...we must be ready to speak intelligently, succinctly, and even passionately, about why we go to church, why we remain "practicing" Catholics, why our faith matters.
The first day was cold. The second day was record-breaking cold. Below zero temperatures on the coldest day in years did not deter a sturdy, dedicated, cadre of Phase II collaborative clergy and parish staff from coming to the Pastoral Center for two days of Evangelization Training last week. Bookmarked by words of encouragement and appreciation from two bishops, the program was presented by the Office for Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support (OLFFPS) as part of Disciples in Mission implementation. Bishop Peter Uglietto, vicar general of the Archdiocese, greeted the 85 participants. He thanked them for coming and said, "We are so proud of you and what you are doing!" With gratitude as a preamble, the session began. Tom Lyman and Kathryn Boyle, evangelization trainers in the OLFFPS, led morning prayer.
An important part of Evangelization Training is naming, claiming, defining, and understanding the words we use -- even if, at first, they don't seem to belong to us. If we are to succeed in helping people know, love, and serve God better, and bring people back to the practice of the faith and sacramental life of the Church, we need to be on the same page, using the same vocabulary, clear on what we mean. The language of discipleship is new and somewhat foreign to many ears. And some people still question whether the phrase "new evangelization" is a passing fad that, if ignored, will fade away.
Patrick Krisak, Director of Parish Training and Support, explained that the "new" in new evangelization refers to the ardor and methods we use to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. The message hasn't changed; how we get the message out, has. Newness is seen in external and internal arena. Externally, we have means of communication that were unimaginable 25 years ago. Electronic communication and social media are the printing press of our age. They change everything -- not always for the better, but when it comes to evangelization, it is a tool we must use. Internally -- and this is perhaps most difficult of all -- we must be ready to speak intelligently, succinctly, and even passionately, about why we go to church, why we remain "practicing" Catholics, why our faith matters. To help with this, evangelization trainer Amber Ezeani posed these questions: Who is Jesus? What did He do? Why? For whom? What am I supposed to do about it? Then, she asked the group to compose and practice their own three minute witness talk. It was a thoughtful, engaging, exercise, simultaneously poignant and fun.
Priests, permanent deacons and parish staff make for a savvy audience and this group entered into the training process with enthusiasm and a wealth of parish experience that greatly enhanced the sessions. On the second day, Michael Lavigne, Director of OLFFPS, posed some sobering questions, asking participants to ask themselves: "Are we doing too much? Is the message being diluted? Does the 'next big thing' get drowned out by all the little things?" With clergy and staff working so hard to implement Phase II, and brimming with ideas, these tough questions are necessary. Burnout is real and it's not pretty.
At the close of the last day, Bishop Arthur Kennedy, episcopal vicar for the New Evangelization added his thanks to Bishop Uglietto's and said encouragingly, "... this process is beginning to show serious and positive results and the re-invigoration of parishes." He assured listeners that the implementation of Disciples in Mission needs to be a "self-correcting process with ongoing evaluation," and he promised to keep people posted on the progress. His brief words, followed by closing prayer, were a wonderful way to end the training. People departed energized, challenged, and, yes, perhaps a bit nervous and overwhelmed.
The Office for Training and Support takes seriously the feedback they receive at the end of training sessions. Evaluations offered hope and recognized difficulties. Several people mentioned a renewed awareness that personal commitment to prayer, discipleship, and holiness of life is foundational. A pastor who attended with his staff commented that their group has "become excited about this mission (evangelization)." One person considered the enormity of the work ahead: "I feel overwhelmed." But another acknowledged, "There is much that we are doing that is right and good, but there is much (underlined twice!) room for improvement. We heard some good ideas ...." One evaluation contained just one sentence. Completing the statement "I learned..." the person wrote, "It is possible."
With God all things are possible. We pray for Phase II parishioners, clergy, and staff.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.
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