Equipping parishioners as missionary disciples is a major goal of Courageously Living the Gospel. To support this effort, St. Anne Parish in Ruskin launched a pilot program in the Fall of 2019 to teach people about sharing their personal faith stories, the type of encounter that moves hearts and leads people to Christ. The program will be expanded parish-wide in 2020.
Twenty-three volunteers formed small groups in English and Spanish and received training through a resource known as “Creating a Culture of Encounter, A Guide for Missionary Disciples.” The resource helps parishes reach out to those who live on the peripheries of society and to foster new ways in which the faithful can respond as missionary disciples to the call of the New Evangelization.
“Our primary focus for the first three sessions was sharing our faith journey and identifying the invitation of God in our lives and in the lives of others. We believe that creating a Culture of Encounter first starts with each of us understanding how the Lord works within us,” said Deacon Dale Bacik, a facilitator for the five-week course.
During the last two sessions, his small group identified practical ways the parish can evangelize by creating a culture for others to experience God’s invitation and love.
“We realized within our parish there are tremendous opportunities to help people feel more a part of our parish,” he added. (Click here to view the list of 17 opportunities. Some are already being implemented.)
For example, they suggested ushers could be more involved at weekend Masses and assist folks from their car all the way to the pews. Ushers could also identify someone new at the parish and start a brief conversation to help people feel welcomed and also be available after Mass with the same effort and follow up.
Participants of the training program spoke candidly about their faith stories, which included experiences of loss, despair and renewal through Christ and the Catholic Church.
“Growing up I took my faith for granted. I left the faith for eight years when my father died of cancer. I was angry and I left the church. Since coming back to the Church, I have had a hunger that took me over. I love my faith. I love God,” said Margie Santoro
Some participants said they feel called to evangelize in the pews.
“My love is to try to find Catholics sitting in the pews who don’t understand what they have their hands on. So many people leave because they don’t know what they have,” said Chris Appleyard.
Jim Grimmer encouraged everyone to share their faith with love.
“I think it’s important to share your story, whatever part of it that you feel might be of benefit to other people. Share it with love. How do you share it with love? By being sincere in your conversation, your speech and rely on the Holy Spirit, who is always willing to help us,” said Grimmer.
The parish has already started to experience a transformation because of this pilot program. “This has drawn us together to recognize the positive impact we have on one another when taking the time to share our personal and parish stories. Members of the pilot training are already using what they learned in their various parish ministries, their personal lives and their encounters in the community,” said Father John McEvoy, pastor, St. Anne Parish.
In 2020, St. Anne Parish is planning to invite more people to participate in the five-week program to learn about sharing personal witness stories. They hope their efforts will create a Culture of Encounter where each person is Courageously Living the Gospel as a missionary disciple.
“We look forward to bringing the training, knowledge and joy to the whole parish in 2020,” added Father McEvoy.