December 2006 - Vol. 3
Called to Community
How the Community of the Risen
Christ in Glasgow, Scotland
found its roots in charismatic renewal 25 years ago
Bruce Yocum, member of the International Executive Council of The Sword of the Spirit has known David and Margaret McGill and the Community of the Risen Christ since its foundation in the early 1980s. Bruce writes: "For many years I have carried in my mind an informal list of those whom I consider to be the “Founders of the Sword of the Spirit.” These are the men and women who first heard the call and caught the vision for an international, ecumenical community of communities which could serve the church as a bulwark and a source of renewal, and then committed their lives to making that vision a reality. They recognized that the foundation of such an enterprise was the personal commitment of men and women to the call of God, and offered themselves as living stones upon which others could build.
"Any such list of “Founders of the Sword of the Spirit” would have to include David and Margaret McGill of the Community of the Risen Christ in Glasgow, Scotland. God broke into their lives in a new and fresh way in their times of deepest darkness, after the death of their young son David. Their zeal for God drove them out into the streets evangelizing in the most difficult areas of Glasgow. They gathered an enthusiastic band of brothers and sisters and set off to build community life."
The following article, written by Kristina Cooper, editor for Goodnews Magazine which serves the Catholic charismatic renewal in the United Kingdom and Ireland, is based on an interview she conducted with David and Margaret McGill. Reprinted with permission.
They decided to run the Life in the Spirit seminars and wrote away to America for the team manual. Through this they all were baptised in the Holy Spirit as they gave their lives to Christ in a new way. This gave them such a zeal for evangelisation that they began travelling all round Scotland running the seminars for other groups and encouraging Catholics to open themselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit. This helped spread the renewal movement and David himself became the first chairman of its National Service Committee in 1977 immediately after the first national conference in Scotland. As time went on David and Margaret began to feel a desire for a more intense living of their Christian faith, but weren't really sure how to go about it. As their whole family was involved in CCR by now, and their daughters were setting up prayer groups of their own, they had contact with lots of young people who were very enthusiastic about their faith and warm informal relationships had already started to grow.
This was highlighted when three young men from the prayer group turned up at their doorstep, when they were on holiday in the Highlands, wanting a bed for the night. Later on that summer of 1980 David and Margaret went to Paray Le Monial for the Charismatic Leaders' Conference ran by the Emmanuel Community in France. They had just finished telling Sr Mary Peter, who used to run the CCR centre in London, about these young men, when Sr Mary Peter suddenly turned to them, and said, "The man on the stage has just given a prophecy, and I think it is for you."
She then proceeded to translate for them into English what had been said. Amazingly the man mentioned that there was couple there, who had just had a visit from three young men on bicycles, and the Lord was commending them for their work, and telling them to go on the streets and evangelise, promising that if they were faithful to this, they would be granted the gift of community.
"Go out on the streets"
The European Leaders' Group also gave Margaret and David four scriptures: Ezekiel 2:9, Ezekiel 3:8, Deuteronomy 6:4, and Mark 16:15,18. They told the core team of the prayer group what had happened and what they intended to do. The group prayed and received the identical scriptures.They decided to join them. David, however, felt that the group needed to prepare itself first, and so they invited anyone who wanted to come on Saturday evenings to study Evangelii Nuntiandi, the new papal encyclical on evangelisation, as a prelude for going out on the streets. This went on for ten weeks. Then in October, with twenty people of mixed ages, the group set off. They were helped in their street evangelisation by the fact that the civic motto of the city is "Lord let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the Word and by the praising of Thy Name".
Every fortnight for the next two years, the group went out, singing and praising God, preaching and praying for healing. Such was the interest and excitement generated by this that people travelled from all over the city, even as far as Edinburgh. David recalls that there could be up to 400 people coming. Margaret adds, "We were really blessed by having lots of missionary priests with us too, who could hear the confessions of the people we met, who wanted to return to the practice of their faith. It was such a blessed time." The gathering was eventually closed by the council, who resurrected an old by-law, in an effort to stop the Moonies and other cults, who were also out on the streets at the time.
"Call to community"
After the team had finished studying Evangelii Nuntiandi, one young man suggested that they could study other things too. This was agreed and it was to this group that David first proposed the idea of forming a covenant community. The group agreed to go away on retreat and pray about it at a near bye Jesuit retreat centre. During this weekend, the group decided that they were indeed called to become a community and decided on the name, the Community of the Risen Christ, unaware that this had been the name in David's heart for several years.
Thus it was in January 1981 that the community officially began. Communities for lay people were really in their infancy at this time, and not exactly knowing how they might work, particularly as the group involved not just singles but families too, they looked for help. This came from the Federation of Communities inspired by Ralph Martin and Steve Clark from the Word of God community in Ann Arbor, which had a community in London and several in Europe. David comments, "They shared their experience with us and let us use their formation courses, which gave guidelines on Christian living and the spiritual gifts." The community met every Sunday, with an open meeting once a month, and then they had one evening a week for teaching or sharing groups, and one evening for some kind of service activity. This latter could be either helping out at the parish, by running some kind of youth group or helping out in some other way, or by simply helping another member of the community with a practical aspect of their life - like moving house, or babysitting.
"Service equals Growth"
A core value of the community is "Service equals Growth" says Margaret. "Even the little children recite this," says Margaret. David adds, "To be a member of a community is a calling, because you covenant to one another and to do certain things. This kind of commitment isn't for everyone. Understandably not everyone would be free to give this type of commintment for various reasons." Having a community behind him helped David considerably in his work for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Scotland and all kinds of retreats and conferences were organised e.g. for Priests, Religious and Youth. One of the most memorable was the young people's retreat for 1500 people in Edinburgh with Cardinal Suenens in 1980. Margaret remembers, "there were so many people coming from Glasgow, that David hired a train to take them. I remember it was so strange to hear them announcing at Glasgow station the platform number for the "Christian" train to Edinburgh."
Many of the young people who began the community, now have children of their own. Over the years the community has provided an extended family for them, providing support in the living out of their Christian life in a deeper way. One of the traditions of the community is that when a woman is pregnant, the other women of the community gather round and pray over the baby in the womb. They then give cards with words of knowledge about the child and the spiritual gifts the person believes the child will have. The community also has many single men and women who have contributed their specific gifts spiritual and professional to its growth.
"Support in a de-Christianized society"
All this helps provide a climate of Christian love and care that supports people's faith in a society that has become more and more de-Christianised. Many of the young people are encouraged to go out to Third world projects run by members of other communities in the network to widen their horizons. The Sword of the Spirit network, as the Federation is now called, has 74 member communities round the world. David and Margaret have observed that the Christian life is much more vibrant in Third World countries. The reason for this believes David is the materialism in the West, which really kills faith. He feels they could have easily gone down this route themselves if it hadn't been for the deaths of their children, which helped them to see what was really essential in life. Margaret remembers, "David's uncle who was a bishop always said that great blessings would come from our son David's suffering and death, although we couldn't see it at the time, but we can now. Before that we had taken our blessings for granted, afterwards we realised everything was gift. And the community has been our biggest gift of all."