Sycamore in the university chaplaincies

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It was very good to be at the annual conference for Catholic University Chaplains last week in Leeds [writes Fr Stephen Wang]. Last year I introduced the Sycamore programme to about 50 chaplains. This year we had a feedback session with a dozen chaplains who have been using it on their campuses during this academic year.

We have been delighted to see how many chaplaincies have wanted to experiment with the programme as part of their evangelisation and outreach ministry. For most of them, it had been a genuine way of welcoming non-Christians and building friendship with those who did not know their chaplaincies, rather than just an ongoing formation programme for committed Catholics. It’s great if it is helping committed Catholics to deepen their faith, but it is even better if it is helping those with little or no faith to begin to glimpse the beauty of the Christian faith – perhaps for the first time.

Now it’s not a competition, but without a doubt the “award” for the greatest number of participants goes to the Newcastle group, organised by their chaplains Mia Fox and Fr Dominic White, which had 47 participants at their session on “Love”!!

I asked the group for their constructive feedback, especially useful if we are thinking about re-filming a Sycamore Version 2. I’ve copied below the comments, exactly as they were spoken, and arranged into two piles. If you have your own feedback, please do post it as a comment on this separate page here.

FEEDBACK FROM UNIVERSITY CHAPLAINS at the Leeds Conference, June 2016, from those who been using Sycamore over last academic year.

POSITIVE: Responses from the group about what is working well and what should not be changed:

  • Production quality gives confidence; well produced
  • Content good
  • Discussion questions working
  • Structure – you know what to expect, get into rhythm
  • Availability – clear website, all open source and available
  • Catholics can invite non-Christians, and they keep coming back
  • Community building because of discussions
  • Promoted faith sharing
  • Sometimes their group discussed the questions before the vox pops gave their answers
  • Generated conversations between Catholics and Muslims present
  • Students liked hearing other young people on vox pops of similar ages
  • Questions appearing on the screen
  • Subtitles helpful
  • Like the progression from general themes to deeper Christian themes
  • Bonding in the group because of questions and sharing
  • Allowing students to ask questions, feeling free to discuss
  • Making students responsible for running the sessions, this creates formation opportunities, growing in responsibility
  • Logo beautiful
  • Website helpful
  • Training materials on website helpful
  • The way the vox pops address the same questions as the group
  • Having the prayer team (and extending the prayer team to the wider parish); this empowered the prayer team
  • Most people have no place in their lives where they can ask questions, so it works to keep the vox pops as icebreakers for each discussion
  • Meal very important

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT from the group:

  • Production quality on the audio
  • More variety of answers in the vox pops; more variety of interviewee
  • Ecumenical/interfaith element
  • More illustrative in parts; needs images, pictures, cutaways, photos etc so less focus on talking heads
  • How to add in the experience of Catholicism as a lived reality
  • More on sacraments
  • How to adapt this for RCIA – can you add some sessions to make it a fuller RCIA programme?
  • Not sure if it is best to have the vox pops before the discussion of each question; danger that it biases the group to follow the vox pop responses – BUT the vox pops can help break the ice and get the conversation started…
  • Presenter to summarise the session at the end, bring threads together
  • Variety of locations
  • Link the discussion questions more to the input before; sometimes the questions feel disconnected from the input
  • The format of the final question is strange because it does not follow the pattern (there are no vox pops and the film just ends); is it better to keep the same format, and also to have a short piece from the presenter at the very end to wind things up and make it feel less abrupt?
  • Add someone else to co-present with Fr Stephen as well, but keep the consistency of Fr Stephen as an anchor which allows audience to “get to know” and “build up trust” with him over time
  • Yes keep the questions general, but can some of them be more focussed and “catechetical”?
  • Deeper questions…

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