September 13, 2013

Religious Education Supplement

Parish groups draw closer in faith and friendship through prayer together

Although they were strangers when they first joined their tri-parish St. Vincent de Paul Society group, members from the parishes of St. Mary in Navilleton, St. John in Starlight and St. Mary-of-the-Knobs in Floyd County have drawn closer to God, each other and the people they serve by making prayer and faith sharing a focused part of their monthly meetings. (Submitted photo)

Although they were strangers when they first joined their tri-parish St. Vincent de Paul Society group, members from the parishes of St. Mary in Navilleton, St. John in Starlight and St. Mary-of-the-Knobs in Floyd County have drawn closer to God, each other and the people they serve by making prayer and faith sharing a focused part of their monthly meetings. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

They came together as strangers—united in a goal, but unsure of each other as a group.

Members of three different parishes, the 15 people wanted to do their best to serve the poor through their combined efforts for the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Yet to achieve that result, they believed they also had to strive for two more goals—to get to know each other better and grow deeper in their faith as a group.

As they started working together six years ago, the members from the parishes of St. Mary in Navilleton, St. John the Baptist in Starlight and St. Mary-of-the-Knobs in Floyd County decided to make faith formation and prayer within their group a key part of their efforts to help the poor.

Now, their monthly meetings begin with a prayer, followed by a Gospel reading, a reflection, and time for meditation and discussion before ending with a prayer. Then the business part of their meeting begins.

That approach has led to the deeper connection among the volunteers and a stronger commitment to help others, says Gayle Schrank, a member of the group and pastoral associate at St. Mary Parish.

“Most of those in the group are people I had not previously known, and being a witness to their faith, I am so inspired,” Schrank says. “By our sharing with one another, I have become more conscious of how important it is to be open and listen to the people we meet.

“By focusing on the Gospels, we are listening to Jesus’ words, and that gives us direction and guidance. Individually and as a group, we are reminded of the humility and love Jesus carried out to the people he loved and served, and that helps keep our hearts centered on service to others.”

That group’s approach to include prayer and faith formation into their meetings and efforts is a valuable one that every parish council, school commission, finance committee or any other parish group should embrace, according to Peg McEvoy, associate director for evangelization and family catechesis of the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Education.

At a minimum, prayer and faith sharing provide the benefit of helping members “stay focused on what is important, and set aside petty differences,” McEvoy says. But the true benefit is far more important.

“Every group should be striving to know, love and serve the Lord better,” she says. “We come to know him and his Church better when we are continually formed in the faith.”

Donna McKenzie has seen the value of that focus for parish ministry groups at St. Joseph University Parish in Terre Haute.

“We learn about the trials and joys of others, and our compassion and understanding grow,” says McKenzie, the parish’s pastoral associate for faith formation. “We learn that God truly works in the life of each person in that group, and we share in the joy of that.

“I highly recommend prayer and sharing before every meeting. While it may seem a waste of time because we are not working, it is what being a disciple is about—proclaiming the Good News in our lives.”

The focus on prayer and faith is an integral part of the work of many groups at St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus, including the parish council, the pastoral team, the mom’s group, the men’s ministry, the liturgy planning group and the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program.

As the pastor, Father Clement Davis has a format he follows in leading meetings of the parish council and the pastoral team.

“We always start off our meetings with a shared prayer, the Scriptures for the upcoming Sunday, a brief reflection on them, and then some questions that relate the readings to our own lives,” he says. “And then we share those answers with one another. It takes at least a half hour before we get into our agenda items.”

Every minute is worth it, he says, because it reflects Christ’s model of prayer to help the Apostles “think of themselves as part of an us.” It also represents “how the Church began in small communities.”

“When people are invited to think about their faith or to think about the Scripture through the lens of their own experience, it gives them a more intimate contact with the Christ of the Scriptures,” Father Davis says. “Then taking the next step and sharing something of that experience with a colleague, a fellow group member or a neighbor, that also broadens—because the Christ who speaks to and within one person’s heart can also address the other person.”

Father Davis believes the result of this approach “opens up doors that normally are shut to us.”

That’s what every parish ministry group should keep in mind when they meet, advocates of this approach insist. As important as the business of a parish is, the opportunity for a closer relationship with God and others should always be embraced.

“Anytime we share prayers with others, our communion with God is made present and real in a very tangible way,” Schrank says. “When we become aware of God’s presence among us, our reverence increases—toward ourselves and the people we are with.” †

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