New Evangelization efforts spark excitement and growth

Categories: Around the Diocese

February 28, 2014, edition
By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully

Is your church half-empty or half-full?

While some might think of a Mass in a church at 50-percent occupancy as a sad effect of today’s society and reminisce on days gone by when “everyone went to church,” Tim Drake sees empty pews as opportunities.

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Father Gregory Mastey (left), pastor of parishes in Holdingford, Opole, St. Anna and St. Wendel and Tim Drake (center), New Evangelization coordinator at the parishes, visit with attendees at the Central Minnesota Farm Show Feb. 25 at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully

“It’s exciting,” said Drake, the New Evangelization coordinator for the Holdingford Area Catholic Community, which includes the parishes in Holdingford, Opole, St. Anna and St. Wendel.

“There are tremendous opportunities to introduce people to the love of Christ. It’s dynamic dealing with people where they’re at. It’s Christ’s work. You don’t know what’s coming.”

Drake began his position last August. The job includes outreach and administrative work conducted in a way to build relationships and teach others about Christ. When people stop by the office, even to drop off envelopes, it’s an opportunity to get to know them and hear their stories.

The weekly bulletin is not just a listing of community events but also a teaching tool. Drake designed the cluster’s return address labels with crosses on them to remind people of Christ.

“We can evangelize through the most simple things and the bigger things,” Drake said.

Reaching out anew

“New” is a permanent part of Drake’s title. It is in reference to the “New Evangelization,” which is reaching out to people who have heard of Christ but have become distant from the church. This is in contrast to “evangelization,” which brings Christ’s message to people who never heard of it before.

“The New Evangelization is not about new programs but reaching people in a new way,” Drake said.

Father Gregory Mastey, pastor of the Holdingford Area Catholic Community, decided to hire a New Evangelization coordinator after the idea came to him in prayer.

“It’s in line with what our popes have been preaching about, especially now with [Pope Francis’s] ‘Joy of the Gospel,’ ” Father Mastey said. “If we are going to fill our churches again, if we are to get youth to find their purpose in our churches again, we have to look at a new structure.”

Father Mastey and Drake often go out “to the streets” to visit people at their farms, homes, restaurants and businesses. On Feb. 25 they attended the Central Minnesota Farm Show in St. Cloud and visited with many parishioners there.

“We need to go out where the people are,” Drake said. “In the ‘Joy of the Gospel,’ Pope Francis said he prefers a church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church that is unhealthy from being confined.”

Drake’s other projects include teaching Rite of Christian Initiation classes and making the welcoming spaces of the churches more welcoming. The spaces might include pictures of Bishop Donald Kettler and Pope Francis, a more deliberate use of bulletin boards, photos of the parish council, stands with Lighthouse informational CDs and less clutter.

Drake and a committee plan to improve the cluster’s website and use it as a way to evangelize. During Lent the cluster is offering enrichment opportunities such as Bible study.

Success is hard to measure, but when Drake sees people coming back to church, he sees it as a good sign. A few people returned to the church after the Winter Worship event in January in Holdingford, which consisted of praise and worship with the Sonar band, Mass and adoration. During the weekend of Winter Worship, Drake included reasons to come back to the Catholic Church in the bulletin.

Listen and discover

Sometimes evangelization happens in ways they do not anticipate.

One day he and Father Mastey visited a woman when her adult son stopped by. The son talked about how he thought Protestant religions were more scripturally based. Father Mastey and Drake explained how Catholicism is also based on the Scriptures. Drake and Father Mastey plan to visit the man at his home and give him CDs that explain Catholic teaching.

“We go out and about and discover what their spiritual needs are,” Drake said. “If you carefully listen to people, you can identify what their needs are. Oftentimes we just need to listen and they might be drawn back.”

Drake especially focuses on the New Evangelization through his job, but a person does not need to have his title to evangelize.

“We’re all called to go out and spread the good news,” Father Mastey said.

Father Mastey said the key to evangelization starts with a good prayer life. Then people can share their faith while doing everyday activities. Maybe at the neighbor’s house playing cards or visiting someone at a nursing home.

“[Ask yourself] ‘Can I take this opportunity to talk about Jesus? Not just to visit someone and say, ‘How is the weather? How is your health?’ Can I go to the nursing home and talk about Jesus or my experience of Jesus or my experience of church this week?” Father Mastey said.

“When at the neighbors’ playing cards, or visiting a neighbor who is homebound, do we just go and have a meal or do we talk about Jesus or church?”

To illustrate how easy evangelization can be, Drake led an exercise at a parish visionary meeting. He asked participants to tell the people next to them when they felt closest to Christ in the last week or two. Then he told them, “You just evangelized.”

“You don’t need to be specially trained to talk about Christ and his church and how he is working and acting in your life,” Drake said.

Father Mastey and Drake are preparing for a presentation on practical ways to evangelize at the Catholic Men’s Conference March 15 in Collegeville. (See story p. 5B)

“We hope everyone will leave with practical ideas on how to evangelize,” Drake said. “Christ said, ‘Make disciples of all nations.’ “

Growing local movement

Other parishes in the St. Cloud Diocese have also placed a deliberate focus on evangelization. The twinned parishes of St. Joseph in Waite Park and St. Michael in St. Cloud, for example, have been offering outreach for all ages.

Father Mark Innocenti, pastor of St. Michael’s and St. Joseph’s, pointed out, “There’s a need for a kind of an awakening, not just in a missionary spirit, but a new re-evangelization of sometimes our own people who need to understand who we are and what we do and why we do it and the great blessing within our Catholic faith.”

The parishes have a group that meets once a month to discuss how to be intentional disciples. They offer service projects, children’s Liturgy of the Word, children’s faith formation, adult religious education, activities for young families, opportunities for seniors, Bible studies and speakers. Father Innocenti said that they are trying to offer a variety of activities in effort to appeal to the many different interests of parishioners.

“As people participate, they can connect with each other,” he said.

“We want to connect them to those places where they have an interest. What seems to work well is individual invitation, so we’re trying to be proactive in building relationships, bringing them into a small group, bringing them into a Bible study, inviting them to a speaker, having them be part of Church of the Week, whatever the case may be, being intentional about bringing others into this parish life.”

Father Innocenti said evangelization is especially needed today because of the large percentage of former Catholics. In addition, many of the current Catholics are not actively involved in their parishes.

“This New Evangelization isn’t really new but it needs another surge, an emphasis,” Father Innocenti said. “It’s what we’re called to do in the first place, to evangelize and to witness, being leaven for the world. It’s all a foundational thing that we’re all called to do.

“In a sense it’s nothing new but for some reason we have to re-evangelize,” he continued. “A new evangelization has to present the faith in this time and this place using the media and all the new things in this age, technology and electronic media, to touch people where they’re at and to reach people where they’re at.”

St. Paul Parish in Sauk Centre is offering Life in the Spirit seminars during Lent for men. They will be offered for women in the future. During the seminars, the men have a chance to get together, learn about a teaching and talk in small groups.

“It’s a means to meet guys where they’re at,” said Father Greg Paffel, pastor of St. Paul’s. “The initial step is making the invitation in their normal place of living and then as they come, meeting them where they’re at and then drawing them into the basic Gospel message of Christ. Evangelization is about making disciples.”


Do you want to learn more about evangelization?

Attend:

Catholic Men’s Conference, “Men of Integrity in the New Evangelization,” March 15, Collegeville. (See story on page 5B.)

• Diocesan Council of Catholic Women Spring Retreat, “Know Your Faith and Live It,” March 29 at St. Joseph Church in St. Joseph. (See story on page 3B.)

Books recommended by Tim Drake, New Evangelization coordinator:

“The Joy of the Gospel” by Pope Francis

• “Rebuilt” by Michael White and Tom Corcoran

• “How to Share Your Faith with Anyone” by Terry Barber