Why start a Sycamore group in your church or community?

Many churches and chaplaincies are longing to share their faith with others and welcome people into their own communities. Many are looking for programmes and resources that they can use in their teaching, sacramental preparation and catechesis.

This page explains the key elements of Sycamore and how it can help you reach out to others – with both physical and remote groups. Then we answer a common question: “What makes Sycamore different from other programmes?”

“I really think this will be a great gift of God and just what the Church needs right now. It seems to present the Catholic faith in a way that truly meets the needs of all – from the unchurched to practicing Catholics who are in desperate need of formation. I think the topics are just right. It’s very ambitious in that it covers so much ground, but exactly what’s needed. I love the user-friendliness and flexibility of the program. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with my colleagues in evangelization work here and lamented our lack of such a program” (Fr Charlie Fox, Spiritual Director to the St Paul Street Evangelisation Movement in the US and Staff Member at Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit)

KEY ELEMENTS OF SYCAMORE

Here are some of the key elements of Sycamore that will help you consider whether it’s a good option for your community.

As soon as you are ready, jump to the PLANNING pages here and the TRAINING pages here.

  • Sycamore is an informal course about the Christian faith and its relevance for life today. It gives people space to meet others, share ideas, explore their beliefs, and think about questions that really matter.
  • Each Sycamore session involves a short film and time for discussion. There’s no pressure and no commitment. People can be themselves without any fear of being judged. There’s a real sense of community, a spirit of friendship, some great conversation, and often some delicious food. Everyone is welcome.
  • The high-quality films are engaging, thought-provoking, and accessible to those with little or no religious background. They explore the richness of the Christian tradition from a Catholic perspective, connecting the core Christian message with a vision of the sacramental and moral life. They will also appeal to people from different Christian traditions and backgrounds. The films are presented by Fr Stephen Wang, a well-known Catholic priest and teacher, and they also include vox pop street interviews and testimonies from ordinary Christians.
  • Sycamore is first of all a stand-alone enquiry course and a tool for “primary evangelisation”. It seeks to share what is at the heart of the Christian faith with those who have not heard it before or with those whose understanding of Christianity is very limited. It creates a space for honest and open discussion about faith and about life in general. It helps people, if they wish, to respond to what they have heard by taking the first steps of faith.
  • But Sycamore can also form part of a wider programme of faith formation, catechesis or sacramental preparation. It starts with the basics of Christian faith and then goes deeper into the Creed, the Church, Christian living, prayer, and the sacraments. There are support materials for those who are using the films as part of a teaching or catechetical programme. Visit this page about how to use Sycamore as part of your catechesis or teaching.

“Sycamore is fully comprehensive in its approach, systemically Catholic, very adaptable for different modes of presentation, and offers something dynamic, interactive and high quality. I wish you every success in filling a massive gap for a resource of this kind to be made available” (Fr Jon Bielawski, Director of Evangelisation, Plymouth Diocese).

  • You choose which “pathway” is best for your situation. Sycamore is a modular course and there are different “pathways” through the films, depending on the needs of your participants and the time you have. You might choose an enquiry pathway for an evangelisation group (e.g. a ten-week enquiry course or a seven-week introductory course). You might need a catechetical pathway as part of your sacramental preparation (e.g. a twenty-week RCIA course or a twelve-week Confirmation course).
  • Sycamore has been created for parishes, schools, university chaplaincies and beyond. It develops leaders, builds community, creates genuine friendships, and helps the wider Christian community to become more open and welcoming. Discussion questions are built into the films so that the sessions can be run very easily.
  • All the Sycamore resources are completely free to use through our “open access” policy. There is no cost to you as a parish or chaplaincy, and there is no cost to the individual participants. This open access model is only possible because of the generosity of donors and charitable trust funds. We hope that churches and communities using the resources will become regular donors and help us continue this work.
  • Why “Sycamore”? In the bible, Jesus comes to the town of Jericho. A man called Zacchaeus is so curious about Jesus that he climbs a Sycamore tree to get a better view. When he finally meets him, they begin a conversation, and his life is changed forever.
  • The films, supplementary resources and training materials for group leaders are available online. Visit us at www.sycamore.fm
  • Sycamore is a UK Charity (“Sycamore Roman Catholic Charity”, CIO Number 1182843). All of the funds that we raise through donations are used to further the work and mission of Sycamore.

HOW IS SYCAMORE DIFFERENT FROM OTHER PROGRAMMES?

There are so many wonderful programmes and courses available from groups such as Word on Fire, CaFE, Ascension, Evangelium, Alpha, Augustine Institute, the Catholic Truth Society, Oremus, Spirit Juice, Grassroots, Nua, the Association for Catechumenal Ministry, etc. There is lots of overlap in content, methodology and style between Sycamore and many of these programmes: it’s inevitable when the common aim is to share the heart of the Christian faith.

Having said that, Sycamore has a certain style or approach and this reflects the fact that it has grown out of a particular context. Here are some of the factors that have influenced the development of Sycamore. None of them is unique to Sycamore!

  • A COMPREHENSIVE PROGRAMME: Sycamore is a comprehensive 20-module programme that encompasses all four ‘pillars’ of the Catechism (CCC 13-17): the Profession of Faith, the Liturgy and the Sacraments, Life in Christ, and Christian Prayer. It leads people from initial curiosity to an encounter with Jesus Christ and his Church, and then to a vision of the doctrinal, sacramental, moral and spiritual teaching of the Church. (See the full list of modules here)
  • FROM CORE MESSAGE TO SYSTEMATIC TEACHING: At every stage, Sycamore tries to connect the core Christian message (“kerygma”) with a more systematic vision of Christian teaching (“catechesis”) that helps people to understand the Catholic tradition and the call to a deeper Christian discipleship (“formation”). Of course the balance varies, and there is more kerygma in the early sessions and more catechesis and formation in the later sessions. But there is a conviction that you can’t separate them entirely and that it is possible to integrate kerygma, catechesis and formation in a single programme.
  • MULTIPLE PATHWAYS: There are different “pathways” through the programme. Leaders can choose which modules are appropriate for their group. They choose from a whole range of pathways/courses; for example, an enquiry group, RCIA, Confirmation, 6th Form General RE, adult formation, an Advent course, a Lent course, etc. See the lists here on the “Pathways” pages.
  • FOCUS ON DISCUSSION: Carefully formulated discussion questions pop-up at three points within each film, so there is more space for honest sharing within the group. At each pause-point there is a main question and three follow-up questions, so it is easy for leaders to facilitate discussion and “keep the conversation going”.
  • ACCESSIBLE LANGUAGE AND STORIES: Sycamore has grown out of a Catholic community working in a university culture in central London where Christianity and the language of faith are not well understood. It does not assume a religious “literacy”, and it knows that even people raised in Christian families and schools are often unfamiliar with Christian terms. It tries to use ordinary language and stories that will be accessible to people without a faith background, and to avoid Christian jargon. It wants to be “more Radio 2 than Radio 4” (for non-British readers: Radio 4 is a bit more serious!).

“A very important project and frankly one that will contribute invaluably to contemporary evangelization. As for the content and vision of the project, it is clearly something very needed. I hope very much it succeeds in years to come!” (Fr Thomas White, Director of the Aquinas Institute, Rome)

  • ONLINE RESOURCES FOR PARTICIPANTS: There are online resources and printable handouts for participants – see the “Session Guides” here. These include the discussion questions, summaries of the teaching in each session, relevant scripture quotations, and references to the YouCat and Catechism of the Catholic Church for further reflection.
  • READY-MADE FOR SACRAMENTAL PREPARATION, CATECHESIS AND PERSONAL STUDY: Sycamore can easily be used in sacramental preparation, catechesis or personal study. There is an alternative timetable and “lesson plan” if you are using the programme as the basis for catechesis or teaching. For each session there are set readings from the YouCat to be studied at home. There is guidance for leaders about how to structure the catechetical sessions, and for participants about how to use the time well.
  • SUITABLE FOR ALL AGES: Sycamore started as a resource for university students but very soon it was being used by parish groups as well. It seems to speak across generations. The new films have been developed so that they are accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, and the documentary style seems to suit very diverse audiences from mixed-age evangelisation and sacramental groups to young adult formation.
  • BRITISH CATHOLIC CULTURE: The main presenter is a British Catholic priest who has his own particular style and who enjoys introducing people to the amazing riches of British Catholic culture and history.
  • COMPLETELY FREE: Many Christian programmes sell their resources or require a paid subscription for communities or individual users – and there are very valid reasons for using this paid model! Since June 2020, however, Sycamore has been completely free to use through its “open access” policy. There is no cost to the community running the course or to the individual participants.

“This is a really magnificent piece of work for the Kingdom! What I like is its intellectual rigour and its rootedness in our lived experience and in our reaching for God. It reaches wide and will, I know, have a wide appeal” (Fr Chris Vipers, Director of Evangelisation, Diocese of Westminster)

As soon as you are ready, jump to the PLANNING pages here and the TRAINING pages here.

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