'We need to form disciples, because if it ends with us in this room, it ends with us in this room.'
On a recent Saturday, 60 people gathered at the Pastoral Center with the Parish Training and Support team for a full day of formation and examination of the new evangelization. Participants came from all corners of the archdiocese and a large contingent journeyed down from the Diocese of Manchester, N.H. The group included several priests and permanent deacons, some parish staff, and, mostly, parishioners eager to understand better the New Evangelization. Parishes already in a collaborative, and parishes not yet in a collaborative, were about equally represented.
Father William P. Joy, Interim Assistant Vicar for Administration and Special Assistant to the Vicar General, welcomed the group and thanked them for their participation. He remarked, "The past several hundred years, the Church was in a building mode. Now we are re-building, and it is exciting to be in this time of spiritual rebuilding." Stressing the importance of their commitment, he said, "It (rebuilding) is on your shoulders." He concluded with a quote from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, "The Joy of the Gospel," "With Christ the Church is born anew."
Michael Lavigne and Patrick Krisak led the day, joined by evangelization trainers and presenters Kathryn Boyle, Amber Ezeani, and Tom Lyman. Patrick began by posing the same question asked of pastors and parochial vicars at their training sessions: "What would you do in your parish if you knew you couldn't fail?" Almost immediately people called out the ideas, dreams, and aspirations they have for their parishes: "bring back the Catholics who no longer come; catechize parents better; combat the 'drop-off' mentality; start a Bible study." With these hopes in the air, it was time for prayer. Referencing businessman and author Matthew Kelly ("Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic"), Patrick said that praying just 10 minutes each day can make a difference in maintaining a relationship with Jesus Christ. Tom Lyman introduced Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer. Many attendees expressed appreciation for his thorough explanation, and for the opportunity to engage in this prayer of the Church.
After prayer, Tom spoke about evangelization, borrowing Father Robert Barron's definition: evangelization is "sharing a relationship," and emphasizing that a relationship with Jesus must exist before it can shared. Participants were challenged in their evangelization efforts to "match the ardor of TV commercials for weight loss programs." Kathryn Boyle looked at the power of personal witness, and urged people to, "speak of how Jesus has worked in your life." She provided encouragement saying, "People can't argue about your experience and your story could bring someone to Jesus."
Next, Amber Ezeani told the group that "discipleship is what we desire" and gave a chilling caveat, "We need to form disciples, because if it ends with us in this room, it ends with us in this room." She invited the group to look at how Jesus formed disciples. He engaged them -- called them by name, he equipped them to share the good news, and he sent them out.
Michael Lavigne spoke about parishes as centers for the new evangelization offering both a theoretical and practical perspective. He recommended The Amazing Parish website as an excellent resource for parishes. (www.amazingparish.org) The final session examined "gateway moments" -- sacrament preparation, funerals, visits to the sick -- opportunities for evangelization that occur within the natural rhythm of parish life.
In addition to Morning Prayer, the day included Mass, and the opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation. One person commented, "The Liturgy of the Hours set us all in motion. The celebration of Mass fortified us again." It was a long day but participant feedback was enthusiastic: "Very useful and well-paced workshop -- well worth attending;" "all of the sessions were informative and relevant;" "the speakers all brought something different -- it was beneficial and helped us putting goals into practice." Critique centered on wanting more: more time for small group discussion, more time to practice witness talks, additional workshops to share best practices and ways to engage those who are not in the pews.
The Forming Disciples in Mission workshops are designed to provide tools to understand the new evangelization, live as an intentional disciple, become comfortable sharing personal witness, and work in the parish to form disciples. This workshop will be repeated on Aug. 29 and Oct. 17. More information and registration is available at www.disciplesinmission.com.
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.