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Hands up to help us SPRED the love

Initiative to build friendships and revive the Faith community is spreading like wildfire, finds Mary McGinty

Inclusion for people of all ages with learning disabilities has come a long way since the days when those who were deemed not able to fully participate in society were thoughtlessly marginalised, or worse, deliberately excluded. In myriad ways the many organisations that challenge these views are bringing us to a previously unknown parity, and opening new and exciting possibilities.

The Church can be rightly proud of the achievements of the special religious development initiative called SPRED in the 35 years since Sr Agnes Nelson started the first Scottish group in St Mungo’s, Townhead. The unparalleled provision of religious development for those with additional needs offers them the fullest expression of their Faith.

 

Summer break

When schools and clubs were edging their way into the new term last month, Glasgow’s SPRED groups were also returning after the summer break. St Philomena’s hall in Robroyston next to the SPRED centre resounded to the chatter of catechists refreshed and ready for the new session.

Before the commissioning service, led by Fr John Gannon, those with a wealth of experience and others ready to embrace a new calling in their spiritual journeys listened as director Lisbeth Raeside outlined what she calls the ‘scaffolding of SPRED.’

 

The Good News

“This is about the values and ways of working that enable catechists to deliver SPRED sessions, whatever the circumstances in which their groups meet. The understanding of ministry is essential. Being part of SPRED is much more than volunteering time. The SPRED catechists are Christian witnesses to those for whom words are the least effective way of sharing the Good News,” Lisbeth said.

“A beautifully prepared environment is key but the environment goes beyond the place the group meets and the things they place in it. The experience of friendship helps those who come to be aware that God wants to be their friend and wants their friendship in return. Finally, at the heart of the SPRED session is an atmosphere of stillness and quiet. Many experiencing a SPRED session for the first time are deeply touched by the stillness, a stillness in which God can speak.”

 

Ministry

For Lisbeth the issue of human resources is always on her mind. Since 1999, SPRED has had its own centre staffed by a small, dedicated team.

There, and in many church halls throughout the archdiocese, the annual programme is delivered to various age groups by volunteer catechists. With initial and ongoing training and support as well as away-day retreats and workshops new catechists can begin this special ministry with confidence.

For anyone considering volunteering, Tony Sillars, the leader catechist at one of the two groups at St Eunan’s, Clydebank, offers his own experience as an example of how life-enriching involvement with SPRED can be. He joined after an appeal in the parish.

 

Deepening Faith

“I don’t mind saying I was daunted at first. That didn’t last long. As much as I believe it is entirely for the friends, it has done a lot for me. It has brought me closer to my parish community and had made my think more deeply about my own Faith,” Tony said.

In Bearsden, which is home to one of the most long-established groups, SPRED is a much-loved part of the fabric of parish life. The warm welcome which meets new faces soon evolves into deep personal relationships between catechists and friends. In a shared sense of the sacred and the joy of expressing the Faith, the spiritual needs of friends are met, needs which may never have been identified before but which are there in all of us.

 

Blessed

“As an archdiocese, we are so blessed and fortunate to have had SPRED as part of its life and mission for the past 30 plus years,” Fr Joe Mackle, priest of St Andrew’s, said.

“SPRED is a wonderful model of Church in action—open, inclusive, prayerful, peaceful and celebratory. It is always so well organised and such a fine model of community—playing together, praying together, eating together.”

SPRED has come a long way since the first groups started in 1984.

The newest group in Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Cardonald, is also flourishing. One of the most exciting developments is a parish/school initiative. A fortuitous meeting with Lisbeth, when she was delivering a presentation on SPRED to a catechesis course run by the archdiocese and the University of Glasgow, inspired a teacher at Kilpatrick School. At the time, Jennifer Gorman was running a Catholic religious education group for pupils unable to attend mainstream Catholic schools due to their additional needs.

 

Experiencing God

“I felt we needed something more for our children and after Lisbeth’s presentation I thought this could be beneficial to them. SPRED offers a chance for the children to experience God in their lives. It gives them the chance to be included and play an active role in the life of the Church. We started with our first school Mass in June 2017, the first school Mass in Kilpatrick School’s history,” Jennifer said.

When Lisbeth brought catechists to lead the children in mime for the Psalm and Gospel, the children were hooked. The Mass in which they played an active role is now an annual event.

“Fr Aidan Martin from St Stephen’s, Dalmuir, is our chaplain and supports us in many ways. When children are preparing to receive the Sacraments and for Masses, and when we started talking about setting up a SPRED group in the school, Fr Aidan has been there offering advice, support, encouragement and practical solutions,” Jennifer added.

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