In collaboratives, the best practices seem a bit less dramatic than the encounter that Andrew had with Jesus. They are however, no less significant.
The Christmas season is over and now we return to ordinary time until the beginning of Lent. Ordinary time has a way of making us think that we now get back to business, to the usual day to day tasks. The tasks before the parishes that are in collaboratives is to keep the eyes of parishioners on the task of evangelization, of helping people come to know Jesus Christ and to recognize his presence in their lives. Becoming an evangelizing parish cannot be limited to one liturgical season over another. It is something that the collaboratives work at each and every day.
The Gospel for this weekend (John 1:35-42) gives us a lovely example of what and how to evangelize. We could say it presents a "best practice" for us about the work of evangelization. The Gospel tells us that Andrew was listening to the preaching of John the Baptist. John the Baptist's preaching led Andrew to see Jesus and to follow him. Andrew's encounter with Jesus led Andrew to get his brother Peter and bring him to Jesus. This is what we call "one-on-one evangelization." We need to tell one another the stories of encounter with Jesus. This is where we need to put our focus -- telling about Jesus and helping others realize that Jesus is present in their lives.
In collaboratives, the best practices seem a bit less dramatic than the encounter that Andrew had with Jesus. They are however, no less significant. Let me share with you a few things that collaboratives are doing that have touched parishioners lives and led to new ways of being disciples.
One collaborative has a very clear message -- "focus on disciples, not on survival." This collaborative has also found that the collaborative model has enabled them to align their staff and hire new positions that more effectively support the goals of the collaborative, such as small group discipleship. They have also found that by putting a great deal of emphasis into small groups, this is where people have the opportunity to hear the stories of others and to recognize the varied ways that God accompanies them in their lives.
Several collaboratives speak about the value of good music ministry as a means of evangelization. One music director in working with two parishes eventually found the choirs asking, "Why don't we rehearse together?" This resulted in a growing unity between the two groups to the point that at social events, choir members from the different parishes easily mix and no longer identify as from one parish or the other. Barriers are being broken, relationships are being built and greater sense of unity is being strengthened. Another collaborative realized it needed to renew the music program and made a deliberate effort to provide a variety of styles that enhance the liturgy and help people enter into prayer.
One of the evangelizing efforts that each collaborative is asked to put focus on is encouraging vocations. Many of the collaboratives have initiated vocation teams. These teams have provided workshops and panel presentations about the various vocational choices. Other parishes have initiated a prayer program. A vocation crucifix is given to a different family each week. These families commit to pray daily before the crucifix for Church vocations. Not only is this providing an opportunity to pray for vocations, but it also strengthens prayer in the family.
A few collaboratives have initiated children's Liturgy of the Word. Bringing young parents together with their children to hear the Word of God broken open has helped the parents put language around their faith and given them a way to talk about Jesus to their children. Some collaboratives host coffee and donuts after Mass to allow time for people to connect with one another in small groups or to meet with a staff person. These opportunities create fellowship among parishioners and open the door to greater creativity in parishes.
Becoming an evangelizing parish takes a great deal of energy and time. While the fruits of these various efforts are beginning to be seen little by little, they still require thought, planning and a great deal of intentionality. When asked how the collaborative got to where they are, one pastor responded, by being "persistent, goal-oriented, Christ-centered, and you never give up."
Sister Pat Boyle is associate director of the Archdiocese of Bostonís Office of Pastoral Planning.