The weeks leading to Easter traditionally bring with them a flurry of parish missions, but a handful of churches throughout the diocese are trying something a bit different.
At least half a dozen parishes are participating in Disciples in Mission, a parish-based evangelization program launched in 1996 by the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association. The program provides a way for parishes to implement the U.S. bishops’ document “Go and Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States,” according to the program’s Web site, www.disciplesinmission.org.
Disciples in Mission is a three-year process intended to help Catholics become comfortable sharing their faith with others. Parishioners who participate in the program form small faith-sharing groups, which are among the program’s key elements. Group members meet once a week during Lent to discuss and reflect on the readings for the next weekend’s liturgy.
Disciples in Mission is attractive to local parishioners in part because of this small-group element, said Sister of St. Joseph Karen Dietz, diocesan coordinator of sacramental catechesis. Many parishioners are already familiar with faith-sharing groups or small Christian communities, which have existed locally since the 1993 diocesan synod, she said.
“A lot of our parishes are looking for next steps. This is one of the logical next steps,” Sister Dietz said.
Disciples in Mission is also popular because it’s very inclusive and flexible, said Mary Ann Obark, religious-education director at Christ the King Parish in Irondequoit. Everyone in the parish is invited to participate in the program regardless of whether they can commit to weekly group meetings.
Participating parishes begin a prayer campaign several weeks before Lent, and parishioners at daily and weekend liturgies are given prayer cards and asked to pray that the parishes will be blessed with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Prayer cards also are given to homebound parishioners, and several small groups meet at local nursing homes, Obark said.
The program also includes a family-activities booklet, so even families who can’t commit to weekly meetings still can reflect on the Scriptures together in their own homes. There also are evangelization-related bulletin inserts and special reflections for teens.
The process culminates each year with a parish novena and a parish reflection day, Obark said. Christ the King Parish is in the second year of the Disciples in Mission program, and nearly 150 parishioners joined small faith-sharing groups last Lent, she said.
“We have some nice momentum going. There’s just a sense of excitement about it,” Obark said. “We looked at it as an opportunity to encourage people to get to know each other and find a comfort level for sharing their faith. We hope to continue that, because it helps build community among ourselves.”
During the first year of the program, participants are encouraged to examine their own spiritual journeys and deepen their faith. Sharing and reflecting on Scripture readings in a small-group setting helps participants become comfortable talking about their faith, she said.
“It empowers people to talk about their faith and the struggles that go along with that and the positives. It empowers you because you’ve been used to sharing your faith with others. It empowers you to bring God into the conversation,” Obark said.
This is helpful, because in the program’s second year participants are challenged to reach out to others, share their faith and develop a deepening commitment to welcoming and inviting others. During the third year, participants are encouraged to develop a new awareness of the transforming presence of Christ in their families, neighborhoods and workplaces.
Good Shepherd Parish in Henrietta also is beginning its second year of Disciples in Mission. Last year, 196 parishioners — including 42 children and 34 teens — participated in small groups, said Rachel Warren, coordinator of the parish’s Disciples in Mission leadership team.
“Most families said they benefited from it. It was wonderful to know that they weren’t on their own personal faith-sharing journeys alone, and that everyone struggles with the issues around faith,” Warren said.
Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Greece also is starting its second year of Disciples in Mission, and St. Mary’s of the Lake Parish in Ontario, the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva and Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County are in the process of launching the program in their communities. Although the program is something new and different, parish leaders are hopeful it will be a success.
Disciples in Mission will hopefully help parishioners become more involved in parish life and more accepting of Jesus, Father William Moorby, pastor of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick, told the Catholic Courier earlier this year.
“I think people are more used to a Lenten mission, where they are more passively involved listening to experts give talks. This is stepping out in faith in a different way,” said Sister Doreen Glynn, CSJ, pastoral administrator at St. Mary’s. “It’s more than a Lenten program. It is a recognition that evangelization is at the heart of the mission of the church.”