In this archdiocese many parishes have embraced small groups. These groups provide opportunities for people to come together for study, prayer, reflection, and support. They foster discipleship.
The parish is rooted in prayer, has a clear vision and courageous, persevering leadership. The parish pays great attention to Sunday liturgy and all that goes before and after. They have made faith formation for all ages and stages a priority. What else contributes to making a parish amazing? The Amazing Parish Services program identifies two final traits on the list of what makes a parish amazing: Small Group Discipleship and Missionary Zeal.
Small Group Discipleship is not a new idea. In fact, it's a very old idea. Read the Acts of the Apostles. They worshiped together, shared Word and sacrament, looked out for each other, cared for each other, and ministered to each other. The small communities were made up of apprentice disciples and disciple mentors. They supported one another. A parish is a community of faith. We gather to share word and sacrament. We want to, and try to, care for each other.
Amazing Parish writes, "A parish provides one of the most effective avenues for followers of Jesus to care for one another. And without small group ministry, a parish can easily become a place for theoretical faith without the practice of it in community. Community is essential for people to become disciples of Christ. ..."
In this archdiocese many parishes have embraced small groups. These groups provide opportunities for people to come together for study, prayer, reflection, and support. They foster discipleship. The "Arise" program was initiated to help us prayerfully celebrate our archdiocesan bicentennial. It was offered in six languages and had almost 30,000 participants from 180 parishes. "Why Catholic?" now beginning its fourth year, has seen collective participation at roughly 25,000. It is offered in seven languages (Chinese has been added). Ann Cussen, Operations Associate in the Spiritual Life Office, says with glee, "We love small groups!" Amazing Catholic reports that many Catholics who have left the Church were drawn to small group communities in evangelical churches. Amazing Parish urges, "It is time for Catholic parishes to help their parishioners rediscover the beauty and importance of small group discipleship.... In an amazing parish, people will see small groups as an essential part of their experience there."
The last of the seven traits is Missionary Zeal. This encompasses social justice, evangelization, mission, stewardship and volunteerism. Writing about social justice, Amazing Parish says, "One of the most important manifestations of missionary zeal is the performance of service to those in need, in ways that honor their dignity."
Evangelization should be at the top of the list for every faithful Catholic. It is surely near and dear to our archdiocese because the pastoral plan, Disciples in Mission, is, at its heart, a plan to grow the Church through one to one evangelization. Saint John Paul II acknowledged that evangelization can be challenging. In 1993, years before we faced the abuse crisis and reconfiguration, he said, "This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern 'metropolis.' It is you who must 'go out into the byroads' and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people."
Mission, stewardship and volunteerism are closely connected. Many parishes provide mission trips and service projects for youth. Similar opportunities are now offered to adults who have the time and the desire to serve others. The Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) matches talents of experienced volunteers with the greatest needs. The program also includes a spiritual reflection component. Vacations that Give (www.vacationsthatgive.org) is a ministry of the Sisters of Saint Anne, which serves others "within the context of the Catholic-Christian faith." This program offers short term service immersion trips for adults, families, and teens.
Perhaps the best description of Missionary Zeal comes from Bishop Andrew Cozzens, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis: "It (missionary zeal) is not a simple emotion; it is different from enthusiasm. It is the fire that burns in the heart of a person who encounters Jesus... Zeal is love that is willing to suffer." (Video of his conference keynote is at: amazingparish.org/videos)
Becoming an amazing center of evangelization is hard work, but, as the old saying goes, the rewards are out of this world.
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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