All three panelists offered wonderful examples of the methods used to meet the needs of the parishioner's in their collaboratives. Needs were assessed, researched and programs were implemented.
In last week's article I shared the update about the progress of Disciples in Mission that was given at this year's Co-Workers Conference. In addition to giving the update, I was asked to moderate a panel discussion on the topic of "Best Practices of Parish Evangelization." Each of the three panelists is engaged in the work of evangelization either from an Archdiocesan perspective or from the perspective of working within a collaborative.
The first panelist, Rosemary Maffei is an evangelization consultant in the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support. Rosemary addressed three aspects that are important to keep in mind as we do parish evangelization. The first is reliance on prayer both individual and communal. If we are to be engaged in the work of evangelization, we must first and foremost be people who take time for personal prayer. And we need to take time to gather with others for communal prayer. Prayer is essential to our faith life. Rosemary's second point was that we need to keep the goal of evangelization before us. The goal is leading/ bringing/ inviting people into relationship with Jesus Christ. Here Rosemary cautioned the audience that parish activities are good. However, if they do not support or achieve the goal of evangelization, then it may be time to reconsider those activities. The third aspect of parish evangelization is to keep in mind the role of the individual as an evangelizer. Each person needs to be personally evangelized. Only then, can an individual evangelize another.
The second panelist was Diana Zeller, the faith formation coordinator at St. Mary Parish, Wrentham and St. Martha Parish, Plainville, a Phase 3 collaborative. One of the goals in this collaborative pastoral plan is "Formation of Adults and Families." Diana shared that their goal was to invest in a program that would have some long-term benefits, not just quick fixes. With that in mind, a committee was formed to research several evangelization programs with an eye to what would be best for the Wrentham/ Plainville parishes. They decided upon the "Christ Life Series" which consists of three, seven-week programs called: "Discovering Christ," "Following Christ," and "Sharing Christ." Each program also includes a one-day retreat.
The committee decided to begin "Discovering Christ" during seven weeks in Lent. The planning committee was overwhelmed by the response of parishioners. Eighty-three people participated in the program and there was a waiting list. What are some of the fruits born from this experience? Diana shared this feedback from participants: several people said they are now attending Mass regularly, when they weren't before; some are praying more, not just when they need something; a few feel they have a more personal connection to Jesus that they never felt before; some are feeling more comfortable talking about their faith with family and friends.
The third panelist was Holly Clark, pastoral associate in the Phase 1, Cranberry Catholic Collaborative of Middleboro, Lakeville and Rochester. With the implementation of their pastoral plan, Holly saw the need to help people see themselves as disciples. She recognized very early on that being able to give a brief witness of one's faith was an important step in becoming an evangelizing parish. Holly did some research on available programs, but in the end designed something specific for the Cranberry Catholic Collaborative.
Training and education were among the first steps undertaken with parishioners. Next, she arranged for people to have the opportunity to give witness talks -- at Mass on Pentecost; at sacramental preparation meetings; and even in a column in their collaborative bulletin. What Holly wanted people to realize was that, while not everyone is comfortable sharing their faith so publicly, there are opportunities to give witness in their daily life.
All three panelists offered wonderful examples of the methods used to meet the needs of the parishioner's in their collaboratives. Needs were assessed, researched and programs were implemented. The response to the panelists was overwhelmingly positive. People were excited and hopeful about the various ways they can engage their own parishioners in this important work of parish evangelization.
Sister Pat Boyle is associate director of the Archdiocese of Bostonís Office of Pastoral Planning.