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Workshop an effort to encourage parish leadership

By Paula Fournier


PRINCE ALBERT — In an effort to encourage parish leadership, the Prince Albert diocese hosted a workshop led by Katherine Coolidge based on the book and study guide entitled “Forming Intentional Disciples” on Oct. 17 and 18 at St. Joseph Parish in Prince Albert.

The book and study guide, written by Sherry Weddell, is explained as opportunity to reverse current trends in Catholic churches and help leaders, parish staffs and all Catholics transform parish life from within. Working at Catherine of Siena Institute in Colorado Springs in the U.S. as the Called and Gifted co-ordinator, she has developed numerous resources used around the world, trained and led an international team working with many lay, religious and ordained Catholics in hundreds of parishes.

In the book, Weddell explains how to enter more deeply into a relationship with God using five segments: how to converse about faith and beliefs, how to ask questions and establish an atmosphere of trust, know when to speak about Jesus and how to direct someone who feels called toward a better relationship with God.

Working in collaboration with the Saskatoon diocese who hosted part one of the five-day workshop in 2015, the Prince Albert diocese hosted part one of the workshop for newcomers and those from Saskatoon who missed the workshop. This year, participants wanting to complete parts two and three, took part with the Saskatoon diocese for the rest of the week.

During the two-day workshop covering material for part one of the series, Coolidge touched on the spiritual climate in the world today detailing statistics regarding Catholics in Canada. In 2008, stats said 46 per cent of people were baptized as Catholic. In 2011, 38 per cent of Canadians identified themselves as Catholic. Currently, the fastest growing religious groups in Canada call themselves “No ones” or “No religious affiliation.” In 2001, 17 per cent fell into that category in the Canadian census. In 2011, it was 24 per cent, and in 2015, numbers rose to 26 per cent.

She stated that 44 per cent of the age group millennials, 18-34, claimed they were somewhere in between as a religion status. One study named “A New Day” in 2012 by Reginald Bibby, a well-known statistician, stated, “Large numbers of people are open to greater involvement. But they are not in the market for churches. They want much more, actually, something quite different.”

She spoke on the journey to intentional discipleship and the three common stages of adult Christian development or conversion, similar to stages of human life: seeker, disciple and apostle.

Baptism, she read, is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion.

“God’s desire that we be present with him, that’s what sparks our desire to be close with God. He’s already looking for us to be in a relationship with him. Some people are not seeking at all, they’re not aware. There are stages to the seeker. As someone moves forward in a relationship with Christ and they make that a decision and a goal, we call that a disciple.

From the moment Simon dropped his nets to follow Jesus, he was a disciple, but it would take the rest of his life to become a saint. This stage is also referred to as active. It is a full catechesis, forming basic habits of discipleship, being fruit-bearing, going public, being a witness in the marketplace.

The second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole church. This part of the conversion is not just a human work, it is the movement of a “contrite heart,” drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first.

“The learner, within the stage of becoming a disciple, there are definite marked transitions for one who is learning the habits of discipleship. One who begins to practice and begins to recognize that this is more than just following Jesus and that he is a plan and a mission and now I need to know what he wants me to do. That’s the third stage that we call apostle, in the sense of one who is sent.”

“People who are unique . . . we have to be creative and figure out how to respond to them. The old paradigm pointed to ‘churched’ and ‘unchurched,’ we need to move to a new paradigm such as actives, marginal, inactives and disaffiliates.”

Bibby states there are “Three concrete features of effective ministry to Canadians — ministering well to insiders, locating the rest of your people, and ministering well to your outsiders.”

As evangelizers, we must attend to three concurrent spiritual journeys in adults: personal interior journey, the sacramental/ecclesial exterior journey, “active” or “inactive” journey.

The first journey is the personal interior journey, the act of faith resulting in intentional discipleship and friendship with Jesus. The second journey is the reception into the church through reception of the sacraments of initiation. Last is the active or inactive journey, the participating and belonging, friendship with other friends in the Christian community.

“This is where their relational bridge can be helpful, good place for a sponsor to have a conversation.”

When someone is telling their stories, the person listening is in a role of clarifying questions. Events such as RCIA inquiries can occur during the talk, returning Catholics, parish registration, pastoral counselling, spiritual direction, marriage preparation, and many other actions.

She quoted Rev. Michael Sweeney from the same institute, who said, “The parish has a mission beyond itself, and is situated in relationship to its neighbourhood. What a parish is cannot be adequately discussed without a consideration of the society in which it is found and to which it is sent. It has a mission to the world. It can’t just exist for itself. There’s a larger conversation we need to have. What does that mean? How can we be the parishes we are called to be in 2016?”

She spoke on the role of priest as primary caregiver and catechist. She said the essence of the priest munus of governance does not lie primarily in the administration of the parish. Governance is much more than that.

Rev. Greg Elder, chancellor for the Prince Albert diocese, shared that his boundaries make him responsible for all people in his area, not solely Catholics.

“Something to remember is that a pastor is responsible for all the souls, proclaiming the gospel to everyone in his boundaries, it is the rare circumstance where he can have a personal conversation with every one of them. We have a responsibility to co-work with our pastor in order to support him in this importance task of proclaiming. His primary responsibility is for his church. Foster unity with the church so that we are a prophetic witness to our neighbours, in our actions through word or witness in the community.”

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