May 24, 2024

2024 Evangelization Supplement

Parishes find creative ways to ‘evangelize naturally’ in local communities

Members of St. Gabriel Parish in Connersville prepare a dinner to be shared with those in need in the local community in this photo from March 2023. While it is a charitable effort, it also serves as an opportunity to evangelize, sharing Christ’s love and good news as the parishioners eat with those being served. (Submitted photo)

Members of St. Gabriel Parish in Connersville prepare a dinner to be shared with those in need in the local community in this photo from March 2023. While it is a charitable effort, it also serves as an opportunity to evangelize, sharing Christ’s love and good news as the parishioners eat with those being served. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

Parishes are called to evangelize—spread the good news of Christ—within their local community.

That call, though, is not accomplished by an “entity.” And it cannot be the sole work of the pastor or a team of people.

“We’re all called to be priest, prophet and king,” says Melissa Fronckowiak, director of faith formation, communications and youth ministry at St. Gabriel Parish in Connersville and St. Bridget of Ireland Parish in Liberty.

“So, what does that mean in terms of spreading the Gospel?”

The answer is wider, easier and more natural than just the door-to-door or preaching-on-the-corner approach.

This article looks at how St. Bridget, St. Gabriel and St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Parish in Indianapolis help parishioners—to use Fronckowiak’s words—“evangelize naturally.”

‘Beacons of hope in the community’

In 2019, the same year St. Bridget and St. Gabriel were linked, a two-fold campaign began. The first aspect was physical, raising funds for three building projects on St. Gabriel’s campus. The effort was called Building a Beacon of Hope.

The second portion of the campaign affected both parishes: a spiritual campaign called Being a Beacon of Hope in Our Community.

“It’s also about us going out into the community and fostering the idea of bringing the light of Christ to others and welcoming the community to our campuses in a way that allows the light of Christ to shine,” Fronckowiak explains. “It’s being people who make others say, ‘I see this person has joy, and I want that. How do I get that?’ And for us, that’s the Catholic Church and our parishes.”

One way that members of the two parishes are invited to “go out into the community” is through a card ministry.

“They make cards and send them to everyone on our prayer list—and there are people on the list from all over the country and in the military,” says Fronckowiak. “We try to get their contact information at least once a month to send them a card. If there’s a specific known issue, the card is made personal. Otherwise, it’s just uplifting messages and Scripture.”

Members of St. Gabriel figuratively “go out into the community” by inviting specific people in the community to dinner. The parish is one of five Connersville faith communities that offers a meal to those in need on an assigned Sunday.

“A church group, the youth group or a school group will host it, or a group of families,” Fronckowiak says.

“One thing our parish does differently from the other churches, we pray with [those being served] before the meal, and we sit with them and eat and build those relationships. I’ve seen people there who eventually joined RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults] or came to church.”

A unique effort started by a group of parishioners at St. Bridget takes a different shape—the shape of a cross.

Each month, they attach prayer cards with the parish address to pocket-size wooden crosses. The final products are offered to parishioners on the first Sunday of the month.

“Some fill up a basket with them and give them to a local business to make them available,” says Fronckowiak. “Parishioners can give them out to people in the community and say, ‘I feel called to give this to you. You don’t have to come to Mass—this is just for your comfort.’ It’s that tangible handing over the peace of Christ.”

The goal for the linked parishes is to help the members become “evangelizing disciples,” says Fronckowiak.

“It’s not so much parishioners having to go out and preach, but giving them tools so they can evangelize naturally and be those beacons of hope in the community.”

‘We want people to see Christ in us’

Fronckowiak noted that the word evangelization “is, unfortunately, not popular. People picture in their mind the people that stand on a corner and preach.”

Cindy Woods of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Parish in Indianapolis agrees with her assessment.

That’s why, when the parish formed an evangelization team with Woods as the chair, “We called it the Invite Commission, so it doesn’t sound as scary,” she says.

The commission was formed to “encourage and equip Little Flower parishioners to invite the unchurched, reconnect former Catholics, and share the good news by personally responding to Jesus’ invitation to ‘Follow me’ ” (Mt 16:24), according to its mission statement.

To accomplish this mission, the Invite Commission is split into two parts: an outreach group and a faith formation group.

“We knew if we [and fellow parishioners] were going to evangelize and talk about the faith, we had to know about our faith,” says Woods of the faith formation aspect.

Through that group, the parish offered a 27-week ChristLife program to parishioners two years in a row. ChristLife “equips Catholics for the essential work of evangelization so that all people might personally encounter Jesus Christ and be transformed into his missionary disciples,” according to the organization’s website.

The faith formation group also coordinates Bible studies and offers learning opportunities through Ascension Press and Formed, a Catholic subscription site.

The outreach portion of the Invite Commission provides opportunities for the parish to interact with and help the local community as a means of actively sharing Christ with others.

For instance, the parish hosts a neighborhood gathering on National Night Out in August, a national effort to build safer communities by getting to know local residents.

“We advertise to attract our neighbors to the event,” says Woods. “We have free food, drinks, singers, food trucks and free school supplies. We pass out Catholic materials, walk around and just talk to people. We want people to see Christ in us.”

The group also hosts a neighborhood food drive for nearby Shepherd Community Church of the Nazarene to support its Saturday Morning Food Pantry and Shepherd Kitchen.

“Hungry is hungry, and they have the means to serve a lot of [local] people in need,” says Woods.

“They drop off a big bus at our church, and people from the parish and the neighborhood bring food, hygiene products, pet food. We really pack the bus!”

Ideas and opportunities abound for inviting neighbors to witness Christ at the parish, she adds. Neighborhood movie nights, a cookout with free school supplies, inviting parishioners to make and “anonymously” distribute Easter baskets and Christmas ornaments throughout the neighborhood with the parish’s Mass times—these are just a few of the events the outreach group has initiated.

Even the parish’s summer festival is seen as an opportunity to evangelize through “inviting.”

“The Invite Commission has a table at both entrances at the festival,” says Woods. “We offer people a chain with a crucifix, and most say yes. We ask if we can pray for them and would they like more information on Little Flower. This year, we’ll have rosaries and other free Catholic stuff. The whole interaction takes only 10 to 15 seconds.”

Woods is thankful for the creation of the Invite Commission and the support it receives from Father Robert Gilday, the parish’s pastor.

“We really feel like the Holy Spirit is leading us,” she says.

“How do we know if we do any good? We don’t. We can’t look at it like numbers. You never know which person was touched and who you made a difference to.” †

See more from our 2024 Evangelization Supplement here

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