When asked how Jesus formed disciples the group was quick to recognize Jesus' modus operandi: he went out to the people, he called them by name.
It was inevitable that a mild winter would be followed by a cold April -- with snow. And so it was on a cold, snowy, April Sunday that approximately 20 people from the Deaf Catholic Community gathered at Sacred Heart Parish in Newton, for the first of two Forming Disciples in Mission workshop sessions. The sun was bright the next Sunday, and a few more joined the group for the second session.
Father Shawn Carey, Director of the Office of the Deaf Apostolate worked with Patrick Krisak, Director of Training and Support to bring this workshop to members of the Deaf Catholic Community. Evangelization trainers Amber Ezeani and Tom Lyman were on board, leading prayer and presenting on topics of discipleship and new evangelization. This was a new experience for the Evangelization team, who has conducted dozens of these workshops across the diocese over the past 18 months. Patrick Krisak commented that he quickly learned "to hear with my eyes" observing rather than listening, to gauge when table conversation was winding down.
Speaking about the discipleship journey, Amber reminded people that, "Even followers of Jesus are called to renewal." Forming disciples is key to evangelization. They are intricately linked and Amber cautioned against looking for the perfect evangelization program. The "program" for evangelization is discipleship -- one committed, intentional, disciple helping another person become an intentional disciple. "Sharing the Good News and giving witness are effective tools in your toolbox." When asked how Jesus formed disciples the group was quick to recognize Jesus' modus operandi: he went out to the people, he called them by name. Amber said that "Going out and knowing people by name is not just the job of the pastor. We all need to go outside of our comfort zone."
Agreeing wholeheartedly, a participant responded, "Some of us have very small comfort zones and we need to kick ourselves out of our comfort zone." Another participant agreed, but acknowledged that there are some barriers in communication for the deaf community.
Certain things stand out in the evaluations completed at the conclusion of the workshop. Some comments are universal, voiced by participants at Forming Disciples workshops across the board, regardless of the language or the community. People greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn about, and pray, the Liturgy of the Hours. Tom Lyman's introduction paints a beautiful picture of this method of prayer. Liturgy of the Hours draws on the Psalms, prayers that Jesus knew and prayed often, and because it is the Prayer of the Church, it unites us with Catholics all over the world who are praying this same prayer, now. The second comment that appears often is that participants like to engage in discussion at their tables and having more time to do that would be great. And finally, the day is packed with information and ideas. Even when the workshop is broken into two four-hour sessions, there is a lot to process.
The evaluation form asks attendees to identify what they found most beneficial in the workshop. Several mentioned the session on the different stages of discipleship. This section helps people see where they are on their own, personal, faith journey, and how to assist others on theirs. Someone described the "presentations, hands on activities, and group discussion" as "awesome." Another commented that Becoming Centers for the New Evangelization was "the most beneficial session... it brought up many new ideas to enhance the Deaf Catholic Community. These will be useful for further meetings and to prepare the pastoral plan."
Participants were also asked to name three things they are excited to implement in their parishes. Several expressed the desire and new confidence to, "Invite others to Mass. Talk with other deaf people about church." Others responded: "Implement greeting people by name and bringing them into the church setting," and "Hope to share more (underlined) Good News." And, the best response: "Oh too many to pick three right now."
People were honest about the challenges facing the Deaf Catholic Community, but clearly this is a community attentive and open to the working of the Spirit within them.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.