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Cursillo seeks a new day

Cursillo seeks a new day

Tue 26 August 2014

By Wayne Brighton

In the Anglican Church, lay ministry can look a lot like Cinderella, someone who works diligently while others go the ball. As I discovered at Cursillo's 35th birthday celebration, its future doesn't depend on finding a prince but with being true to its calling.

As a program of Christian living run by the laity for the laity, Cursillo encourages people to discover their calling as active participants in God's way of life.


Cursillistas enjoying the 35th birthday celebration.

Not only have congregations experienced a surge of energy for love, hope and faith from renewed Cursillistas, as participants are known. But many of the diocese’s pioneering missional initiatives that bring to life to those far beyond the parish doors trace their roots to those who took this pilgrimage journey such as the Help Hands initiative at St Paul’s Ginninderra.

‘Cursillo’s created a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm with a lot of impact in the diocese over the years’ said Steve Daniels, a Canberra based organiser. Cursillo operates as a volunteer organisation with team members coming from parishes spread across the diocese. ‘Cursillo is not an end in itself, nor is it just personal but it’s communal. It encourages people in their faith journey, to encourage one another and to change their environment as they engage in apostolic action,’ he said.

‘Cursillo is a doorway into a deeper experience of God and a pathway into a richer, more fulfilling life with community at its centre,’ shared the Revd Geoff Hoad as he reflected on his own Cursillo experience. Working as a management consultant, Geoff encountered God in a more profound and deeply personal way at a Cursillo weekend. Its emphasis on community has coloured and enriched his whole approach to community development. ‘The spiritually and fellowship unlocked by Cursillo has made many new initiatives possible like Braidwood’s team ministry and Queanbeyan’s Bennies Place for the homeless,’ he said.

Geoff Hoard

The Revd Geoff Hoad speaking at Cursillo.

Canberra and Goulburn opened the door of the Anglican Church to Cursillo in Australia. In 1979, then Bishop Cecil Warren invited a team from the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Canada to lead the first retreat. New teams soon spawned in other regional dioceses like Grafton (1983), Rockhampton (1984) and Bathurst (1985). Bucking the trend, Cursillo shifted from the bush to the big smoke of Brisbane (1985), Adelaide and Perth (1992), Melbourne (1993) and Sydney (1994). Australian members have been instrumental taking Cursillo to New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and South Africa most recently.

In its 35-year diocesan history, Cursillo has held some 74 weekends for women and 59 for men. Some 1560 women and 970 men have benefited from its work and sense of community. Over 30 of its members have pursued ordination as a result of its encouragement to make faith an active part of daily life.

Like many Christian organisations entering middle age, Cursillo is now encountering some significant challenges. ‘How do we help others to know about Cursillo, what it means to be a Cursillista and the impact of a three day weekend?’ asked Steve. ‘It’s a common problem not just here but across Australia,’ he added noting how the movement finds it harder to draw in new participants.


Cursillo service

Cursillo service, Bishop Ian Palmer (left), the Revd Connie Gerrity (middle) and Mr Steven Daniels (right).

Bishop Ian Palmer from Bathurst spoke of his experience, enthusiasm and hopes for Cursillo as the renewal movement’s newly appointed Episcopal Advisor. Bishop Ian shared about his own pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the birthplace of Cursillo. ‘Cursillo is a liminal space, a threshold in time with three parts to it. The three days of Cursillo take people on the journey towards Christ. It is an invitation for people to choose life rather than to continue in the same way. It is about God doing a work in people’s lives. Cursillo has been a great blessing but we still need to make the choice to change, where are we going to go?’

Next year will be a pilgrimage time for Cursillo as its organisers look to discover new ways to reinvigorate the movement in the diocese. ‘We want to find ways of strengthening the fourth day community to reenergise past members,’ said Steve referring to the opportunities of mutual support offered by Cursillistas to each other once retreats are complete.

‘Can we actively find ways to reach out to those on the periphery of the church? Cursillo has done a fantastic job reinvigorating people within the church but can it become an evangelistic movement once again?’ challenged Bishop Ian.

I suspect Cursillistas will find their way forward if they are able to reimagine their activity in light of the movement’s core values and central purpose. If it seeks to ignite faith among those who are already within our congregations the pool of potential participants is shrinking fast.

Although the movement may want to become younger, we live at time when generational diversity is expanding rather than diminishing. Spirituality is no long a matter of connecting with the divine or even experiencing the Spirit. It is about choosing who we want to become. The gift of Cursillo is that the abundant life we all seek can only be found in the body of Christ. If members can connect its evangelistic spirit with those searching for answers through new forms of pioneer ministry, it may yet find a whole new way of life.

Cursillo will be holding their national conference from 24 to 26 October in Coffs Harbour, see the national website for more details.  

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