The invitation to write about Anglican Cursillo arose from a comment during a discussion on Lay Anglicana of mountain top experiences, so it is appropriate that Matthew, who has over twenty years’ experience of Cursillo, sets the scene at the top of a hill.
In the heat of an August day, a day that will now be forever remembered for a car crash in a Paris underpass, I was on holiday in Deia, a small village in the north west of Mallorca. I climbed my way up the hill to visit the village church where Robert Graves is buried. I gratefully sat on a stone bench, sheltering from the midday sun in the shade of a tree in the churchyard. An old man in black was already sitting there and nodded a wordless greeting to me. After a few moments, I plucked up the courage to try out my schoolboy Spanish, and asked him if he had ever heard of Cursillo. His face lit up, he raised his hands to the heavens, and said “A, Cursillo: la mano de Dios!” (“Ah, Cursillo, the hand of God!”). It turned out that he had been on the very first Cursillo weekend back in 1944 and he was just back from joining the celebrations for the 100th Cursillo weekend in Seville. I went back the next day to see if I could continue the chat, but he wasn’t there. I asked someone, and it turned out that he was the retired priest.
If Cursillo were universally known in the Anglican church, I wouldn’t need to be writing this. I expect, though, that for many readers, Cursillo is an unknown quantity, if they have heard of it at all. For others, their knowledge may be based less on personal experience than on that of other people, a mixture of second-hand comments and assumptions that may bear little resemblance to the truth.
So here’s a paradox.
We have something that started in the years following the Spanish Civil War in Mallorca, which was then a remote part of Spain, far from the popular tourist destination it is now. In the intervening years, it has grown and travelled widely throughout the world, continuing to thrive in the Roman Catholic Church, but now, under licence, also active in the majority of Anglican dioceses in England, Scotland Wales, not to mention in many countries in the wider Anglican communion, to the extent that it has received public approbation from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York:
“Cursillo has been powerfully used by God in the renewal of Christians and Christian communities of all styles and backgrounds” (Archbishop of Canterbury)
“Cursillo is about making disciples; it transforms people’s lives and empowers them for service” (Archbishop of York)
How, then, is it known to only a few? Here’s another endorsement, but also a bit of a clue:
“One ‘tool’ for renewal that fits in very well with Oxford’s Living Faith vision is Cursillo… I have so often seen it bring people to life spiritually and in their commitment to their church. Cursillo is one of God’s best-kept secrets” (Bishop of Oxford)
What is Cursillo?
If you visit the web sites of Anglican Cursillo communities around the world, you will come up with something roughly equivalent to:
“Cursillo is a movement of the Church, providing a method by which Christians are empowered to grow through prayer, study and action and enabled to share Gods love with everyone.” (British Anglican Cursillo Council)
Cursillo only happens in a Diocese with the permission of the Bishop, and is normally seen as an element of diocesan strategy for mission or spirituality.
At this point it would be very tempting to copy and paste large pieces of text from various web sites and leaflets, but, if you are sufficiently interested, you can browse the internet at your leisure. Suffice to say that involvement in Cursillo generally starts with a residential three-day weekend aimed at people who are mature in their faith but searching for something fresh, or a new dimension to their Christian lives. It is not aimed at newcomers to the faith, nor at passengers, though it is amazing what changes the Holy Spirit can bring in spite of people’s resistance! During the weekend, the essentials of the Christian faith are laid out and discussed in fifteen talks and five meditations, generally in an atmosphere of prayer, love, celebration and reflection in equal measure. Cursillo is what I might describe as ‘churchmanship neutral’. Unlike many courses, the weekend is only really there as a quick start, a sort of spiritual kick in the pants, leading to a rejuvenated life of prayer, study and action back in the congregations from which the participants came. There is a support structure of regular small local groups (Group Reunions) and larger area groups (Ultreyas), and encouragement for people, ordinary lay people like you and me, to have a spiritual director (or soul mate, or buddy, whatever is comfortable for you).
Rather than expanding on the detail, which you can find for yourself, I prefer to focus on what people say about how Cursillo has influenced their life as Christians while still remaining wholly integrated, but enlivened, within their congregations.
In reading the comments that follow, you will see a few unfamiliar words and expressions, either Spanish, or derived from Spanish. This can make some people uncomfortable, but the church is already full to the rafters with arcane expressions used by many and understood by a few, so I suggest you just smile at the eccentricity, suspend disbelief and move on!
The quotations are set against the five components of Oxford Diocese’s Living Faith strategy…
On Cursillo and Sustaining the Sacred Centre
“On my Cursillo weekend, the whole basis of my Christian discipleship was questioned and challenged at the very root. I emerged with a faith more clearly focused on the fundamentals of what it means to be a follower of Jesus” (H, Bucks)
On Cursillo and Making Disciples
“I have been shown such love and friendship, patience and understanding by my fellow Cursillistas that it has empowered me to move forward at my own pace and with much more confidence” (B, Oxon)
On Cursillo and Making a Difference in the World
“From being a passive member of our church I now am heavily involved with working with families and children. I started a monthly group for under 5s in church and a bible study group made up of younger parents” (V, Berks)
On Cursillo and Making Vibrant Christian Communities
“I see the Cursillo movement as a major tool for parish growth and focused on Christians already within a parish family as a means of re-invigorating their spiritual life and building up the Body of Christ” (Ven P, London)
On Cursillo and Shaping Confident Collaborative Ministry
“For all of them it has been positive. For some it has been life-changing and they have become serious disciples and taken up leadership positions: they have a new sense of responsibility, which is not to me, but to God and to themselves. They have received something that cannot be taken away from them” (Revd A, London)
And here I leave with you with another paradox. If you are familiar with Cursillo and have experienced it as I have, I know that you will say that I have not begun to describe it, what it offers, why it works. And if you are new to it, you will probably simply say that I have not begun to describe it. Period! All I can say, to justify having used (or abused?!) the hospitality of Lay Anglicana to tell you all about Cursillo, is that having attended a weekend in 1992, Cursillo still enlivens, encourages and enables me. What you make of it I can only leave to you and the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew and I first ‘met’ when I reviewed his excellent book , ‘A Clergy Husband’s Survival Guide‘ and he has been contributing comments to the blog posts ever since. I sensed a kindred spirit (and I knew he could write!) so I was thrilled when he agreed to write the above piece for Lay Anglicana.
The main illustration I have chosen to illustrate it is ‘Cross and Rainbow’ by Alan Jones, downloaded under licence from Twelve Baskets. The second illustration is a sculpture by Glen Robson called ‘Face to Face’, also from Twelve Baskets.