The  Transformation Effect

I found myself in tears after catching up on the final episode of this season of one of my favourite television shows. It’s on RTE and it runs for 8 weeks every year from about January to March and it’s called ‘Operation Transformation.’

Every year, many people around the country apply to go on the show. Five leaders are eventually selected and, over the course of the 8 weeks, they allow TV cameras into their homes and their lives as they embark on a journey of transformation. They are assisted on their journey by a range of experts including a psychologist, a GP, a dietician and a fitness instructor. They undergo a range of tests to assess their cardiovascular fitness, their weight and blood pressure and their metabolic age, as opposed to their real age.

The whole country gets very involved in their progress and you can go online to follow the health and fitness plan for the leader whose circumstances you can most identify with. There are recipes and tips to help people to make better choices and live a healthier lifestyle.

There’s something incredibly powerful about the accountability of appearing before the experts each week and, as different struggles emerge, they make suggestions about how to deal with them.

This year’s leaders were a diverse and magnificent bunch of people all dealing with different things and having their own reasons for being on the show. Stephanie was in her early thirties and, despite having been very sporty in her youth and played and coached football at a very high level, she had put on a lot of weight. She suffered panic attacks about exercising following a cardiac episode after giving birth to her second child. Thomas was 50 and he had suffered a heart attack some years ago. His drycleaning business had gone under during covid and he had started a new business producing artisan pizzas from a mobile unit. Lorraine, in her early 40’s, was a busy school principal struggling to balance the demands of her busy job and her home life as mum to 3 children and supporting her mum who was going through treatment for cancer. Marie was in her 30’s and was working as a special needs assistant with children living with disability. She, herself, was a dwarf and spoke of the challenges of how society treated her and her own struggles with self image and confidence. Andrea was a woman in her 30’s who had spent much of her life looking after her son, who was born with complex needs, and her other children and her husband. Her son, with complex needs, sadly died a few years back and she was struggling with grief and finding her place in the world again.

There was something so real and authentic about each of them. They had powerful sessions with the experts who came to visit them in their environment and speak with them about the challenges of changing your lifestyle to move forwards.

The culmination of the series was a 5km run in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, where these leaders, accompanied by their experts, led a crowd of a couple of thousand people around the course. This was followed by a fashion show in the studio with their family and friends as they reflected on the journey they had been on in the previous 8 weeks. Yes, the statistics were incredible in terms of weight loss and increased capacity of their heart and lungs. The figures were amazing in terms of loss of inches around the waist and decreased cholesterol. What was most beautiful to behold was the psychological and emotional transformation.

People who hated themselves and the way they looked could see their value and their worth. They had given so much of themselves to this process and followed the plan and started to see themselves very differently. It was amazing to see people’s family and friends speak of how proud they were of their loved ones and the impact their choices were having upon the whole nation.

Men were going to their GPs to get checked out, as the man in the show shared his story. People with disabilities were taking themselves out to try new things inspired by the example of Marie. People around the country were opening up to talk about their mental health and the pressures they were facing thanks to the honesty and vulnerability of these leaders.

Some of these leaders would have found it hard to walk 5km let alone run it, and the sense of achievement and effort as they crossed the line applauded by thousands of people in person and hundreds of thousands watching at home had the tears streaming down my cheeks.

Wouldn’t it be something if the ‘Church Without Walls’ could walk alongside people in a similar way? None of us are experts but, the chances are, there are people in every congregation who have struggled with these things. Maybe, by sharing your story and experience in a quiet way you can bring help and encouragement to others. Maybe, if people share a struggle, we can tell them we will pray for them and quietly do that.

I love the series of videos on the diocesan website and parish website this Lent. Its called ‘Transformations’ and it tells little 5 minute stories in the lives of individuals or congregations as they seek to step into God’s purposes and plans for them and their community.

It’s a beautiful thing when we go on that journey of transformation with the gentle leading hand of the Holy Spirit of God as our guide.

Can we say a huge ‘thank you’ to all who are involved through the witness of this church in individual and community transformation. From my perspective, it’s a beautiful and powerful thing to behold and it works itself out in so many ways. Everyone has a part to play.

Looking forward to speaking again soon. 

Much love to everyone,


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