For Jack Jezreel, keynote speaker at this year's Tobin Lecture, the legacy of St. Francis of Assisi, and the current message of Pope Francis speak of a church that gathers its members for formation, and sends them into the world for social ministry. More of an emphasis on the "sending" part of this equation is the key for the 21st century parish, he told attendees.
"Our children want to be a invited to something that asks a lot of them," said Jezreel to the more than 200 people who gathered at All Saints Parish in Northeast Portland for the lecture.
Jezreel has more than 20 years of experience working in parish ministry. During eight years at a Catholic parish in Louisville, Ken. he developed what he calls "a conversion-based justice formation program." JustFaith has been recognized nationally as an effective strategy for empowering social ministry.
The annual Tobin Lecture honors the memory of the late Msgr. Thomas Tobin (1897-‘78). Msgr. Tobin was a leading figure in social action, promoting and acting on the church’s social teachings. Pastor at All Saints Church, he attended sessions of the Second Vatican Council. The lecture is sponsored by the Office of Life, Justice and Peace at the Archdiocese of Portland.
The social teaching of the Catholic Church, said Jezreel, is "constitutive" to its mission. The fidelity of and integrity of parishes, he said, is how their commitments to the poorest of the poor are carried out.
Parishes have too often focused on the gathering; catechesis, religious education, liturgy, prayer and sacraments. And although this nurturing step is needed for deep spiritual discernment, the gathering is merely the "getting ready" for the work of the lives and commitments of our faith, says Jezreel.
Sending is about mission. Ministering in the slums; serving in soup kitchens, advocating for immigrants, settling refugees — these are examples of the sending work that needs to be more integrated at the parish level, he added.
"This sending is a necessary part of what it means to be in relationship to God," said Jezreel. "We have to be gathered and sent. We need both. Gathering is critical; it is the nurturing of faith. But if you're not sending, than you are losing any sense of what the gathering is for."
Jezreel said that in his travels, he finds that parishes are losing members and young people because the work they do is not often heroic or compelling.
"The critical question for any parish should be 'What heroic things does this community do for the world and how can we be involved,'" he said.
Pat Montone, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Northwest Portland is a graduate of the JustFaith program. For her, taking the courses was a life-changing event that she says immersed her in community and began a journey of service for her. In her early 70s, she now volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and is the coordinator for Catholic Relief Services' Operation Rice Bowl at her parish.
"The JustFaith program took me deeper into my own faith through both prayer and action," said Montone.
Merisia Gutierrez, 35, of Ascension Parish in Southeast Portland came to the lecture to learn more about the JustFaith program which is currently a topic of discussion at her church.
"I want to do more and get myself more involved in the community," said Gutierrez.
Jezreel says his work at JustFaith is about repairing parishes, and getting social ministry back into focus.
"We can change the parish like a young man named St. Francis once did and like an old man named Pope Francis is doing again," said Jezreel. "We need to reclaim what it means to be Catholic."