Evangelization Key Part of Glenmary's Ministry
The term evangelization broadly means spreading the Gospel. For Catholics, it usually means sharing or living out their beliefs through words and actions in their daily lives.
Since Glenmary was founded in 1939, evangelization has been a key facet and special challenge of its home mission ministry. The typical Glenmary mission is the first and only Catholic church in a county, and Catholics comprise less than 3 percent of the county’s population. What’s more, the non-Catholics in Glenmary mission counties often grew up with misconceptions and distrust of Catholicism.
“When you’re in that situation,” says Michele Bertot, pastoral coordinator of Glenmary’s Vanceburg, Ky., mission, “you want to be ready to share and show by example what it means to be Catholic.” For the last three years, Michele has also served as chair of Glenmary’s Commission on Evangelization (COE).
The spark that led Glenmary to talk even more about evangelization in the 1970s, says Glenmary ministry consultant and COE resource person Liz Dudas, was Pope Paul VI’s 1975 apostolic exhortation “On Evangelization in the Modern World.” He stated that Vatican II’s objectives “are summed up in this single one: to make the Church of the 20th century ever better fitted for proclaiming the Gospel to the people of the 21st century.”
In response, Glenmary established the COE in 1981. Since then, the commission—made up of Glenmarians and lay coworkers—has supported and nurtured missioners’, coworkers’ and mission members’ efforts to share the Good News of Jesus and insights into the Catholic faith with other people, especially those with no church homes. The COE’s efforts also include working with other Christians to build up the Body of Christ.
“But we often need to evangelize our own Catholic mission communities before they can evangelize others,” Michele says. “Our parishioners have to practice sharing their faith stories with one another so when they have the opportunity to share with other folks, they’ll be comfortable. At the same time, we have to respect other people’s own beliefs and experiences.”
Michele adds that “we have to recognize we’re always evangelizing through the ways we act in public.”
At the first of two COE meetings each year, she says, COE members discuss evangelization needs and ways to meet them—and plan a program in response to a missioner’s or coworker’s request.
The second meeting is at that individual’s parish, where the COE implements the plan. “We make these programs available to other missions, too,” Michele says. COE members also communicate throughout the year.
Liz and her colleague Lorraine Vancamp, director of the Department of Pastoral Ministers and Pastoral Services, assist in the COE’s work by providing additional evangelization workshops upon request. “The challenge is to make evangelization understandable and realistic for the mission members,” says Liz.
Furthermore, she points out that several years ago, the COE decided to provide missions with Web sites that would serve as evangelization and communication tools. “Glenmary fully recognizes the value of these sites,” Liz says—even after missions are returned to their dioceses.
The following is a very small sampling of Glenmary’s many other, diverse evangelization efforts:
• A COE evangelization workshop was held two years ago at the Grayson, Ky., mission to help the Grayson and nearby Vanceburg missions prepare for future evangelization initiatives. As one of the outcomes, the Grayson mission began hosting a Christmas craft fair—now a popular annual event that’s a community-builder for the mission and a good opportunity to reach out to county residents.
The Vanceburg mission has since sponsored many well-received events for the parish and larger community—including songfests and a Seder meal cohosted by the local Methodist church. The mission also runs “What Catholics Believe” ads in the community paper.
• Kathy O’Brien, administrator of the Waldron, Ark., mission, leads an “Active Parenting” program for parents referred by a county judge. She says people know she’s from the local Catholic church and that she cares and helps—which can change their feelings about Catholics.
• COE members Liz Dudas and Sister Mary Bordelon, pastoral coordinator of the Metter, Ga., mission, recently provided an evangelization workshop for several inner-city Catholic parish leaders in Columbus, Ohio.
• The commission has also begun developing plans to assist evangelization efforts in new Glenmary mission areas.
• Many other “evangelization ideas that work” have been shared by missioners, coworkers and missions—involving RCIA, youth ministry, prison ministry, parishioner exchange with a non-Catholic church for Sunday services, potluck meals, community gardens and more.
It’s hard to measure the effects of all these evangelization efforts, Michele says. But over the years, there have been many Glenmary stories of people whose perceptions of and attitudes toward Catholics have changed for the better—and stories of people who have come to the Catholic Church.
The focus for Glenmary’s future evangelization work, she says, is “to empower lay parish leaders and parishioners with the training and resources they need to carry on these efforts in their own counties.”
This article appears in the October 2011 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.