|1/16/2014 12:05:00 PM|
Preparing to evangelize
Archdiocese testing New Evangelization project
Eight parishes in western Oregon have begun a pilot project, testing a process that prepares Catholics to take part in the New Evangelization.
|ONLINE ONLY: How we got ready to evangelize|
|By Joyce Marks |
CENTRAL POINT — We knew we would have a new church in a few years and so we had to plan ahead. Plant a seed in attitude and spirit about truly evangelizing as a new church. We finally would have the room to actually invite people into our church and bring people to an encounter with Christ and his mystical body. And so it began. Father Mike Walker, with a humble, willing and open heart, began to sift through so many books and articles out there from other Christian churches in how they reach God's people and successfully built up their church. He looked at statistical history of the religious decline, geographical populous and how that affects church growth, and tried and true methods mega churches and other growing churches in America are using. In a comprehensive way he put together a manual, that is free to any Catholic who wants it, that fits the Catholic Church and the needs of the church and our people.
It is from here, he began to teach his staff. We all spent time we don't have reading and learning the ideas and methods. It was a intentional commitment on all our part. We created a new Mission and Vision a few years back: "Find, Fold, and Form in Christ." It's in line with and is supported by our new Pope. Further confirmation from the Spirit we are on the right track.
Then the process of teaching our lead people in the church began. Father called together a new Parish Council with a new vision and direction that is active in this new call to evangelize and fold this new mission into every action in our church. Active and motivated leaders who are assigned umbrellas of ministry to oversee and make sure they are working towards the greater mission. From doughnut socials, to literature passed out from our church, the activity should serve our baptismal commission.
He has been teaching the council from his manual since it was created, forming them, growing them in confidence and direction. He has been doing this method at both of the parishes he oversees.
As a staff, we have been teaching it to lead people in ministry and in meetings that occur in any ministry. I even bring it to the director of religious education meetings in our vicariate, to teach the other DRE's so they can have an impact in their ministry. We are doing inservice at meetings, planting the seed, growing a new spirit and attitude of welcome, love and acceptance of new members. This includes flexibility and non-judgment at the messiness that can happen with new non-Christians being formed into Christians, doing all in Christ's love and acceptance. It is a change of heart, a changing from the inside out.
Father has been talking to his parish from the pulpit through his homilies for the last few years, teaching and leading them to a new attitude and willingness to embrace their baptismal commission. Our deacon does the same. We have adult formation for our parents while our children are in catechism, we are teaching them as well.
From the top down, all on board, and all equally embracing the mission, we use every opportunity to fold in this message, so it becomes part of our very essence and foundation from where we do ministry.
It takes time, attention and perseverance, but it is working. The resistance to change and only looking inward is slowly changing. One person at a time through a long process.
I know that a factor in success is when a priest is allowed to stay in a parish where he learns his people, and has the time to teach and grow them in this attitude and spirit. It takes years and when priest are moved after a year or two, this format and success can't happen.
It also takes a priest who is willing to learn and work, who finds time he doesn't have to make this a priority and strongly lead his staff and parish in a loving and consistent way.
What practical applications of implementation has Shepherd of the Valley done since the opening of our new church to insure that we are living the message and mission?
We have a CARE team that calls parishioners to say hello and check on their needs in an effort to maintain that personal contact and family as we grow
We have a new members' class once a month Father teaches to welcome visitors and new members, sharing our mission and where to go from there.
We have a team that does home visits or meets with these new families and members to show them the resources of our parish and meet their felt need and questions they may have.
We have an information/welcome table in the foyer to assist visitors and new members or just answer questions at the beginning and end of English Masses.
Our ushers leave the door and venture into the parking lot to assists, greet and direct, with an emphasis on new members or visitors being brought to Father's attention so he can meet them, (as well as other staff).
We have screens so even if you are new and have never stepped inside of a Catholic church, you can follow along easily in prayers, songs and responses.
We have wireless head phones so the Mass can be understood by hearing impaired.
We've implemented a Welcome Home Catholics program that currently is running and in its fifth week.
We are making efforts to make our church user friendly and welcoming to first timers and new or returning Catholics. That is the practical application of our Mission. Looking outward from inside of the church.
Now to the bottom line. Is it working?
I can answer with a sound "yes." There is a noticeable difference in attitude and increased participation in ministry, as well as measurable increase in Mass attendance.
The writer is director of religious education at Shepherd of the Valley Church in Central Point.
"Catholicism: The New Evangelization" is a six-week small-group catechesis that may be extended to all parishioners in the Archdiocese of Portland or may be used to form parish leaders.
The New Evangelization calls on Catholics to deepen their faith, believe in the Gospel message and then proclaim the Good News of Jesus — both what he taught and who he is. In a special way, the New Evangelization is focused on re-proposing the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith.
But before inviting back a lot of inactive Catholics, the people in parishes need to make sure they are ready to extend a sufficient welcome, says Deacon Tom Gornick, director of evangelization for the Archdiocese of Portland. Other U.S. dioceses have begun "Welcome Home" programs, only to see the returnees leave again quickly because parishes seemed to have the same old problems, with insularity and stodginess as chief complaints.
"You don't invite guests until you buy the food and clean the house," Gornick says. "We don't want people to return to a church that is not ready. We want parishes to be proclaiming and serving and welcoming people."
The small groups may be a good starter for parish pastoral plans for returning Catholics, Gornick explains.
"Catholicism: The New Evangelization" is a curriculum that includes a video documentary made by Father Robert Barron, a Chicago priest and author who created a stir with his earlier 10-part series on worldwide Catholicism. Father Barron calls the shorter piece and its study guide a pragmatic follow-up to the wide-ranging report.
"The first series taught what we believe, the doctrine of the church," the priest says in a video interview on his website. "In this series, we want to say, 'Now, how do you share it?'" Father Barron says every Catholic has an obligation to extend faith, a vocation that goes back to the Second Vatican Council, which called on the laity to "Christify the world."
Here is an excerpt from the study guide: "For many Catholics, 'evangelization' is a strange and terrifying word. It conjures up someone standing in the doorway asking if you’ve been 'saved,' or a slick television preacher putting on an elaborate show. But the Catholic view of evangelization is quite different. It simply means spreading the Good News."
Gornick says the archdiocese is testing the process to see if it is apt for everyone, or better for training leaders. As the pilot project moves forward, the Oregon parishes will share their experiences with the publishers of the study guide.
Most of the parishes taking part are in the Southern Oregon Vicariate, where pastors have shown a keen interest in the New Evangelization movement.
"I am hoping that the New Evangelization program will help inspire our participants in their faith with a new ardor and train-them-up to share the Good News of Christ to all they meet," says Father Bill Holtzinger, vicar in Southern Oregon and pastor of St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass. "I dream that a revival of Catholic faith will fall upon our parish to animate us to become an even more welcoming community, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to proclaim Christ's loving mission."
The priest wants parishioners to stay on their spiritual toes, continually open to new methods of sharing what the world is seeking — "the love that the Gospel proclaims."
Joyce Marks, who is leading the project at Shepherd of the Valley Parish in Central Point, says parishioners there are already moving on evangelization. Father Mike Walker, the pastor, did extensive research and wrote a manual on evangelization he has used to train staff and parish leaders.
"This is a good start to what our church has been working on for the past several years," Marks says. "We believe like the pope believes that it's everybody's responsibility to live out their baptismal calling."
Shepherd of the Valley constructed a new church building last year, but also wants to build up the Church, the People of God, Marks says.
"We want a new Church that is truly looking outward," she says. "Our job is to make sure everybody is equipped."
Parishes taking part are St. Francis in Banks, Shepherd of the Valley in Central Point, St. Anne in Grants Pass, Our Lady of the Lake in Lake Oswego, Sacred Heart in Medford, St. Pius X in Portland, St. Joseph in Salem and St. Helen in Sweet Home. The small group meetings are underway and will be done by late February.
Article Comment Submissions