St. Monica: Recent Past – A Hopeful Future (Part 4, The Word)
I recently invited a diverse group of parishioners to meet with me. I asked them to begin a new conversation about our parish. We need to discern what the Lord is calling St. Monica Parish to be – and to do – over the next few years.
As part of moving the conversation forward, I have begun to look back to what has happened over the past six years. I especially wanted to focus on what has occurred in “Encountering Christ Through the Word, Through Liturgy and Through Serving Others.” This week we look at “Encountering Christ Through His Word.”
The first parish pillar that the original committee discerned was to focus on God’s Word. It was important to help the parish understand that the “Word” was more than the Bible. The Catholic Church defines The Word as Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Sacred Tradition includes art, music, liturgy, the Catechism and the sacraments.
No discussion of The Word at St. Monica would be complete without first mentioning Walking With Purpose. Several years ago, I met Jillian Buhl. She was a parishioner of mine at Saint Mary of the Assumption in Manayunk. Jillian was a member of the Board of Walking With Purpose. WWP employed her as their official graphic artist (If you looking at materials from Walking With Purpose, you will discern that her two favorite colors are key lime green and bright pink). About six years ago, Michelle Manning and Bridget Cowell approached me about Walking With Purpose. They asked me two questions. “Are you familiar with Walking With Purpose?” and “Can we start a chapter at St. Monica?” I said two words: “yes” and “sure.” Many people have complimented me on my “overwhelming support” of Walking With Purpose. I can take no credit for this. I only said two words. The fact that 90 women showed up for Walking With Purpose that first night was a gratuitous gift of the Lord. Close to 140 women take part today. This is a sign of the movement of the Holy Spirit who wanted to have women “Encounter Christ in His Word.”
Two years ago, we saw an offshoot of the “success” of WWP. Several men from St. Monica joined men from other parishes in the area every week at Saint Norbert’s for That Man Is You. Several men from St. Monica elected over the past summer to meet as a group. This past summer they engaged in studying the spiritual classic by St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life. A small group of men from St. Monica joins other men from the area every Saturday morning at Starbucks. This group discusses the coming week’s Gospel reading.
About three years ago Jason Carter approached me with a “radical” idea. He said, “Let’s totally revamp the way we approach catechesis and sacramental preparation in the parish.” His wanted to move away from the traditional classroom model. He had seen the success of Walking With Purpose and That Man Is You. His idea was to move towards a “small group” model instead. He also wanted to introduce the classic biblical practice of lectio divina as far into the parish as possible. This would include children’s catechesis. We would also include lectio in sacramental preparation and Children’s Liturgy of the Word. All these programs would incorporate the Sunday Scripture readings.
The success of this experiment has been overwhelming. Last year the parish participated in the Disciple Maker Index questionnaire. The DMI measures the spiritual maturity and vibrancy of a parish. One question was, “How strongly would you recommend your religious education program at your Parish?” The score from St. Monica was in line with the three highest scores of all parishes across the country. Jason Carter and Meghan Nulty‘s hunch about the direction of Engaging Christ Through His Word” seems to be bearing rich fruit.
Over the past two years, several teens have expressed an interest to dive even deeper into the Bible and into their faith. It is encouraging. For example, a few weeks ago, Kim Conrad launched Blaze at St. Monica. Blaze is a faith study program for middle school girls based on Walking With Purpose.
What do we need? We need disciples.
We have looked at the state of faith formation of our young people around the country. We have examined vibrant catechetical programs nation-wide. Catechetical information about the faith is important and critical. Yet, the small group model is not about passing on information. People need an understanding and a relationship with Jesus Christ first. Without this encounter, young people leave the faith soon after the reception of their sacraments.
The small group model requires disciples, not merely teachers. There is a need for a critical mass of people to be fruitful. We are not so much to be passing on information. It is more important to find people who are comfortable sharing their faith and their experience of Christ. Jason and Meghan continue to find it difficult to find dedicated people who are willing to step forward and share their faith experience with our youth. This is the case for Small Groups on Sunday and Monday evenings. The Children’s Liturgy of the Word during the 9:30 Mass on Sunday also needs more help. Our two youth programs Edge and Life Teen are fine. They could “thrive” with more adult mentoring.
So often we hear the question, “What about the youth?” or “Where are the youth?” In the case of St. Monica, the question is not “Where are the youth” but “Where are the adults?” We need more adults like Kim Conrad who are willing to “accompany” our young people in their faith journey. We need mentors and disciples who will model their faith journey and walk with other adults who are seeking a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.