Visiting Zacchaeus’s Sycamore tree in Jericho!

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I’m just back from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and we stopped to see the Sycamore tree in Jericho that (apparently, perhaps, maybe, possibly, or possibly not…) Zacchaeus climbed up to get a good view of Jesus in Luke 19. This is the inspiration for our Sycamore programme! I prayed for all those involved in Sycamore throughout the world, and especially for those who have come as guests to some of the sessions.

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Luke 19: Jesus and Zacchaeus

“He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’”

Sycamore in Burnage

mk[Fr Stephen Wang writes] It was great to meet Mgr Michael Kujacz last month. I bumped into him at the sad-but-joyful celebration of the funeral of Sr Amadeus Bulger CJ in York. I knew Mgr Michael when he was working at the seminary in Valladolid and hadn’t seen him for years. It was very encouraging to know that they have been using Sycamore at St Bernard’s parish in Burnage, Manchester, and that parishioners and guests have been enjoying the programme.

Sycamore Autumn Programmes

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It’s good to hear about Sycamore starting up in different parishes such as Cannock and Hoddesdon this autumn. At Newman House Student Chaplaincy we are training a new group of Sycamore leaders to begin the programme later in the month.

For us, this is just one part of our outreach and evangelisation project for the new academic year, which includes street leafleting, visiting student halls of residence, and opening the doors of the chaplaincy and offering free coffee and cake (see the photo above and the welcome banner).

Of the many projects, the free cake seems to be working the best…

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…

Sycamore in Portsmouth Diocese

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It was great to be in Basingstoke yesterday to introduce the Sycamore programme to some of the RCIA catechists from the Diocese of Portsmouth. The Diocese has been promoting the programme from the very beginning, and encouraging parishes to use it either as an evangelisation tool and enquiry course, or as the introductory part of an RCIA course. The participants were full of enthusiasm for the Gospel and how they can share it with others. See the images from the Dominican sisters above.

Sycamore in Oxford

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Sr Carolyn Morrison writes about how the Sycamore programme has been used in Oxford as part of their Year of Mercy:

“The parish of St Anthony of Padua, Oxford: Explaining the Catholic faith through the media of film and small informal group discussions using the Sycamore Programme”   

After attending the National #Proclaim15 conference that was held in Birmingham last July I was greatly inspired to do something in the way of proclaiming the Word of God for the Year of Mercy in my parish. So I invited one of the Parish Counsellors to the convent and we decided to ask some people from our parish to a few small group sessions using the #Proclaim15 resources. On the last session I showed a clip from one of the Sycamore films as a taster and suggested that it might be something we could do at St Anthony’s. The suggestion was greatly welcomed and as a result we are now currently running three Sycamore Programmes all at the same time.

They take place in three very different settings and with three very different audiences:

The first one takes place in the Parish Hall of St Anthony’s of Padua on a Thursday evening. The attendance so far has been between 30 – 38 parishioners. The feedback from them has been very positive and quite amazing. One parishioner said that ‘It is really community building: I have spoken to people that I have known for years for the first time’. She went on to say that she had seen them at Mass lots of times but never got beyond giving a smile and saying hello. Another parishioner brought along his wife who has not been to Mass for 12 years. She is now attending Mass with him. He is delighted!

The second is held at the Catholic school of St Gregory the Great with two classes of Sixth Formers. It is run as an after school activity as a form of spiritual preparation to a mixed-faith group of teenagers going to Taize in May. The group consists of Catholics, two Muslims, an atheist, plus several non-Catholics. They particularly like the ‘Vox Pop’ interview parts. They also say that it’s good for their ethics classes as they have learnt a few facts that they can argue with.

The third one is run by the women’s prayer group and takes place in the comfort of one of their homes. They say it is very relaxed and the questions give them a sense of direction and keep them focused.

 

As one of diocesan delegates for Birmingham #Proclaim15 team I have been invited to do a workshop on how to run a ‘Sycamore Programme in Your Parish’ at the Mini Proclaim Day for the Southern Deaneries in Oxford which will take place in the John Paul II Centre, Immaculate Conception Church, Bicester on the 30th April 2016.

Sycamore: English subtitles nearly finished

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We are delighted to announce that the English subtitles are just being finished for the ten Sycamore videos. There are many reasons why having English subtitles will be a great help for the programme and for many users:

  • Many participants do not have English as a first language, and so having subtitles makes the films easier to follow and understand
  • Some of the audio quality is below par, especially in the interviews, and the subtitles will help people to follow the responses without straining to hear
  • Some people just like having subtitles to read even if they are following the audio without trouble!

Subtitles will be available in two formats:

  1. If you watch the normal Vimeo video, there is a blue “[CC]” button in the bottom right-hand corner which allows you to choose the English subtitles. E.g. see FILM 1 here.
  2. But if you need to download the video with subtitles, then you can choose the special video that has subtitles embedded in the video itself, which will then be downloaded. E.g. see FILM 1 (with CC subtitles) here.

At present (5 Jan) only the first film is available; but the others should be finished in the next couple of weeks.

Enjoy!

Sycamore subtitles?

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This comment came from Grace:

Hi, I am writing from India. I really like the concept and videos but my concern is the same as the one mentioned above – about the difficulty of people in some countries to understand the accent. I would really be happy if we could have sub-titles to begin with. I want to use this with a group of young people so do let me know!

She is not the first to ask about subtitles. When we used the films here in London at the University Chaplaincy Centre a few of the international students were saying that subtitles would help. And it’s interesting that whenever the students put on a DVD just for their own entertainment they usually switch the subtitles on because they are coming from so many different backgrounds and it makes it easier to follow even if their English is very good.

What do you think? Will adding subtitles make Sycamore easier to use?

Sycamore groups starting up throughout the UK

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It is good to see people posting about the Sycamore groups they hope to start over the next few weeks. We have copied a couple of responses below to give you a taste of what is happening.

See the Register Your Group page for updates. And if you are even just considering running a group, why not share your information in the comments at this page, or in the Facebook Users Group here.

This is from St John’s Cathedral, Portsmouth

We used Sycamore as the first stage in our RCIA process. We run 12 ‘enquiry sessions’ for anyone who wants to know more about Christ and the Catholic faith. These repeat each term all year round. Each session is just an hour long, with refreshments, followed by the video and discussion. At the end, we finished with a personal testimony of coming to know Christ from someone in the parish.

We found Sycamore to be perfect for our audience. It was non-threatening and helped people relax. By the end of the sessions, they had heard the kerygma and many felt convicted enough to make the decision to become a disciple of Christ and follow him in his Church.

I would definitely recommend it for the first stage of RCIA!

This is from a London school teacher

I will use Sycamore as a secondary RE teacher across the Year groups that I teach from 11 -18, particularly as we look at topics such as ‘Does God exist?’ And other units in philosophy of religion and ultimate questions…. This can be useful in a formal setting such as in Yr 9 when students need to critically evaluate God’s existence as well as in more informal settings in General RE in the sixth form which can be more of a faith sharing experience…also some topics are very useful for explaining ‘Why yet church matters’ … Which can link to many RE schemes of work.