By Barb Arland-Fye
BURLINGTON — Bishop Martin Amos does not like to give witness talks, he told a gathering of about 250 adults at the Café (Catholic Adult Fellowship Evening) in Notre Dame School’s gym.
“I don’t have a story about my conversion. Mine is really a very ordinary story,” he explained during the Oct. 23 event. “That’s the message I’d like to communicate. It’s in the day-by-day living of the faith, I think, that we encounter God.”
The bishop shared his “very ordinary story” with liberal amounts of humor interspersed in the telling.
As an altar boy, he once arrived at church at 12:30 a.m. to serve Mass because he looked at his alarm clock wrong. In his first assignment as a priest, he was a 26-year-old assistant pastor to an 86-year-old pastor. “I was Vatican II and he didn’t know Trent (1545-63) had even taken place yet!”
Years later, when Bishop Amos informed one of his sisters that he’d been appointed a bishop she told him their late mother must be in heaven to have pulled off that feat.
While he kept his audience in stitches with funny stories, he also shared insights about following God’s will. Flunking a Latin test during his first year in college seminary resulted in an extra year of seminary studies. But he also developed a love for Latin and later, as a priest, taught Latin to seminarians. “Through this process, I do believe God was guiding me,” Bishop Amos said.
As a seminarian when the Second Vatican Council was underway, his professors “were reading those texts right off the press and teaching us. I was very thankful I was there when everything was happening,” he continued. And as a 65-year-old auxiliary bishop who’d spent his entire life in the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, he didn’t second-guess God’s plan to send him to the Diocese of Davenport to shepherd the people there. “I got my map out; I didn’t know where Davenport was,” Bishop Amos said. “It’ll be seven years on Nov. 20 that I’ve been here. Three years from now I send a letter to the Holy Father submitting my resignation. The catch is; he doesn’t have to accept it!”
The bishop excused himself so that attendees could talk among themselves while he visited young children participating in religious education classes in the school. After bantering with the children and posing for photos, Bishop Amos returned to the gym to answer adults’ questions.
“People are looking to be inspired as well as educated in their faith; we look at a combination of both in choosing topics and speakers,” said Ruth Skeens, who created Café with her Evangelization core team. The Café, which is “open” during children’s regularly scheduled religious education classes on Wednesday nights, began in September 2012, said Skeens, director of evangelization and adult faith formation for the Des Moines County Catholic parishes.
The team “invokes the wisdom of the Holy Spirit through prayer to guide us and open us up to topics. It is always amazing to me how the Holy Spirit works…. We do also look at what is going on in the Church calendar to correlate some topics.
“We surveyed the next-to-last Café this past spring to find out what people were interested in. Someone actually put down ‘Why do Catholics do that?’ That is where our opening week came from this past spring and we will have a ‘Why do Catholics do that?’ part 2 after the first of the year due to popular demand and feedback.”
Each Café opens with dessert followed by a guest speaker, small-group discussion about the speaker’s brief talk, sharing in large group and closing prayer. “The challenge with education topics is you have to take people where they are,” Skeens observed. But she has an extensive background in adult education, which has been helpful in planning Café programs. Facilitating sessions with a group such as the Evangelization core team is essential. “We are like a think tank and provide the leadership for our parishes.”
She notes the invisible successes from the Café: “We are bridging Notre Dame Catholic schools more closely together with our parishes. Parents of Notre Dame students as well as the parents of religious education students have been coming to Café. The child care is catching on and the younger parents like having one-and-a-half hours to talk to other Catholics and learn without kids!
“We see this as a great way to start engaging members from both Ss. Mary & Patrick (West Burlington) and Ss. John & Paul (Burlington) parishes on neutral ground. They are getting to know each other and building relationships which will help down the road when we will need to combine parishes.
“We never hear at the Café: ‘I am from Ss. Mary & Patrick or Ss. John & Paul.’ This is a huge shift with a lot of long-term members. Our refreshments are donated by members of each of our Catholic parishes (they take turns). We now have folks from each of the parishes offering to help us on Wednesdays, which never would have happened in the past.”