It’s still a bit down the road, but if you are looking for a good parish evangelization program there will be a Discovering Christ Conference Jan. 31 to Feb. 1, 2014, at Malvern Retreat House with a post-conference follow up online.
Discovering Christ is a Catholic parish-centered lay initiative, developed by Maryland-based ChristLife. It is a seven-week evangelization process in which members of a parish, campus ministry or other group brings family and friends to hear the Good News and personally encounter Jesus Christ.
It’s not just a short weekly meeting. By the established format, it begins with a dinner at 6:45 p.m., a welcome prayer at 7:30, teaching (video or live) at 7:45 and small group discussion from 8:30 to 9:15.
After the fifth week there is a retreat day followed by the last two evening sessions, and there are also two follow-up seven-week courses for future times — Following Christ and Sharing Christ.
If that sounds rather daunting, you should check with St. Rose of Lima Parish in North Wales, where it has been a spectacular success and well worth the effort.
“The ChristLife process has become the ‘core curriculum’ of our parish evangelization activities and is bearing much fruit here at St. Rose,” said Jane Selner, coordinator for parish ministries at St. Rose of Lima.
“These courses have been the source of much renewal in our parish. So far, more than 260 parishioners have participated in these courses and we are blessed by how the Holy Spirit is working to bring new life and love to our parish.”
The specific format has planned logic to it. The dinner time allows the group to grow together socially and foster relationships that facilitate effectiveness of the succeeding program parts. The teaching is a proclamation of the Gospel.
When St. Rose parishioner Stan Shuck was growing up, people never discussed religion, they just went to church. Now at St. Rose this has changed. “There is a renewed vitality and energy that was missing,” he said of the result of the ChristLife process.
There is a single topic during the evening sessions and two at the retreat. The small group provides a place to discuss what has been heard in an environment where everyone can share what they think and feel about what they have heard. The retreat day (usually a Saturday) includes time for personal reflection, the sacrament of reconciliation, meals together, further teaching and yes, fun and fellowship. A prayer service at the end allows participants to commit to Jesus as Lord.
Fran Novak, who had previously been involved in Landings and Alpha evangelization programs, first brought ChristLife to the attention of the parish in November 2010. After approval by Msgr. Daniel Murray a team of 16 parishioners was formed to undertake a pilot program, and this was conducted January through March, 2011.
Novak and Selner then attended a ChristLife Training Program that was similar to the upcoming program that will be held at Malvern.
Novak has been interested in evangelization for some years and in 2010 he attended a course on Pope John Paul II and the New Evangelization at the Religious Studies Division of St. Charles Seminary.
Through it, he read such documents as the pope’s encyclical Redemptoris Misio (Mission of the Redeemer) and Pope Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiande (Evangelization of the Modern World) in which Pope Paul wrote, “Those who have received the Good News and have been gathered by it into the community of salvation can and must communicate and speak it.”
“It’s not just the clergy, it is right out the front door to neighbors and family,” Novak said. “It is something we must all do as disciples.”
He’d met Dave Nodar, the founder of ChristLife, back in the 1990s, and when he heard about this new program, Discovering Christ, he looked into it and was immediately impressed.
At St. Rose of Lima, “we were kind of a sleepy parish with not much going on,” he said.
The Discovering Christ series really has made a difference, Novak believes.
“Once you have a deepened faith you can’t help but tell others,” he said. “It changes hearts.”
The first parish-wide Discovering Christ series was held September-November, 2011. The target was 60 participants; 83 signed up and there was a waiting list of 12. Part Two, Following Christ, was offered March-May, 2012 with 63 attending. Afterward a parish evangelization team was formed, working with Meghan Cokeley, director of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office for the New Evangelization.
A second Discovering Christ series ran September to November last year with 72 attending. A second Following Christ series in January-March this year drew 65.
As a fruit of this groundwork an unrelated “Quick Journey through the Bible” program drew 115, in contrast to similar past programs that drew perhaps 25-30.
Right now 50 parishioners are attending the parish’s first Sharing Christ series and a number of them will be greeters and assistants at the Malvern Discovering Christ Program early next year.
From Selner’s perspective, ChristLife has given St. Rose Parish a strengthened sense of commitment, enlivened and renewed the faith of parishioners and it has increased participation in parish ministries and activities.
When she was lining up her 16 attendees for the first trial run Selner approached parishioner Stan Schuck and he blew her off twice before agreeing to come. He is glad he finally agreed.
“Discovering Christ is like turning a key in the ignition,” he said. “Once the people got into the small groups they were saying things they had never said before. It’s a safe environment where nobody is judging you for what you said.”
When he was growing up, people never discussed religion, they just went to church. Now at St. Rose this has changed. “There is a renewed vitality and energy that was missing,” he said. “I have been involved in every session since the first one and serve as a facilitator at the small group discussions.”
For more information on the Discovering Christ Conference see http://www.phillyevang.org/discover/or call Meghan Cokeley at the Office for the New Evangelization at 215-587-5630.
Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.