When the archdiocese put out a call for people to be “companions” for Renew My Church to accompany parishes on the journey, Deacon Greg Shumpert from St. Agatha Parish thought he could offer some wisdom. Shumpert remembered the pain, and later the wisdom, he experienced when his parish, St. Frances Cabrini, closed many years ago, and he wanted to share how that taught him that church isn’t about buildings but about people. “My thinking was if I had gone through that experience as a Catholic the least that I could do is help other Catholics understand what they could bring to the table,” Shumpert said. Each Renew My Church grouping has a companion from outside the parishes who follows them through the process and afterward. “Accompaniment is very simply walking with another person. You come without an agenda but you come to meet the person where the person is and walk through whatever experience they are going through,” said Sister of St. Joseph Kathleen Brazda, pastoral accompaniment leader for Renew My Church. Renew My Church is a multi-year planning process for the archdiocese to strengthen parish vitality and better align its resources and its mission. Brazda worked for many years accompanying people in Chicago through Taller de José, a local ministry of her community that links people to services and resources like housing and food and also provides emotional and spiritual support. Each of the archdiocese’s 344 parishes have been put in one of 97 groupings, and each grouping is expected to go through the process in the next three years. “As a companion sometimes it means being just that, a companion, just listening and being present. Sometimes that speaks volumes. Then if they’re looking for conversation then you have conversation,” Shumpert said. He was a companion to the Stoney Grove grouping, which included St. Ailbe, St. Felicitus and St. Joachim. While the meetings are complete, Shumpert plans to stay with the groupings as they move forward in the process, which will include operational changes. Accompaniment is one of the major things that sets Renew My Church apart from similar efforts in other dioceses. Companions receive a stipend for their work and must have the time to devote to meetings every other week for three months. Renew My Church is looking for more companions for the next waves of groupings. Good companions are “seasoned pastoral ministers” and people who have “a pastoral heart,” Brazda said. It’s not about age but about living life, she said, “which involves dying and rising and getting out of your own world to embrace the other.” One companion, Carol Fendt, is a former Catholic school principal who has experience closing a school. Also, as a parishioner at St. Aloysius, she has organized small groups in the church to foster a greater sense of community. These relationships have deepened and blossomed over time so that people are accompanying each other at all parts of their lives — through the happy times and the sad. This has helped her and others see that church is about people. This is what Renew My Church is, she said. “We have to think outside the box of how we relate to people,” she said. As a companion with no emotional ties to the parishes, Fendt said she was able to listen and hear what the people were saying and how they were feeling. This was especially important toward the end of the meetings. “By then they are so fried because they’ve been processing the new realities coming down the path. In that process people forgot what their points were and what they wanted to say. I was able to say what I heard them say over the four weeks,” Fendt said. To learn more about becoming a companion, contact Sister Kathy Brazda at 312-534-5389 or email@example.com.