Taking people from ‘nones’ to regulars

Amazing Parish Conference debut highlights parishioner experience

Nissa LaPoint
Father Michael White, left, Patrick Lencioni, center, and Tom Corcoran talk about creating an amazing Sunday experience at the first Amazing Parish Conference Aug. 27-28 in Denver.

Catholic heavyweights behind a Denver-launched parish revitalization movement shared with evangelizers across the country last week the keys to converting the unchurched into front-pew regulars.

Some 140 parishes and organizations from as far as New York and Canada gathered for an invitation-only workshop called The Amazing Parish Conference Aug. 27-28 in Denver to help churches become more vibrant centers for an encounter with Christ.

The first conference, funded by the local VINE Foundation, drew Catholic leaders including Jeff Cavins, Curtis Martin and Chris Stefanick to present with businessman Patrick Lencioni seven identified traits of an “amazing parish”—a reliance on prayer, a real leadership team, a clear vision, the Sunday experience, compelling formation, small group discipleship and missionary zeal.

What’s missing is not the sacraments, according to key organizers. What’s needed is a church filled with hearts on fire for Christ, and parishioners helpful to fallen-away Catholics navigating their way back to church.

“Yes, the Eucharist is enough, but so many people need more to understand that,” Lencioni, author and leadership consultant, said to the packed conference room inside the Hyatt Regency. “Those people out there who are former Catholics or Catholics going other places—they’re hungry for what you have. We know the most important part. This conference is about all the other things.”

Founders are calling it a Holy Spirit-inspired movement that began on the day Pope Francis was selected pontiff in March 2013.

Co-founder John Martin of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver told the Denver Catholic Register they want attendees to have “a zeal to take their parish to a level where parishioners are active disciples for Christ.”

 

Hearts on fire
This personal zeal is necessary for a transformation, Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said during his talk on evangelization.

“If we don’t have the fire in us it’s because we’re living a lukewarm and superficial existence,” he told the crowded conference room.

He urged pastors and parish staff that the best incentive for sharing the Gospel message comes from inside, from contemplating Christ in love.

“The fire begins to grow as I spend time with the one I love and when that fire grows then the Holy Spirit can use me,” he explained.

Parishes were asked to brainstorm ideas for putting this into action.

The bishop added that true zeal begins where natural enthusiasm ends.

“When you reach the end of natural enthusiasm and spiritual failure and weakness and you can’t go on, invite the Lord then a real transformation can happen and then real zeal begins.”

 

From consumers to disciples
Conference talks were built on the idea that a parish is where most people come to know Christ.

An alarming number of Americans are missing this opportunity, according to the Pew Research Center. “Nones” or those with no religious identity are a growing 19 percent or one-fifth of the population—and a third of adults under 30—researchers found in a 2012 poll.

Father Michael White, pastor of Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Md., and associate Tom Corcoran, shared how they shifted focus to these unchurched people.

Instead of adding more programs and ministries, the parish prioritized the Sunday experience and mobilized the help of regular parishioners.

The people in the pews were no longer approached as customers, he said.

“We were not leading people and we were not making disciples, but we were creating religious consumers in our parish,” Father White shared about the programs and activities they labored to provide. “So much of it was a waste of time.”

Together the pastor and associate authored the books “Rebuilt” and “Tools for Rebuilding” about the lessons they learned.

They asked attendees to brainstorm on ways to reach the unchurched by reevaluating their worship music, the message given during homilies and how ministers affect the Sunday experience.

“I want to see the average parishioner reawakened,” said Cathy Gold, parishioner at the 5,000-family St. Patrick’s Church in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. “Everyone should be sitting on the edge of their seat.”

After the discussion, Father Jarek Pochocki, O.M.I., pastor of St. Lawrence the Martyr and St. Patrick churches in Hamilton, Ontario, said he and his parishioners could work on reaching out to the small and diverse community.

“The topics seem obvious but this (conference) really reinforces our understanding of it,” he said.

During the conference, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of the Archdiocese of Denver celebrated Mass. Matt Maher led an evening of music, and adoration and confession were made available.

Lencioni presented on “a real leadership team,” Lisa Brennikmeyer presented on “small group discipleship,” Martin on “a reliance on prayer,” Cavins on “compelling formation,” and Matt Manion joined Lencioni to speak on “a clear vision.”

 

Resources
The Amazing Parish movement has provided free resources for Catholic leaders, clergy and laity, to achieve the seven traits at www.amazingparish.org. Key organizer Dominic Perri said the movement will also provide consultants to help parishes become thriving centers.

“The response has been tremendous,” he said during the conference. “There’s a tremendous hunger for this. … We’re here to serve the (parishes).”

 

 

COMING UP: St. Louis students lend a helping hand to Haiti

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In 2010, a devastating earthquake ravaged Haiti. Just a few months ago, Hurricane Matthew ripped through Haiti, further damaging a country that was in the process of rebuilding. Haiti’s need for help is as pressing and dire as ever.

Students from one local Catholic school are taking the lead and working to raise money to help Haiti from afar. For the 8th grade class of St. Louis Catholic School in Louisville, doing what they can for the people of Haiti isn’t just an act of Christian charity; it’s an act of love toward a people whom they consider to be like an extended family.

The story begins with St. Louis parishioner Wynn Walent, who works for the St. Luke Foundation, a Catholic humanitarian organization founded by Father Rick Frechette in 2000 that’s based in Haiti. Walent lived in Haiti for two years, and while down there in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, he came to know two boys, Vlad and Belony. After a time, Walent decided to adopt the boys.

In 2012, St. Louis and then-principal Karen Herlihy opened the school’s doors to the Haitian boys without hesitation when Walent brought them back to the U.S., and thus began a relationship that has since affected the teachers and students of St. Louis in profound ways, not to mention the lives of Vlad and Belony. Vlad is now in 7th grade, and Belony just started his first year of high school.

“Since day one the staff, students and families of St. Louis have welcomed the boys with open arms,” Walent said. “It’s a very generous community.”

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St. Louis Catholic School in Louisville has a link to Haiti through two of its students, Vlad (pictured) and Belony, who were adopted by St. Louis parishioner and philanthropist Wynn Walent. The 8th grade class, with the help of the whole school, hopes to raise $5,000 by the end of the school year to donate to the St. Luke Foundation, a Catholic humanitarian organization based in Haiti. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

The boys have made quite an impression on the students and teachers of St. Louis. No matter who you ask, they’ll all say that Vlad and Belony “are very humble and have big hearts.” Not only that, many of the students are quick to point out that they’re incredibly talented soccer players.

Ultimately, the students said, Vlad and Belony are like family to the St. Louis community, and they want to help them and their brothers and sisters back in Haiti.

During the school year, each class at St. Louis is required to do some sort of outreach or stewardship project. With a tangible connection to Haiti through Vlad and Belony, the 8th grade class began brainstorming ways they could help those affected by the hurricane. While the 8th graders are currently leading the charge, they hope for it to become a school-wide initiative, with the goal of establishing a more long-term relationship between St. Louis and the St. Luke Foundation.

We’re in such a self-centered world, and I love the idea of kids helping kids and feeling good that they can make a difference in somebody else’s life.”

“We’re always looking to see how we can get our children to be involved in projects that take them away from themselves,” St. Louis principal Kathy Byrnes told the Denver Catholic. “We’re in such a self-centered world, and I love the idea of kids helping kids and feeling good that they can make a difference in somebody else’s life.”

Luckily for them, they have a direct line to Haiti and the St. Luke Foundation through Walent, Vlad and Belony. Walent can articulate the needs of the foundation to the students, and they can raise the money accordingly. Their goal is to raise $5,000 by the end of the school year to donate to St. Luke, but they hope to exceed that goal. As of this writing, they’ve raised nearly $3,000.

The school has also started a Razoo crowdfunding page for anybody to donate to, and one of the first donors was none other than Belony.

The St. Luke Foundation started with simple clinics in 2000 and has since grown to entail two hospitals, three clinics and 32 schools. They provide jobs for 1,000 Haitian people, and Walent said that it is 100 percent Haitian led. The organization empowers the Haitian people to help themselves and provides them the necessary resources to do so.

The resolve of the St. Louis Catholic School to raise money to give to Haiti is a testament to their reputation of being, as Byrnes says, “The little school with the big heart.”

More information

To learn more about Father Rick Frechette, the founder of St. Luke, visit http://www.stlukehaiti.org/watch

To learn about St. Louis’ efforts to support St. Luke, visit stlukehaiti.org/stlouis

To contact Wynn Walent about the work in Haiti, please email wynn.walent@stlukehaiti.org