As often as Forming Disciples is offered, and as organized as the agenda and presentations are, each workshop is different. Participants come from different towns, different parishes, and different places on their own faith journey.
Forming Disciples in Mission (FDIM) workshops are offered throughout the year, open to all parishioners interested in learning more about the what, why, how, and who of evangelization, new evangelization, and discipleship. When these workshops were designed and first offered, participation was limited to collaborative staff, clergy, councils, boards, and key volunteers. The goal was to present material and provide resources to help newly formed collaboratives focus on outreach, welcome, and forming intentional disciples. As time went on, the Office of Training and Support began getting inquiries from parishioners and pastors not yet in collaboratives, and from people in other dioceses, curious about what Boston was doing. Father Paul Soper, Cabinet Secretary for Evangelization and Discipleship; Michael Lavigne, Assistant Cabinet Secretary; and Patrick Krisak, Director of Training and Support, realized that the material and resources presented in FDIM workshops can be implemented in any parish, collaborative or not, and therefore should be open to anyone interested.
The first "open to all" workshop took place a year ago, June 2015. A capacity crowd gathered at the Pastoral Center on a beautiful, "top 10" weather Saturday. The 9 a.m.-5 p.m. time frame was not an obstacle. Open registration meant offering workshops more often. In the past year there have been 15 FDIM workshops throughout the archdiocese, from Amesbury to Franklin, Lexington and Concord to Somerville, and many points in between. Averaging over 50 participants at each session, the message has reached just under 600 parishioners, divided about 60/40 between collaboratives and non-collaborative parishes. Holy Family Parish, Duxbury and Sacred Heart Parish, Roslindale are among the non-collaborative parishes that have sent parishioners to workshops.
As often as Forming Disciples is offered and as organized as the agenda and presentations are, each workshop is different. Participants come from different towns, different parishes, and different places on their own faith journey. Some questions and concerns are universal; some are unique to that particular group at that time and place.
At a recent workshop, Evangelization Trainer Tom Lyman led the group in praying the Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer. At mid-day, participants prayed the Examen, the prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a five-step process that begins with gratitude and concludes with renewal. It invites the person to reflect on how God is moving in her or his life today. In the evaluations, some participants mentioned that this prayer form was new to them. One wrote, "I plan to continue it because it allows for time to assess myself in light of my closeness/detachment to God." Another wrote: "Will try to implement it in my life." And someone familiar with this prayer noted, "The Examen is a powerful resource. I do not do it enough but using it (today) was a ...kick in the pants to get me back in the habit."
One of the components of the day is sharing personal testimony -- how you came to know God and respond to his action in your life, how God has changed your life. Ann Gennaro, projects coordinator in the Evangelization and Discipleship Secretariat, led this session, guiding participants in preparing their own three-minute talk. Participants wrote out their stories, and practiced with others at their table. When the exercise was over, Ann asked, "What was it like to share your story?" One woman answered, "I didn't know I had a story!" Ann replied, "Yes! Praise God!," and ended this segment reminding people, "We all have a story. Even if we are already disciples of Jesus we need to hear each other's stories." This segued into the discussion of our own journey as disciples and ways to help others on their journey. Tom Lyman encouraged the group, "Be confident using the name of Jesus. We need a 'holy boldness' -- but not imprudence -- in the face of relativism. Making disciples isn't about what we do, it's about what God does through us."
Michael Lavigne led the final session on being an evangelizing parish and "gateway moments." Acknowledging the challenges in parish/collaborative ministry, he repeatedly encouraged people, "Pray for our priests."
Overall, participants left excited to implement new, good, ideas. Their evaluations provided the team with affirmation and thoughtful critique: "more time for discussion," apologetics seminars; discussion of different approaches in urban, rural, small town settings; "bring together a 'Best Practices' group." The Evangelization Team takes all comments seriously, grateful for words of praise and mindful of suggestions. The next Forming Disciples workshop will be Oct. 1 (disciplesinmission.com/workshops)
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.