– by Dominic Mc Dermott (European Network of Communities)
Four Community Networks agreed to get together in London for three days from 18-20th July 2023 to take the next steps in forming a global Strategic Partnership. We did so as a response to the Spirit’s prompting that this is God’s prophetic work among us for the times in which we live.
The four networks were The Sword of the Spirit (SOS), represented by Jean Barbara (current President) Manny de los Santos (a leader of Ligaya ng Panginoon Community -Manila) and Andy Pettman (from the Sword of the Spirit); North American Network of Charismatic Covenant Communities (NAN), represented by Peter Poppleton (the NAN Chairman) and his wife Sharon, Dan Almeter (a leader of Alleluia Community) and his wife Marie, the European Network of Communities (ENC) represented by Johannes Fichtenbauer (Current President), Alex Myskow (next President), Kevin Bridges (Johannes P.A.) & Dominic McDermott (Prayer Coordinator) and the Servants of Jesus Community (Australia) represented by Joe and Julie Chircop (Community Founders/Leaders) and Richard Martin (Community Leader).
The process of drawing together as networks of communities began at the 2017 50th Jubilee of Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Rome as trust between the leaders of these networks began to really develop. As part of that event we were asked to seek the Lord for a prophetic word from each network – all the words submitted were strikingly similar but just employed slightly different imagery – many streams running together to form a river, many wires of different colors coming together to form a cable, strands woven together to form a rope etc. the message of strength in our “unity in diversity” was clear. The leaders of these networks then put behind them the divisions or competition of the past and began really moving in friendship rather than just working together as each independently sensed the Spirit calling them into something deeper. As Peter said quoting Cardinal Ratzinger “those who form the future are those who are aware of wider realities and desire to build community as a source of strength for the Church”.
So here in London we began this time together by each Network honestly explaining a little about who we are – both our strengths and weakness but despite these all of us were amazed at what the Lord has already done through us and we began to have a sense of what He has planned for our future. To this end we also looked at Bruce Yocum’s significant Bulwark prophecy of 1975 given 48 years ago to prepare us for “such a time as this”:
“Days of darkness are coming upon the world days of tribulation…Where is the strength of my Church when the storm is upon it? Unprepared, divided and confused, weak when strength is most needed, it will crumble. The earth will be littered with the debris, the testimony that it was not ready. And yet a bulwark will be ready. And when the collapse comes, and the walls long crumbling are washed away, yet there will be an army, a wall of defense to preserve my Church.”
We all felt that we were being called together to be this bulwark, this army, this wall of defense, to preserve the Church against the darkness, aggression and confusion of the culture around us.
Instead of the darkness our communities and networks have a counter-culture (or “contrast-culture”) that will attract those who encounter it and we spent some time looking at what characterized this community culture that we all shared.
Through Prayer (especially intimacy with the Lord our Bridegroom) our communities are extended Inter-generational Families, attractive places, where individual families can flourish, founded on Biblical values like Honesty, Honor and Celebration. Our communities are also focused on mission with an Evangelistic lifestyle, supported both by use of the Charisms and a strong emphasis on Ecumenism. This focus on unity is itself maintained and developed by a spirit of humility and Reconciliation.
Lastly, we have all been challenged to deepen our Service to the poor especially in providing a Protection or Refuge in the difficulties of our age.
Andy shared an image of Stirling Castle built centuries ago at the edge of the Scottish Highlands. Viewed from the north it looked simply like a strong wall of defense (against attack from the north) but from the south we could see the town that this bulwark protected; ordinary life made possible in the shelter of this strong defensive structure. So, our communities were to be both strong defensive protection against the enemy’s attacks but also to create space for normal Christian life to go on because of them and mission to flow out from them to take territory from the enemy.
Jean shared about a string of castles across Poland each supporting the one next to it and Johannes shared about medieval monasteries as places of both protection from attack and sources of mission and education for the surrounding peoples in the Dark Ages and beyond.
Dom shared the establishment of Celtic missionary prayer communities focused on spiritual warfare and which won large parts of pagan Europe for Christ in just a few generations. He also shared a word the Lord gave him some time ago about a UK network of communities that resonated with all this:
“I will build myself a house and you will be the foundations – for this reason I have called you together. It will be a house of refuge and glory and its name shall be Unity.”
A second linked prophetic image, which we were also given, was a fleet or convoy of ships. All different, as are our communities and networks, all faithful to our own individual calling but all heading in the same direction, encouraging, protecting and supporting each other with our different strengths and roles. Joe emphasized the offensive element of this convoy as it cuts through the waves of our current anti-Christian culture and as Julie added we need to be both army and hospital!
Next, we considered Jean’s suggestions for a practical way forward with some concrete steps that won’t overwhelm us. That is deciding on a common policy with reference to our external relationships, developing our governance by putting together a Service Team (ST), considering what we could offer each other and even looking at possible extensions to our current alliance (e.g. in Africa).
About Africa, Kevin shared how the ENC had been working with Richard from the Emmaus Community in Uganda to build on their sense that the Spirit was calling them to establish a Network of communities in Uganda and beyond. Richard’s letter of greeting was read out and we heard of their plans for two conferences in 2024 (one for French and one for English speaking communities) with a joint conference in 2025. Although all four networks have been working for many years in Africa it was decided that ENC would lead this area of development of Network, while the SOS will continue to offer their Formation Programs, on behalf of all and with their cooperation and support. This was a great example of how we can interact on a specific project and by sharing information and best practice avoid the duplication of effort.
Another practical step agreed was for each Network to actively invite participation from the other Networks in our major events, something we have already begun. Then a conference should be held every few years to share the vision with a broader audience which as Alex pointed out was absolutely crucial to the participation in this work of members of our networks.
The previously prepared Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which all four Networks have agreed to was looked at in some detail as the document was well prepared. We then decided on a name for this work of God and were led to agree on: International Partnership of Ecumenical Charismatic Communities (IPECC)
A Service Team was established with two members from each of the four organizations and an annual “in person” meeting for the ST was decided upon (in addition to some Zoom meetings). The chair and secretary will be appointed at the first meeting on 25-27th of February, 2024 at the Alleluia Community, Augusta GA, USA timed to follow on from the CLF (Charismatic Leaders Fellowship) 19-22nd of February, 2024 then the NAN Conference 22-24th of February, 2024 at the same location, which will be attended by several SOS leaders.
The meeting finished with a great sense of unity and joy at the taking of this historical step as the formal signing of the MOU by Johannes, Jean, Peter and Joe took place.