By Lois Rogers | Features Editor
There’s only one mission for the whole Church: living the Gospel of Christ.
But local needs differ from parish to parish as each community seeks to live out that mission, said Terry A. Ginther, executive director of the diocesan Office of Pastoral Life and Mission.
“We know that the Church is a living communion,” Ginther said. “St. Paul reminds us that we are ‘one body’ in Christ…the services of the diocesan offices are to build up the ‘one body,’ increasing the capability of parishes to praise and worship God, to proclaim and teach, to heal and reconcile, to seek justice and serve with charity in Jesus’ name.”
Reflecting this understanding, she said,
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., has directed the diocesan offices and ministries to take a more relational approach, providing customized assistance to parishes and offering programs that respond, first and foremost, to parish needs.
“This is a partnership for ministry rooted in the very essence of the Church,” said Ginther. Helping the parishes meet the wide spectrum of their members needs, she noted, the diocesan offices have responded on many levels, from the changes in the New Roman Missal to intergenerational support for new mothers, families and singles, the separated, widowed, divorced and bereaved of all ages.
Ginther noted that the diocese (increasingly) reaches out to partner with its 111 parishes with programs geared toward youth, young adults, marriage and family life, pastoral care and reconnecting with the Church.
She quoted from Bishop O’Connell’s 2010-2011 State of the Diocese Address in which he wrote that the “Diocese is living out one of its most essential roles,” by partnering so that ministries to such groups as “families, youths, young adults, the bereaved and seniors, to name but a few, can be delivered in an effective and meaningful way.”
This reflects, Ginther said, the teaching of Blessed Pope John Paul II in “Pastores Gregis,” the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation considered a model of ‘pastoral rule’ for the life and work of the bishops, that the “parish is basic to the life of the Church.”
It is in the parish, wrote John Paul, that “the most intimate concerns of individuals and the broadest reaches of the Church’s mission come together.”
The “intimate concerns” embrace all strata of society and realms of human experience, said Ginther who added that the staff of the diocesan offices are there “to build up the one body of Christ by increasing the capability of parishes (parishioners and their leaders) to praise and worship God, to proclaim and teach, to heal and reconcile, to seek justice and serve with charity in Jesus’ name."
Examples of this collaborative relationship can be found in every parish of the diocese from the Atlantic and Delaware shorelines, to the pines and everywhere in between.
St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, for instance, partnered with the diocesan Department of Youth, Marriage and Family Life, in gearing up for the new “Home Life” Ministry program designed to help couples support and enhance their marriages and family life in the home with a series of 120-day “intentional” challenges – praying together as a family at home for instance – to bring couples and their children closer together.
The program was drawn from a highly successful evangelical model and the materials had to be reviewed and revised before the rollout to make “sure they reflected the full Catholic view,” said Mary Ann Isaac, who organized and co-directs the program with Camille Froelich.
Linda Richardson, the director of the Department of Youth, Marriage and Family Life, provided just the assistance they needed, said Isaac. To date, some 640 of the 5,000 families registered at the parish, have helped themselves to those packets of materials that enabled them to take part in the first of several 120 day campaigns that focus on family life, said Isaac.
She sees the program as “something so needed by parishioners. “The Church,” she said, “is always on the defense, reacting to (contemporary) problems. We believe Home Life is on the offense, leading the charge … saying we care enough to go deeper into the Sacrament of Marriage and we want families to work together to pass on the faith.”
Holy Cross Parish, Rumson, and St. Joseph Parish, Keyport, also tapped into the diocesan resources, with parishioners gaining training that ranged from bereavement ministries to those that tend to the spirituality and well being of senior citizens.
Six members of the bereavement team at Holy Cross completed Bereavement Ministry training with the diocese said Eugenia Kelly, pastoral assistant. “We have the practice of following our bereaved families through the entire first year, with notes, calls, advice and even referral for counseling or support groups,” said Kelly, who added that the body of knowledge gained from training helped the team “feel comfortable and actually helpful in ministry.”
Wendy Walnock of St. Joseph Parish, is a member of the steering committee of the Ministry for Maturing Adults in the diocesan Department of Pastoral Care.
The steering committee is composed of persons, like Walnock, a parish nurse, who are professionally involved with those 55 to 105. Walnock brought the knowledge she gained from the ministry’s “Train the Trainer” certificate program back to her parish.
The program focused on the work of gerontologist and psychologist Richard S. Johnson, a pioneer in spiritual gerontology. When she was certified in the first program, “12 Keys to Spiritual Vitality,” she led a 12-week study session with elderly parishioners.
“For some it was a social gathering to be with friends and gain some introspection on themselves. For others, it was a reconnection with a religion they had forgotten. It was a chance to be a happier and more content person.”
As Walnock experienced, many of the programs are designed in ways that will help prop open the parish door for those interested in returning to Church.
Perhaps no instance of diocesan-parish collaboration is aimed more in that direction that the successful Christmas Carol Festival initiative.
The festival concept was developed by John Boucher, associate director of evangelization in the department of Catechesis and Evangelization Ministry and his wife, Therese, and designed with an eye toward extending an open invitation to families during the Advent season to reconnect with their Catholic heritage.
This year, the festivals drew 5,300 children and adults to 19 parishes throughout the region which had prepared for the events with study sessions in the summer. Each parish worked with packets of information prepared by the couple but were able to make additions that were meaningful for their own community.
The festivals, which began in 2007, invite people to come together to sing faith-based carols such as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” But singing festive songs is only the beginning. While each parish adds its own special flavor to the festival, common elements include Scripture readings, faith witnessing, shared prayer and lessons about the meaning behind the songs.
Sacred Heart, Mount Holly, was among four parishes hosting the festival for the first time last year. Merry Marcellino, assistant pastoral administrator, who organized the festival, said parishioners asked for it after attending a CCF in St. Joan of Arc, Marlton, the year before.“It developed in response to the requests of parishioners who wanted it and we were so very glad they came,” she said.
The scope of collaborative ministry between the diocese and its parishes is broad. From coordinating such practical efforts as maintaining a parish data base, to providing resources for catechist training or respect life ministry, and extending to the profound in transforming the lives of those who are grieving or dealing with terminal illness, is an answer to the Gospel call for unity.[[In-content Ad]]