During the Renew My Church Summit in October, participants were invited to participate in “next step” opportunities like an Evangelization Day — a half-day session dedicated to sharing the vision of what a vital parish could be.
Hosted in each of the six vicariates over the past few months, Evangelization Days, which were offered in English, Spanish and Polish, pulled together nearly 1,200 priests, deacons, laypeople and religious from 228 parishes throughout the archdiocese.
Father Peter Wojcik, director of the Department of Parish Vitality and Mission, and Marco Oropeza, chief program management officer, who are overseeing the last phase of Renew My Church called “Building the New Reality,” provided a grounding for the event.
They shared key insights into how our world has changed, and how our modes may need to give way to new ideas and new methods so that we are better able to fulfill the mission of the church, to make disciples in our modern times.
A focus of “Building the New Reality” encourages parishes to develop and nurture a culture of evangelization. Coordinators from the Office for Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship — José Coronel, Jennifer Delvaux, Alicja Pozywio and myself — sought to animate evangelization and a culture of evangelization for participants as well as provide first steps to start forming that culture.
We assured participants that all parishes likely have natural evangelizers who share their faith with ease and invite others to join them in the life of the community. We know there are parishes that have ministries focused on evangelization. A culture of evangelization, however, is different.
Culture as values
The culture of any organization reflects its values. These values are reflected not in what is said, but rather in actions. An organization values what it celebrates, tolerates and presumes. A value or mission statement is good, but how those in the organization or parish act demonstrates the values more than words.
Put another way, do we presume that everyone in our pews are baptized disciples and followers of Christ? Do we help all feel welcome and provide a sense of belonging? Do we invest as much in the formation of our adults as we do our children? Do we regularly celebrate those who have joined us, those who have become disciples and those who have become more engaged in the church?
A culture of evangelization gives priority to introducing people to Jesus Christ, to inviting people into a relationship with him and the community, to accompanying and forming people on their discipleship journey, and to sending missionary disciples out to give witness to Christ through their lives. It is a community that reflects the priorities of Renew My Church — to make disciples, build community and inspire witness.
Culture as soil
Another way to look at a culture of evangelization is to look at culture as soil, rocky or rich. During Evangelization Days, people paired off into small groups and used the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13: 1-9; 18-23) to ask, “Does our parish have rich soil where seeds can be sown that will bring forth mature disciples with deep roots who will bear much fruit?”
The seeds are the programs, tools and resources we utilize. The fruit is getting someone more engaged in their relationship with Jesus and in life of the community.
Parishes have tended to focus on the seeds — programs, RCIA, retreats, etc. — trying to spread the Good News. Many have been successful in helping people encounter Jesus. What has become evident, however, is that the seeds are not taking root — they are not leading to engagement.
Through this exercise, parishes were invited to take a step back and start looking at their soil, the culture of their parish, to ask, “Why are we like this?” and “How might we change?”
All parishes have some rich soil and thorns and rocky ground and hard paths. The invitation, as parishes prepare to be activated in the Renew My Church process, is to look for the rich soil and expand that soil so that when the community utilizes programs and tools, they increase engagement in their communities, bearing much fruit.
A make-up Evangelization Day will be held March 14 from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at St. Frances of Rome, Cicero. Dinner provided. To register, visit pvm.archchicago.org/evangelization/rmc-summit-next-steps.
About the Author
Elizabeth White is director of the Office for Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship.
The renewal we are undergoing through Renew My Church is encouraging us to be creative and to sometimes use distinct words or phrases to capture a new concept or to provide a different way of looking at something otherwise familiar.
When members of St. James Parish, 2907 S. Wabash Ave, attended the Renew My Church Summit in October 2018, they heard a lot of great things about how the church needs to have a culture of evangelization.
Deacon Keith Strohm is a deacon for the Archdiocese of Chicago and travels the country creating and sustaining processes and programs of evangelization and formation at the group, parish and diocesan level that focus on making missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. He is also the executive director of M3 Ministries (m3catholic.com) and a co-author, along with six other collaborators, with Sherry Weddell of the book “Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples,” which is a follow-up to the book, “Forming Intentional Disciples.”