The Beginning Of Something Important • by TERRY O'SULLIVAN

A FEW MONTHS AGO I PICKED UP a leaflet for a Men's Weekend being run at Stonyhurst College. I signed up for it, sent off a cheque (not a bad price for a weekend away from it all in sunny Lancashire) and waited to see what happened.

When I signed in on Friday evening I got a lapel badge with my name on and the letters "F/G". Friendly Giant? Fat Git? No - according to the accompanying information this was an alphabetical code to identify men from the same locality in order to keep in touch after the event. I had some difficulty tracing the other F/Gs at first. They were all from the same parish in Wakefield where they have had a men's group going for a couple of years. The idea was that you made contact with your group members in the bar. I finally tracked them down in the kitchen on our corridor, arranged round a fridge full of lager!


Worship, talks and meeting in small groups

stone skimming across the River Ribble, and a reviving dip in the college's excellent swimming pool
The weekend had three main components: worship sessions when we all stood together to sing hymns at an exhilarating volume, talks from guest speakers, and opportunities to meet in small groups to get to know one another, and pray or share experiences if it seemed appropriate. We got Saturday afternoon off: time for an F/G excursion to a nearby off-licence, a pause on the way back for the quintessential manly pastime of stone skimming across the River Ribble, and a reviving dip in Stonyhurst College's excellent swimming pool. Unlike the rest of the buildings, which seem to date from time immemorial, the sports centre is bang up to date and offered us free admission. And finally, to keep the Catholics happy, there was Mass each morning, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for those who wished to attend for a time on the Saturday, as well as a Blessed Sacrament chapel open the whole time.

On this occasion there were two guest speakers. Lord David Alton did a main session on citizenship on the Friday evening, inviting us to stand up and be counted, however small we feel individually. He had a fund of examples of men who had done just that, some of them necessarily obscure, others more in the public eye, but all of them inspiring. On the Saturday morning Lord Alton talked about 'fatherhood', in which I suppose most (although not all) of the men present are directly involved. He emphasised the need for men as a whole to reassess how they divide their time between their families and work.

The first preacher I have seen use a flip chart
The other speaker was an Evangelical minister from Nottingham, David Shearman. He took the floor on Saturday. He was terrific: the first preacher I have ever seen using a flip chart. His first talk was a personal reflection on some of his life experiences. His second talk focused on the nature of sacrifice for Christians. This might seem a bit abstract and uncomfortable as a subject, but it certainly struck a chord. Suffering is a part of all our lives, although it seems not to be very evenly spread at times. Reverend Shearman put it in the light of God's loving plan for us as individuals. Of course suffering remains a mystery - it would be glib to pretend otherwise. But by relating the idea of sacrifice to Scripture, and to the crucifixion in particular, David Shearman set the practical issues David Alton had been talking about into a spiritual context.

Some kind of wonderful football match

at times during worship I felt as if we were on the terraces at some kind of wonderful football match
The worship sessions were a bit of a change from what I am used to, to put it mildly. There was an excellent music ministry group consisting of guitar, keyboards and vocals. Another man raced to get the words of the hymns on an overhead projector as each new number started up and I found myself singing a few hymns I had never come across before as well as some rousing old favourites! The CREW Trust, who organised the event, are dedicated to facilitating the charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church - and there were a fair number of the guys present who were really going for it in a charismatic way. My first impression of people praying in tongues was one of confused concern (isn't this true of every one the first time?!) - are they OK? But then I relaxed, and admired their gift to let go and be so full of enthusiasm. At times during worship I felt as if we were on the terraces at some kind of wonderful football match. There was a spread of ages at the event - from men in their mid-twenties to their seventies. Interestingly, the older guys were the liveliest prayers.

The best part of the weekend
I think the best part of the weekend, though, was the small groups sessions. Men are famous for not being able to communicate - it's one of the reasons why so many of us suffer from stress and make so many others unhappy! Here was an opportunity to relax and talk about things that matter in life besides carburettors and cricket. My group was a very diverse bunch and yet we all had so much in common in terms of what is going on in our lives as fathers, sons, husbands, and workers. The ground rules for the groups were complete confidentiality and no pressure. We heard each other, and prayed with and for each other. It sounds odd perhaps, but it was an upbuilding experience. I am hoping to stay in touch with the others during the year and to get together from time to time for more of this.

The beginning of something important for me

I think this weekend was the beginning of something really important for me. I hope that reading this account will encourage you to want to come next year.