“If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.”
So stated one verse among many songs lifted up to heaven in praise and worship at the Current of Grace Conference in Palmerston North, held from September 22-24, as New Zealand’s official celebration of 50 years of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
The words of that verse were a good summary of the aims of the conference,;to look back on the work the Holy Spirit has done in this land, to take stock of where things are at present, and to listen to what the Spirit is prompting anew and to go out in unity to bring people to Jesus.
The historic conference, co-hosted by Dove Women’s Fellowship, Joshua Men’s Fellowship and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal NZ national service group, was attended by more than 300 people, belonging to several dozen different church groups raised up by the Holy Spirit in this country.
There was abundant praise and worship, fellowship, praying in tongues, anointing with the Spirit, and outreach.
At the start of the conference at the Distinction Hotel, CCRNZ chairperson Diana Ingle, said that the “gathering is all about bringing together all of the fruit and ministries of charismatic renewal in New Zealand, we are one big family, this is like a family re-union”.
The conference started by looking back.
Mrs Ingle said a “family history” had been written in the form of a book titled “The New Day that Dawned — Catholic Charismatic Renewal New Zealand: Our Story”, put together by the history team of the National Service Committee of CCRNZ.
In the foreword of the 259-page book, which was launched at the conference, Bishop Colin Campbell of Dunedin penned a theological reflection on the CCR. He noted that charismatics walk with a “spring in their step”, possibly because they live with a sense of the whole of Christ’s Passover mystery, which has a happy ending.
Mrs Ingle said that “we want to give thanks to God for our history with this book and celebrate the past”.
“[But] tonight is a turning point, because tonight we are going to start our new book, which is the current of grace, which has so far got blank pages.”
“Who is going to be writing this new book? The author is going to be the Holy Spirit and the names in it are going to be the people who are rising up to listen again to the voice of the Spirit.”
Mrs Ingle said “words” sent from the Holy Spirit during the conference would be written in this new book.
Mrs Ingle noted the emphasis placed by Pope Francis in meeting the Charismatic Renewal members at Pentecost this year on hope and on repentance.
“I, like the Pope, suspect that some of us have got a bit tired and weary.” But Pope Francis said the Holy Spirit makes interior hope possible — and this hope does not disappoint.
That said, Mrs Ingle noted that there are some things the renewal should leave behind.
“I think it would be quite good to have a line in the sand, where we let go of anything from the past we holding onto or any hurts or offences, these things always happen where there are people. Tonight we want to leave behind everything that might hinder us from going into this new season. . . So if we have anything from the past that even faintly resembles . . . bitterness . . . or despair, let us tonight give it over to Jesus, at the foot of his cross.”
People were invited to put any past hurts, or words from the Lord they received in prayer, or someone they needed to forgive on pieces of paper to be offered up at Mass on the Saturday morning.
Pope Francis is referring to the CCR as a current of grace for the Church.
Speaking on the Saturday, International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services Council Oceania representative Ann Brereton from Australia set forth the challenges issued by Pope Francis to the renewal.
The two main international service bodies for the renewal will have to be merged into one by 2019, she said.
The vision for a new service will aim to preserve the fruits already established and build wider communion between the “wider realities” in the renewal.
“The Spirit is drawing us together,” Mrs Brereton said. “To help towards closer collaboration in the future, we have been asked at our national, and group level to foster relationships between all the expressions of the renewal in our region. To respect diversity, because we are all different, but we are still under the one banner of grace, to foster dialogue, which is what you have been doing, and, if necessary, reconciliation between the various realities.”
Mrs Brereton added further points made by Pope Francis — that the coming of the Holy Spirit transforms us who are closed because of fear into courageous witnesses of Jesus.
Her talk was preceded by a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, celebrated by Bishop Denis Browne with two other bishops — Owen Dolan and Peter Cullinane — and
six priests concelebrating.
In his homily, Bishop Browne put the 50 years of the CCR and its presence in New Zealand into a much wider context of the action of the Holy Spirit.
“The story begins in the very opening verses of Genesis . . .the Spirit of God moved on . . . the waters. The Spirit has been moving every moment since the creation of the world,” Bishop Browne said.
He linked the Holy Spirit with the development of New Zealand and the arrivals of human beings to populate this country, and the Church coming here.
“The Spirit has been in this land and among us, God’s people, for hundreds and hundreds of years. It is that spirit which enlivens us today.”
“We are aware of the fact that the Spirit moves still, and the Spirit, the current of grace, is something [Pope] Francis tells us can never, ever be static, the current of grace is always moving.”
“ . . . We rejoice today because we are part of all of that.”
Referring specifically to the CCR in New Zealand, Bishop Browne said: “Many of you can remember the beginnings of the modern charismatic renewal 50 years ago. We remember what happened? There were those amazing gatherings of people, all over this land, and they would gather week after week after week and feel the presence of the Spirit in their lives.
“And commit themselves so the Spirit could spread the Good News through them. As time has gone on, that initial enthusiasm may have waned a little, but it has been replaced by something really solid. It has been replaced by such movements as the Dove Women’s Fellowship and the Joshua Men’s Fellowship, and the leadership team of CCR.
“In addition to that, of course, the Holy Spirit is at work in all sorts of other ways, the number of prayer groups that are in parishes and communities. Every time we turn our mind to God, the Holy Spirit is at work within us.”
“. . . May we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, this day and always, so that the life of God will become prominent in our lives and in the life of our society.”
After morning tea, about 16 groups, of which about half were youth oriented, introduced themselves, their mission and their contact details.
Mrs Ingle summarised the conference flow in three phrases — rise up, listen and follow.
It is imperative that people at the conference and their groups listen to the Lord and do what he wants them to do. And then “follow him into every town into which he wants to come”.
She exhorted those at the conference to lead people into personal relationships with Jesus and to work collaboratively for the Kingdom of God.
Mrs Ingle also said: “Try to stop thinking of charismatic renewal as a club we are trying to get people into. We are actually this current of grace that is permeating the Church. CCR does not own the charismatic gifts, they have been around for centuries.”
Finally, she counselled “If in doubt, surrender, surrender and surrender some more. Whatever problem you have can be solved by surrendering to the Lord”.
The conference then moved into more intense prayer, including being led by Fr John Rea, SM, into prayer for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit and gifts.
Workshops on the Saturday afternoon focused on listening to the Lord.
A healing rally led by Fr Rea took place at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on the Saturday night — to which many churches in the city had been invited. A Mass on the Sunday morning at the cathedral saw conference attendees interact with parishioners in a gathering of more than 500 people described as “warm and alive”.
Before these events, Mrs Ingle reminded those at the conference about outreach, including a focus on others, keeping an eye out for people upset or needing encouragement, lovingly listening to them, and asking if they would like prayer and taking them to a prayer team if needed.
She had earlier counselled that before doing outreach, people need to be “restored, refreshed and renewed ourselves before we can go out in a new move of God for others”.
“It is really important that we take time to do that.”
At the end of the conference, Joshua deputy leader David Hall said “the standout was the presence and peace of the Holy Spirit that prevailed to make this a simply amazing experience for all the faithful who attended”.