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How Harvesters Began

 


 
Charles Whitehead
Charles Whitehead
IN THE MID-NINETIES Charles Whitehead, the Chairman of Harvesters, who until recently held responsibility for overseeing charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church globally, had been asked to speak at a large conference on the East coast of Canada. While there, he noticed that at least fifty percent of the participants were men. In a subsequent conversation with the local ordinary who had invited him, he asked the bishop how he had managed to encourage so many men to attend a church event. The bishop responded saying that his diocese had run a weekend away for men each year for two years and that these weekends had acted as a doorway for men to commit, or recommit, themselves to the life and work of the Church.

Around this same time a small group of us - committed Christian men, seven of whom are Catholic and one from a non-denominational church sympathetic to the Catholic faith - met together periodically for a pub lunch. The group ranged from an adviser in ethical investments and an executive from Microsoft to a retired parish priest and leaders in lay communities. During our times together the group had over the years organised a number of weekends to help train and encourage those in positions of leadership in lay Catholic and ecumenical communities throughout the British Isles. However, several years later and a handful of weekends down the line, we recognised that deeper relationships had in fact now begun to develop among these communities. It was time, we felt, to switch our focus elsewhere.

humility, responsibility and servant-leadership are discussed, learnt and esteemed
The subject of ‘ministry to men’ had been a topic of conversation at former pub lunches. Aside from what was happening in Canada, we had identified the emergence of around thirty programmes in the United States which ministered solely to men and which were diocesan or regional in scope, most of them being lay initiated and funded. As a team we certainly recognised the growing hunger for God among men in the Catholic Church in the British Isles and so chose to be proactive in responding to men’s spiritual issues by focussing and expending our energies on what we could distinctively offer from within the Roman Catholic faith tradition. By this point, the team sensed that maybe the time was right to concentrate on planning weekends away for Catholic men and so decided to step out in faith. We managed to secure an idyllic venue, Woldingham Park, with its varied range of sporting facilities set in a typically English country landscape. From here we nervously began to distribute publicity. That first year saw over three hundred men assemble together for the weekend, and an even greater number at the second event in 1999.

 
Photo © Stonyhurst
In July 2000 another new initiative took place. That summer we decided to run weekends in both the North and the South of England, again at Woldingham Park, but also at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire. This was to enable even more men the opportunity to attend and was certainly more practical for the growing number of attendees who had been travelling down to Surrey from as far away as Scotland.

a refuge where men are free to be known, not by virtue of their wealth but by the wealth of their virtues
The testimonies of the men following the weekends are a sign of the camaraderie that has developed among those who have attended. Many did not want this experience to go to waste and so a network of regional small groups was borne. These groups, of which there are presently over twenty-five ranging from three members to around fifty members, meet anything between twice a month to three times a year and can be found across the country, from Edinburgh to Maidstone. Here men are provided with a forum in which they can relax together and where they are able to examine their consciences, possibly sharing their difficulties and joys with each other. The groups serve as a setting where they can be accountable and vulnerable with one another should they choose to. They might also join together for some form of sacramental celebration or merely spend time learning from one another and being affirming. They may meet in a church building, at someone’s house, in a local pub, or around the table in a restaurant.

Above all, these groups provide a refuge where men are free to be known, not by virtue of their wealth but by the wealth of their virtues. These are not gatherings where masculine pride is upheld and celebrated, but where humility, responsibility and servant-leadership are discussed, learnt and esteemed. The power and development of this ministry undoubtedly lies in the regular meeting of these regional sharing groups.

 

 


• To read about HarvestersVision, Mission & EventsClick here....
• Want to know more about what happens on the weekendsClick here....
• Want to know more about the organisers behind HarvestersClick here.... 

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CHRONOLOGY

 

• 1998 - First national weekend for men at Woldingham Park, Surrey

 

• 2000 - North and South both host Weekends with Stonyhurst College,Lancs as venue for the North

 

• 2000 - Harvesters sends team of three to minister to men in Kenya and Uganda

 

• 2002 - Tanzania hosts its first conferences for men supported by Harvesters

 

• 2004 - Local bishops of Salford and Arundel & Brighton attend Harvesters' weekends away for men. Specialised seminars introduced to main weekends away

 

• 2005 - A record number of newcomers book in to experience the weekends away for men

 

• 2006 - The northern weekend moves to the more central location of Mount St Mary's College near Sheffield

 

• 2007 - Scotland hosts its first Weekend For Men at Scotus College in Glasgow, home of the Scottish Catholic Bishops' Conference

 

• 2007 - Harvesters send out a team to visit East Africa twice a year as requests for ministry increase

 

• 2008 - The North hostsHarvesters' first 'one-night only' weekend at Lancaster University