May 18, 2012

Evangelization Supplement

Hospitality and faith formation aid in evangelization

Members of St. Louis Parish in Batesville pray at a 2007 Mass in their parish’s church to celebration the canonization of St. Theodora Guérin. Members of the Batesville Deanery faith community and of other parishes, like St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, foster evangelization through welcoming newcomers and learning more about the Catholic faith. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Members of St. Louis Parish in Batesville pray at a 2007 Mass in their parish’s church to celebration the canonization of St. Theodora Guérin. Members of the Batesville Deanery faith community and of other parishes, like St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, foster evangelization through welcoming newcomers and learning more about the Catholic faith. (File photo by Sean Gallagher) Click for a larger version.

By Mary Ann Garber

Friendly.

That’s how St. Andrew the Apostle parishioners describe themselves and their Indianapolis North Deanery parish.

Since the parish was founded in 1946 at 4052 E. 38th St., members of the multicultural faith community have focused on offering hospitality to visitors as well as each other at Masses and social activities.

Deacon Robert Decker, parish life coordinator, said hospitality is the gateway to evangelization and St. Andrew’s parishioners have always enjoyed welcoming others.

Parish council members and committee volunteers lead the faith community’s efforts to reach out to newcomers, he said, and invite them to come to the Lord’s Table through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process or as Catholics moving to St. Andrew Parish.

It’s an ongoing priority for the 195-household parish, Deacon Decker said, and is emphasized before and after Masses as well as during special events.

Demonstrating hospitality involves much more than serving coffee and donuts after liturgies, but that social time is important too because it leads to new friendships.

St. Andrew parishioners participate in “Growing an Engaged Church,” a ministry program based on a book by Albert Winseman, which recognizes and affirms individual and parish strengths.

“To grow an engaged Church, we began with a strength finder assessment,” Deacon Decker said. “We’ve had a good response. About 80 people have taken that online assessment.”

Parish council members completed the evaluation process first, he said, to serve as facilitators for other parishioners.

“All that we have comes from God,” Deacon Decker explained. “The strengths we have are those gifts that God gave to us. This [assessment] process helps us to better understand ourselves and others. We focus on the light, on the positive, rather than on the negative.”

Identifying individual gifts and talents leads to more unified participation in parish ministries, he said, as people are affirmed in their God-given talents and answer God’s call to share the Gospel with others in unique ways.

“It was pretty obvious [in our assessments] that we have a welcoming spirit at St. Andrew Parish,” Deacon Decker said. “… In ‘Growing an Engaged Church,’ one of the most important things that we want to do is help people feel like they belong here, whether it’s new people visiting our church, others that haven’t been to church very often or people who come to Mass here every week.

“Our mission at St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church is to learn anew the Gospel, the Good News that God loves us, then to live it and share it with others,” he explained. “Being welcoming is evangelizing. Connecting with others is evangelizing. Sharing our faith is evangelizing.”

Members of the parish serve as mentors for new people to help them feel welcome at St. Andrew Parish, he said, then introduce them to other parishioners, invite them to participate in RCIA if they are thinking about joining the Church and encourage all newcomers to become active in parish ministries.

“Growing an Engaged Church” has been very successful at St. Andrew Parish, Deacon Decker said. “It has transformed the life of the parish and given it new energy. … It’s uniting us more and more.

“The first part is to feel like you belong,” he said. “One of the keys to building friendships at church is creating the climate in which members feel valued and relationships are important. Then we can help people to grow spiritually.”

St. Louis Parish in Batesville, founded in 1868, benefits from the closeness of a smaller community and vibrant school ministry.

But even though many parishioners have known each other for years, they recognize the importance of hospitality to newcomers as well as long-time members.

Parishioner Mark Masavage of Batesville has served on the parish’s faith formation committee and its informal evangelization team for two years.

He joined the Church as a young adult 17 years ago, and remembers how much he appreciated being welcomed in the RCIA process.

Participation in the Christ Renews His Parish program at St. Louis Parish has strengthened his commitment to share the Gospel with others.

“We have an informal structure for our evangelization efforts,” Masavage said. “Several small groups meet for Bible study or discussions on life and faith. We also have a men’s group that meets every other Sunday. We talk about faith and how to live it in our family life, our work life, our daily life as Catholic men, and how we are called to evangelize in those situations.”

Many Catholics are “quiet evangelizers,” he said. “It’s very important to discuss the tenets of our faith, the precepts of our faith, with others, and to stand boldly against the things that we find and see that are unjust, such as abortion.

“A lot of people might not understand what the Church teaches about those issues,” Masavage said. “Our mother Church never lays down laws without having really defined reasons behind them. She is there to protect us. … The teachings of the Church are profound when it comes to issues such as [respect for] life and how we are supposed to proceed in our daily activities. I think that’s where evangelization really takes place.

“It’s easier to talk about Jesus if we see him as our friend, not someone beyond us, but someone with us all the time,” he said. “We don’t have to go searching for him. We’re always with Christ. He’s right there helping us open our hearts and listen. It’s also easier to talk about God with other people when you look at them and see Jesus in them, and can invite them to the Church in that way.” †

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