May 7, 2024


One of the highlights of these first sabbatical weeks is the opportunity to celebrate weekend Masses in a nearby parish. On Saturday night I was again at a small rural community, and on Sunday morning with a much larger city congregation.

Then on Sunday evening I had another pub invitation, not a quiet bar drink with a friend or two but a significant gathering of locals who were seeking greater maturity of faith. Two weeks ago it was Thirsty Souls a couple of hours away and this time the gathering was the equally popular Ponderings in the Pub event in a small community of rural Iowa.

There’s something about these food and drink gatherings in secular and social environments. In the past the church worked hard to bring as many as possible into a geographical parish precinct, whether it be for Mass and the Sacraments, for school, sporting and social events.

Perhaps the movement towards pub and community gatherings is an indication of a new phase of evangelisation, not so much focussed on bringing people onto parish property but a gentle outreach to and transformation of secular environments and institutions.

In the gospels Jesus had no one place to lay his head, no one pulpit to preach from,. Instead Jesus went to the people wherever they had gathered on their own terms, a wedding, a lake or hill, on the road or at a home.

I’ve noticed that when a gathering is on parish property it is the clergy and parish employees or appointed volunteers who take the lead, organising and officiating. It’s different at a secular venue, or in a private home. There people gather on their own turangawaewae, the place where they stand, where they are most at home and where they feel free to lead most freely. I have no doubt that the enthusiasm of those who initiate these gatherings is evidence of their embrace of the call to mature Christian faith and intentional discipleship.

Notice the people in the picture above. When they had picked up their drinks and nibbles from the well-stocked bar I invited them to take a moment to find and feel their pulse and to know that the beat that they can feel is not their own doing but the action of God choosing to give them life in every present moment.

What a wonderful way to pray. Feeling the pulse, noticing the beat, and knowing that my existence is not my work or my achievement but the action of God, the decision of God, the love of God for me, here and how.

Children really appreciate this form of prayer.

And on Sunday night in a former-church now secular event venue in rural Iowa we spent a few moments savouring this practical and personal experience of God-with-us



  1. John, what a blessing for you! and it is so fantastic that the rules and norms for “religious” gatherings are being challenged! Where the people are, their Turangawaiwai… that is where we are being sent. Thank you for going!

  2. I like the idea of taking our pulse and feeling its beat. Reminding us that Gods heart is living and beating in us.
    Now, there’s proof the God is with us all day and night

  3. Love it, feeling the pulse only our hearts beating by Gods grace.

  4. I remember an article in The Messenger that Father Gerard Whiteford wrote, about feeling your pulse as a prayer. This speaks very much to us all especially children. So simple.


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