September 15, 2017

Evangelization and Catechesis Supplement

‘It’s like a gift from God’: Street evangelizers near farmer’s market hope their efforts create a heavenly harvest

Deacon Russell Woodard, parish life coordinator of Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh, and Kelley Snoddy (in blue shirt) of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus pass out rosaries and prayer cards to a group of young people as they share their Catholic faith near a farmer’s market in Columbus on Aug. 26. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Deacon Russell Woodard, parish life coordinator of Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh, and Kelley Snoddy (in blue shirt) of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus pass out rosaries and prayer cards to a group of young people as they share their Catholic faith near a farmer’s market in Columbus on Aug. 26. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

COLUMBUS—It’s a sun-splashed Saturday morning, a gorgeous late‑summer day that brings a crowd to the Columbus farmer’s market for fresh fruits, vegetables and baked goods, with a sampling of music and art.

Less than a block from the weekly outdoor market, at the corner of 5th and Brown, Kelley Snoddy and Deacon Russell Woodard have set up their own stand—this one covered with rosaries, Miraculous Medals and pamphlets promoting the Catholic faith.

Their hope is to share a religious item and start a conversation with the passersby lured by the farmer’s market, all with the intent of extending the true gift they want to offer—a closer relationship with God through the Catholic faith.

It’s the kind of “putting yourself out there” evangelization that many Catholics aren’t comfortable with, and both Snoddy and Deacon Woodard acknowledge it’s an effort that has taken them out of their natural comfort zone. But it’s also led to some memorable moments, from the time a little girl glowed when she was given a pink rosary that matched her pink shoes, to the time a man asked for a rosary to send to his ill Catholic friend in Florida.

“He came back the next week and thanked us,” says Deacon Woodard, parish life coordinator at Holy Trinity Parish in nearby Edinburgh.

There was also the Saturday morning when their group received a visit from members of the Columbus Police Department. The officers came to check them out after someone called the police to complain about their efforts.

“They said, ‘Are you charging anything?’ We don’t. Then they said we we’re OK,” recalls Deacon Woodard, noting that the interaction with the police officers was as low-key, respectful and non-confrontational as the approach their group uses when they interact with people.

“There are at least a couple of people who don’t want us there. But the majority of people are fine. We recognize that not everyone shares our faith, but that’s why we’re out there. We’re trying to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. We’re looking at it that we’re planting seeds, and you never know where the seeds will grow.”

‘We show our witness’

The seeds for the effort in Columbus were actually planted in Bloomington, the home of St. Paul Street Evangelization, a grassroots, non-profit, Catholic evangelization organization that has established more than 300 chapters worldwide since its start in 2012.

The organization caught the attention of Dr. David Hart two years ago, shortly after he and his wife Rochelle—two former evangelical Christians—entered the full communion of the Church in 2015. When they became members of St. John the Apostle Parish in Bloomington, they soon learned it was also the home parish of Steve Dawson, the founder of St. Paul Street Evangelization.

“We had an absolutely wonderful experience entering the Catholic Church,” says David Hart, a heart surgeon. “Our faith became much stronger, and we saw how rich the Catholic faith is. It occurred to us that no one would discover the beautiful treasures of the Catholic faith unless we were able to share them and tell people about them.

“I became involved in evangelizing when I met Steve. He was one of the new friends we made when we entered the Church. When I found out his calling was as an evangelist, I was drawn to him.”

When the Harts moved to Columbus earlier this year, they led the effort to begin evangelizing near the farmer’s market each Saturday morning through the spring and summer.

“One of the benefits of working with St. Paul Street Evangelization is they have a very good mode of evangelizing,” Hart says. “There’s no pressure. The method is easy, friendly, non‑confrontational. And one of the great things about being Catholic is that there are wonderful sacramentals to give people. There is also a series of talking points for people who have fallen away.

“Every time we go out, it’s a cheerful outing. Ninety-eight to 99 percent of the interactions we have are positive. People who are inclined to be negative to the Catholic faith just pass on by, and that’s fine. We just pray for them, and we show our witness. There are always four to five in-depth conversations where people want to understand the difference between Catholicism and their brand of Christianity.”

Getting to share that answer is one of the best parts of evangelizing for Hart.

‘It’s like a gift from God’

“Jesus is so close in the Catholic Church—in the Eucharist, in the tabernacle, in the confessional,” he says. “He’s really there in the Eucharist. He’s really there in the confessional. It’s just so magnificent that everybody ought to know about it.”

The enthusiasm in Hart’s voice rises even higher when he talks about the success of such street evangelization.

“With the mentality of planting seeds, you don’t always see the fruit of what you do. In Bloomington, I have seen several people we met on the street who are now in the Church, going through RCIA”—the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program that prepares people to become a Catholic.

On this Saturday morning, Hart isn’t there to evangelize near the Columbus farmer’s market because Rochelle is 39 weeks pregnant with their third child. So Deacon Woodard and Snoddy lead the effort. They begin their witness by praying to the Holy Spirit, asking for the blessing of having people pass by and stop to talk.

“I feel like this is something that Catholics need to be doing,” says Snoddy, a member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus. “It’s a little bit daunting speaking to strangers, but it’s awesome when you give someone a rosary or you offer to pray with them and they respond to you. It’s like a gift from God.”

‘A wonderful outreach’

That gift is constant on this Saturday morning.

A young couple stops for a conversation with the two of them. A man who talked with Deacon Woodard a week ago shakes the deacon’s hand. Several young people touring this city renowned for its architectural splendor smile and reach out their hands for the rosaries and Miraculous Medals that they share. And a passerby named Kate Baird who enjoys a long talk with the deacon and Snoddy describes their efforts as “impressive.”

They also receive support from some market customers who are members of St. Bartholomew Parish.

“This is a wonderful outreach,” says Karen Niverson, a member of St. Bartholomew. “So many people don’t find themselves in a place where they can hear the word of God or be touched by Jesus. They’re right here downtown on a beautiful Saturday morning, and they’re meeting people right where they are instead of waiting for someone to come into a church. This is wonderful.”

That feeling is shared by the evangelizers.

“Just being able to really get out there and share our faith,” says Deacon Woodard. “We want to make sure we’re proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. That’s what he told us to do. The responses we get—someone taking a rosary or a medal—you never know how that is going to affect their heart down the road. It’s really been a positive experience.”
 

(For more information about St. Paul Street Evangelization, visit www.streetevangelization.com.)

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