By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
MOUNT PLEASANT — Pope Francis has called on the Catholic Church to be more evangelistic. In answer to this call, parish leaders from across the Diocese of Davenport met to talk about what their parishes can do to bring people to Christ and engage uninvolved or marginalized parishioners.
“We need to take down the walls that we sometimes put up for people coming to Christ, and we need to reach out,” said Msgr. Drake Shafer, pastor of St. Ann Parish in Long Grove. “As the Holy Father says, leave the property and go to them, and also when they come to us, welcome them. “
He was among 13 diocesan priests and 62 lay people who attended the diocese’s 2014 June Institute June 24 at St. Alphonsus Church in Mount Pleasant. Rich Curran of Parish Success Group led the training and discussion event, helping participants to identify and address the challenges of parish ministry.
“My goal was to help the parish teams engage in meaningful conversation about where we are succeeding and where we are falling short in our ministry efforts,” Curran said.
One of the topics of the day was the Catholic Church’s struggle to keep and engage young adults. Mary Wieser, diocesan director of faith formation, said the loss of young adults is an issue in many diocesan parishes. “We say other churches are ‘stealing’ our kids, but they are not. …Our church needs to make sure we are attuned to what the younger generation is thinking about,” Wieser said, adding that parishioners and staff should do what they can to make young adults feel welcomed and supported.
Msgr. Shafer has worked extensively to build a strong presence of young adults at his parish through a young couples’ mentoring program and encouraging young couples to not just marry in the Church, but to become part of it. He said young couples are an important part of the church, but often overlooked. “My experience has been that when I talk to young (adults) and they are looking for a parish, they are looking for a group they can identify with, to know the problems they are dealing with, and to invite and welcome them.”
Another topic was how to keep teenagers and their families involved after confirmation. Curran talk-ed about how many parents are not involved in the parish, and only attend when they must or to drop off their children at religious education classes. He postulated that parishes should work to make sure parents feel welcomed and involved so that when their child is confirmed, the whole family might remain involved in parish life.
Sharon Crall, RCIA coordinator at St. Mary Parish in Albia and pastoral associate at St. Patrick Parish in Georgetown, said Curran’s statement on Church involvement of teenagers and their families was all too familiar. “Gone are the days when church took the priority. People are ‘so busy’ that our young families are not in the pews.” Regarding the formation of students, she said, “you can only form them so much when they aren’t coming to Mass.”
Curran explained that persons with special needs and those from broken families can also find themselves feeling alienated from the Church. He said that reaching out to these people isn’t just about making sure programs are targeted toward them, but about being receptive to their needs.
He said all parishioners — not just clergy and staff — can make a difference with parishioners of all varieties.
By showing faith through words and actions, and getting to know others on a personal level, the parish can become a welcoming family in which people want to be involved.
Father Dennis Hoffman, pastor of St. Mary Parish in West Point and St. Boniface Parish in Farmington, said parishioners are looking for connectedness and a personal relationship with each other, and if they can’t find that in their own church, they will look elsewhere.
“We have to go back to basics,” he said. “When people come to church, say ‘hi’ to them. Don’t just let them come in (unacknowledged).”
Crall said the June Institute motivated her parish group to be more evangelical. “You’ve got to ask people (to become more involved in parish life). The personal invitation is what it goes back to. Don’t we all like to be invited to something or asked to be included or recognized for something somebody sees in us? Take the risk.”
A second institute on the topic of parish ministry will take place Aug. 22 at St. Alphonsus Church in Mount Pleasant. Parishes interested in participating in that institute who were not able to attend June 24 may contact the Faith Formation office for a video of the June Institute.