What is Sycamore?
Sycamore is a new programme of evangelisation and catechesis for use in parishes, chaplaincies, schools and other settings. It consists of ten films that explore some of the core questions often put to Christian believers: How can I find true happiness? What is the meaning of life? Does God exist? Who is Jesus Christ? It deals with topics such as the Holy Spirit, the Church, the Bible, the Christian Tradition, faith, prayer, love, vocation, and the purpose of life. People are invited to learn about the Christian faith, and to share their own ideas and questions without fear of being judged.
Primary evangelisation and catechesis
Sycamore is first of all a tool for ‘primary evangelisation’: to help those who have no Christian background or very little Christian commitment to explore the meaning of Christianity, and to meet with others who are also on a spiritual search. It will also be useful, however, as a tool for ongoing catechesis, when schools or parish catechetical groups wish to look at a particular topic. It is not by any means a complete programme of Christian formation, but the films could form one block in a larger catechetical course.
The key to running the programme is the combination of hospitality, friendship, a clear presentation of Christian teaching, and space for honest discussion; with the provision of good food; with a supportive prayer team in the background; all in the context of a loving Christian community.
The structure of the films
Each film is broken down into four short sections. Each section has some input, followed by a discussion question, together with interviews (‘vox pops’) of people responding to these questions. The film is then paused to allow the group to discuss the given topic; and then re-started for the next section.
Sycamore is designed in this way so that it can be used with minimal effort and minimal planning: the input, the discussion questions and the vox pops are all part of the package; and the videos are all available free of charge to download or to watch online.
Catholic and ecumenical
Sycamore was developed in a Catholic context, and it touches on some themes that will be especially important for Catholic communities, such as the relationship between the Bible and the Christian Tradition, the importance of the sacraments, the relationship between the faith of the individual believer and the faith of the Church, and the link between the work of the Holy Spirit and the teaching and moral vision of the Church. But it is a programme that reflects the wisdom of the broad Christian tradition, and it will be a useful tool for Christians from different traditions and backgrounds.
One participant has written: “I think the most compelling thing about Sycamore is the open discussions which we have every week. As a non-Christian coming into Sycamore, I always felt welcome. All I was asked was to come in with an open mind. I was never cajoled into attending; yet I always looked forward to coming back to learn more from the discussions we have.”
Another testimony comes from one of the leaders in a parish where it has been trialled: “We used Sycamore to introduce a group of about 18 people to the Catholic faith. Most of them had little or no Christian background. I love how these short videos announce the Gospel message, the ‘kerygma’, in an attractive and clear way. We found Sycamore to be extremely effective in helping those who were curious about Christianity to become open to a relationship with Christ. The structure of each video encourages the building of community within the group, especially through the discussion questions. In my view, Sycamore is the perfect starting-point for evangelisation, and can be a springboard to deeper catechesis.”
These ten films are part of the Beta version of the Sycamore programme, which is still in a process of development. They have been trialled in a university chaplaincy and two parishes. They are made available now so that other groups can experiment with them and share their feedback. If there is a positive response and enough demand, then a new version will be developed and filmed over the next few months, based on the experience of the different groups that have used it.
The programme needed a name with a subtle religious resonance, that would not stir up too many preconceptions or put off any hesitant enquirers. The word “Sycamore” alludes to the meeting between Zacchaeus and Jesus in Chapter 19 of the Gospel of St Luke. As Jesus enters Jericho, Zacchaeus longs to see him, but he is too short, and the crowds are too big. So he climbs a Sycamore tree in order to get a better view. The Sycamore programme is about helping people to get a richer perspective on the big questions of life and faith, and allowing them to meet Christ in their own time, on their own terms, just as Zacchaeus did in the streets of Jericho.
For more information about Sycamore please visit the website at sycamore.fm The ten films can be found here. The website includes a special section entitled ‘How to run Sycamore’ which has all the information needed to help start up the Sycamore programme in a local parish or community, and more general information to help reflect on what kind of evangelisation programme might suit a particular community.
For a list of those involved in the Sycamore programme, see the Credits page which includes all the credits from the films themselves.
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