Part 4: How to Be a Dynamic and Evangelizing Parish
By Father Norman Langenbrunner and Jeanne Hunt
Part 4 of 4
Father Mike had an optimistic outlook about the parish: “For our future, I hope we grow in understanding and in action in these areas of parish life. I can see us continually rising to the challenge to keep fresh and alive—not giving in to the tendency to rest on our laurels. Church is a living body.
“One future task that we share with the whole American Church is that of welcoming new Americans, people from cultures that are so different from standard, middle-class American culture,” he added. “We have to make sure that their Church is a home for them.
“At Holy Infant, we have people from Asia, Africa and Europe,” Father Mike explained. “We need to make sure they feel a part of the parish so that we no longer think entirely in terms of ‘they’ and ‘we.’”
When Father Mike called the people forward, Holy Infant parishioners echoed that call to one another. Marshall Robers, member of the parish’s pastoral council, points out that the parish adopted the pineapple, a longtime symbol of hospitality, as the parish’s symbol. “Parishioners feel connected to the parish as a whole,” he says, “rather than merely having a close friendship with a few people.
“Stewardship goes hand in hand with this overall hospitality and sense of belonging, since parishioners willingly give of themselves when they are within a nurturing environment,” Marshall explains. “Once stewardship and hospitality have been embraced, the overall opportunities for faith development increase dramatically, since parishioners are connected with each other and growing in faith together, not only at events targeted for faith development but also within the ministries in which they participate.”
There is a movement in the Church in America that is unprecedented. The evangelization that is taking place plays out in a variety of forms. The model of Church is changing as numbers of active Catholics decline and the priesthood is undermined by crises.
Yet never before has there been such a unique energy to make Church. What is significant is that there are as many ways to create an evangelized parish as there are faith communities to fill them. St. Michael in Findlay, Ohio, and Holy Infant in Durham, North Carolina, are different in many ways: large vs. mid-sized, Midwest vs. South, megamodel vs. a smaller intergenerational faith community. Yet each parish has discovered a working solution to creating a vital, living community of faith.
There is no template in evangelizing the Catholic parish. Every one is a unique faith family. The demographics, the leadership style of the pastor and staff, the cultural and ethnic character of the members—all this and much more determine the means through which a faith community will invite and sustain conversion for its membership.
The days in which a formula could be imposed on a Catholic congregation are over. While Catholic dogma and doctrine remain steadfast, the manner in which a Catholic parish catechizes and evangelizes is developed through a vision that is its own.
These two Catholic models of evangelization offer great hope for the future of the Catholic Church in the United States. Invigorating the People of God, the Holy Spirit has been quite busy building up the Church, not in cookie-cutter fashion, but in ways peculiar to the talents and needs of the people.
Within both communities, it is apparent that this Spirit provided all the gifts necessary to create and fulfill a healthy vision of Church. There are gifts sufficient to do this work and, just as Jesus promised, we have not been left orphans.
On several occasions Pope John Paul II challenged the Church to undertake a program or process he called “a new evangelization.” It was not new in its content but new in its energy, its style, its language. He said, “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church, can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples” (Redemptoris MissioMission of the Redeemer], #3). [
The task he set before us is the same daunting mission given by Jesus himself: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations; baptizing them…and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20). Translating that responsibility into strategies, tactics and actions is as mammoth a task today as it was in the first century.
By breaking the mission down into its various parts, we can muster the courage and decipher the ways to accomplish it. We recognize that:
1. Evangelization is the responsibility of all Christians.
An evangelized parish is in the never-ending process of hearing the Gospel and being formed by it. An evangelizing parish is “bringing the Good News of Jesus into every human situation and seeking to convert individuals and society by the divine power of the Gospel itself” (Go and Make Disciples, U.S. bishops).
Every parish has the duty and ultimately the resources to be an evangelized, evangelizing parish, whether large or small, rich or poor, ethnic or multicultural, rural or urban. The primary dynamic for evangelization is the Holy Spirit. The primary message is the Good News of God’s love for the world.
Evangelizers are the people who believe that they are loved by God and who want to share that Good News with others. Although we tend to make the matter complicated, in essence, evangelization occurs when we live the Gospel.
Father Norman Langenbrunner, a parish priest in Cincinnati, Ohio, has written for Catholic publications as well as for The Gettysburg Experience. Jeanne Hunt, advisor for catechesis and evangelization at St. Anthony Messenger Press, preaches parish missions and gives workshops on adult and family faith formation.
Part 4 of 4 parts. The full article can be found at St. Anthony Messenger.