Their program is a knock-your-socks-off, comprehensive worship, service, and faith formation experience with the goal, "to invite everyone into deeper friendship with Jesus."
In announcing the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis invited churches all around the world to offer 24 Hours for the Lord on Friday and Saturday of the fourth week of Lent, March 4-5.
Not every parish will be able to do this, but the Acton-Stow Collaborative of St. Elizabeth of Hungry and St. Isidore -- now calling themselves the Apple Valley Catholic Community -- has embraced the pope's invitation with gusto. Their program is a knock-your-socks-off, comprehensive worship, service, and faith formation experience with the goal, "to invite everyone into deeper friendship with Jesus." To that end, they have planned offerings that "will engage a variety of ages, interests and spiritual needs."
The program begins with a Simple Supper at 6 p.m. Friday, March 4, and ends after the 5 p.m. Mass on Saturday. Throughout the night, prayer offerings will draw on the rich tradition of the Church: adoration and benediction, Liturgy of the Hours, the rosary, and stations of the cross, as well as guided meditation, music, Taize prayer and silent prayer. The schedule also includes opportunities for small group discussion and adult faith sharing. For those who find the beauty of nature a source for prayer, a walk in the Acton Arboretum is planned for early morning. Works of mercy include serving breakfast at Cor Unum Meal Center in Lawrence, distributing collected personal items for the Stow Food Pantry and sorting and delivering food collected for the Acton and St. Martha's food pantries.
For some years St. Elizabeth Parish has used an inter-generational format for faith formation. Growing in Faith Together -- GIFT -- is their primary model of faith formation. As they explain on their website, "It is an innovative approach to faith formation that equips the parish to become a community of lifelong learning. This faith formation is centered on the events of church life, embraces all ages and generations, and promotes the growth of faith at home."
This year, the GIFT program is focused on the Year of Mercy. Barbara Dane, the collaborative director of faith formation, reports that the collaborative "has been working on 24 Hours for the Lord, in principle, since last April when Pope Francis announced the Year of Mercy," but their 24 Hours program is not the work of the faith formation team alone. Barbara says that, "Since September, we have been meeting regularly with staff and volunteers from Growing in Faith Together, Liturgy (Committee), and Youth Ministry (Team) in both collaborative parishes. This is truly a labor of love, bringing together the many and diverse gifts of so many committed people." This type of collaboration is one of the goals of Disciples in Mission: leadership team, staff, and volunteers working together toward a shared goal.
The 11 page program guide for 24 Hours for the Lord gives the schedule, description, and location of the events which are spread between both parishes. The guide was distributed at Ash Wednesday services, will be given out at the February GIFT sessions, and will be available online at the parishes websites.
This vigil, 24 Hours for the Lord, is open to all, but some of the events -- the simple supper and service activates -- require advance sign up. The program guide also acknowledges that not everyone can attend, "If you are unable to attend in person, please set aside time ...to reflect on God's mercy in your life, pray and/ or offer service to others." Barbara Dane knows that their goal, "to help everyone deepen their friendship with Jesus ... is a daunting task," but she "is hopeful that people may find comfort in familiar experiences and maybe stretch if they try something different!"
This is surely an ambitious undertaking -- what the Pastoral Planning Office calls a "bold step." It is inspiring to see that "Misericordiae vultus" -- the Face of Mercy -- is so visible in the Acton-Stow collaborative.
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.