In order to give the pastoral council, the finance council and the deacons a sense for what the Amazing Parish Movement is all about, I purchased copies of the book Divine Renovation: From Maintenance to Mission, by Fr. James Mallon, a parish priest in Nova Scotia who does a lot of speaking about parish renewal. This is one of the books that was recommended by the Amazing Parish Conference the pastoral leadership team/staff attended a couple weeks ago in Atlanta. (Through discussions at that conference, I am now calling our main parish staff and school principal a “pastoral leadership team”, to emphasize that our efforts are aimed at pastoring souls in Jesus Christ.) The Diocesan Parish Life and Evangelization department is continuing to follow up with all the parishes of the Diocese that attended the conference. We had our first follow-up last week, in order to keep momentum from the conference, in order to keep at some of the goals we talked about there.
The ALPHA program (which you remember was recommended to us by our Bishop) kept on coming up at the Amazing Parish Conference. It is a program for evangelization used by priests such as Fr. Mallon, author of the above-mentioned book. I also have other priest friends who have used ALPHA quite successfully as an outreach tool for their parish. Last week I called Our Lady of Good Council Parish in Plymouth, Michigan to learn from their ALPHA director, since ALPHA has helped them so fruitfully to reach out to the world around them. And, no surprise: during one of my exercise times this week, as I was listening to Catholic radio, they interviewed none other than Fr. Mallon… specifically on his use of ALPHA! I’m becoming pretty convinced that we should at least try the ALPHA program as a way to reach out to the community around us.
ALPHA is a 10-week series of DVD presentations that happen in the context of a community meal, with each encounter including also small group discussions about the topics. The topics are the very basics of Christian doctrine: Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? Who am I as a person made in the image of God? Who is the Holy Spirit? How do you live the life of the Holy Spirit? What is the Church? Etc. So you can see how basic the questions are. And that makes for easy, and profound, group discussions. At the heart of ALPHA there is also a day-long retreat, during which attendees can make a greater commitment to live for Jesus Christ and ask the Holy Spirit to fill that commitment, i.e., fill their hearts. ALPHA is a fine step for those people you might not right away want to invite to Mass, because so much happens in the Mass that might be unfamiliar to them. And you don’t get to share a lot with them during the Mass. ALPHA is all about engaging them right where they are at. The goal, of course, is ultimately the Mass!
ALPHA really is an outreach tool. It is not primarily meant as a retreat for those already in the parish. Having said that, however, testimony after testimony proves that parishioners who invite an outsider to the series of ALPHA presentations end up catching some of the spiritual renewal themselves. I’m pretty convinced after hearing from those who have run ALPHA in parishes that we should try it out at our parish. We’re going to look at it more closely in pastoral council, and also our staff/pastoral team.
Initially I’m wondering if it would work for me to lead a pilot version of the course this summer, in hopes that this effort would yield enough leaders who could run the course in the fall. The course is really supposed to be totally lay-driven, rather than having the priest or deacons lead it. Of course, I would always be close by to help out in any way, if some question seemed to stump everybody. The main dynamic that has to happen is that people feel cared for, and they share and discuss questions of faith. There is a ton of flexibility with ALPHA: it has been run in coffee houses, gymnasiums, private homes, churches, etc. A single course can be attended by 1000 people, or there could be 50. The videos contain all the presentations, split into very small segments to leave plenty of discussion time in between. It would be the job of lead parishioners in the course to organize the food, show hospitality, lead table discussions etc.
So here’s a heads-up to be thinking about somebody you might invite to such a course – somebody who is fallen away from the church, somebody was never been to church or received any faith instruction, somebody from another denomination who seems to need something more in life, etc. Pray about this, and ask the Lord whom he might have you invite to a course either in the summer or in the fall.
There are a million details still to be figured out; and that will happen first by means of pastoral council and pastoral team discussions. If you are reading this, and you already know you want to be part of such an effort, feel free to call the office and leave your name.
In hopes that we truly are able to reach some people who have never been to our parish before, I also want to consider every aspect of hospitality – our ushering and our welcoming – to see if there are any improvements that could be made as we imagine brand new people attending our parish. We take a lot for granted as active Catholics. What does it feel like for a total newcomer to enter our facilities?
Finally, you will see in this bulletin a biography for our new summer seminarian, Scott Perry. I got a call from the Vocation Director, Msgr. Chas Singler, about three months ago, asking if we would host a seminarian for the summer. Of course, I said yes, given our parish’s great history hosting seminarians. Scott will be ordained a transitional deacon (i.e., en route to the priesthood) on Saturday, May 20th at 11am, at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral in Toledo. Perhaps some of our parishioners would want to attend the ordination? I will be there! I very much look forward to having Scott with us for the summer; and from past experience, I know that all of you will be a great blessing to him; and I am sure he will be a gift to the parish as well.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,