because of this, we in the Mission Group have tried in the last couple of years to move away from what might be called a reactive way of looking at mission and evangelism to a more proactive way. In our discussions and in our work we have been trying to find new ways of encouraging brothers and sisters to look at mission and evangelism. Instead of waiting for an invitation to come for us to do something, we want to find opportunities ourselves to spread the good news. One thing that has caught our attention in the Mission Group is a new missionary initiative called Jesus Shaped People (which you can read more about in Revd Gordon Dey’s article). Our hope is that we in the Mission Group and brothers and sisters in SSF might feel called to get involved with this initiative.

Of course, mission and evangelism take place all the time wherever we as Franciscans happen to be. In our bigger friaries the opportunities to evangelise those who come to visit us are endless, whether it is through our worship in chapel, informal conversations around the dinner table or through spiritual direction. In smaller friaries in urban areas we are often involved in local projects, including our parish churches, youth work, ministry to asylum seekers and refugees. Also, just wandering the streets where we live wearing our habits is quite a strong statement about what we are about and what we believe in.

I would like to share with you, the readers, a bit about my own experiences of being engaged in mission and evangelism in an urban setting.

During my time as a Franciscan brother I have had the privilege of being involved with a great variety of different kinds of ministries, and there have been a lot of opportunities to be able to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people I have encountered. The ministry that I have felt to be one of the most fruitful has been my work with young people. I have had many great experiences working with young people particularly in Newcastle and in Leeds. Even though it can be very hard work at times, it has also been very rewarding and has often filled me a great deal of joy. It has been a very joyful experience to encourage young people to learn more about God and to develop their own relationship with God.

For the last three years I have lived in urban areas of deprivation, and a common characteristic of these areas has been not only financial difficulties for many of the residents, but also family instability. Many of the young people I come across in my ministry are from severely dysfunctional families and they often have very little stability in their lives and very little hope for the future. It is in situations like these that the Church has the potential to influence these young people’s lives by  bringing stability and a sense of family; it can also bring hope to those who are feeling hopeless and, maybe most importantly, it can communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to people.

It is a great privilege to be able to accompany young people on their way to Christ, even though it is often not a very straight path for them. It gives me special joy to realise that the young people I have spent countless hours with and put a lot of effort into are actually making progress and it becomes clear that all the work has not been in vain. I have also had the privilege of being able to guide many people from a non-Christian background to faith in Jesus Christ.

I have been very blessed being part of the Mission Group for these last couple of years and being able to reflect together with my brothers about what it means for us Franciscans today to be involved in mission and evangelism. I hope that we will continue to be inspired by the life and witness of our holy father Francis and, like him, be able to preach the good news to those we encounter.  f


Brother David SSF lives in Leeds and is involved in the various ministries associated with St Aidan’s Church, Harehills.