Pastoral Plan: Encouraging parishioners to share their encounters with Christ

By Catholic Spirit Staff

The diocesan Pastoral Plan appropriately begins with this quote from Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’” 
Thus reflecting on how we encounter Christ in our lives and how each person is an instrument of that encounter for others is at the heart of the Pastoral Plan, which is entitled, “Encounter that Leads to Transformation.”
Effectively implementing the Pastoral Plan in a parish setting involves the collaborative work of many people and often the creative use of already established resources, said Charlene O’Connell, a member of the diocesan Pastoral Plan Core Team. This has been the experience of Dawn Rowan, the Adult Faith Formation director at St. Thomas More Parish in Austin. 
Rowan began working at the north Austin parish in July 2008 and has served the adult faith formation and evangelization needs of the parish through retreats, workshops, programs, small faith communities and the parish’s RCIA process. 
With the promulgation of the Pastoral Plan, Rowan seized the opportunity to help those in parish ministry engage in significant conversations about encounter and what “Encounter that Leads to Transformation” looks like in everyday, ordinary life. To help with the conversations and provide some structure to the process, she selected elements from an evangelization resource: “Relit: the Heart of Evangelization” (www.relittraining.com). 
She said one of the most helpful components of the program was inviting those in ministry to reflect on the Cycle of Evangelization, which describes the journey to encountering Christ and growing in discipleship through five stages: witness, proclamation, conversion, discipleship and mission. 
Rowan said the participants had in-depth conversations about what people need at each stage of the journey and how to meet them where they are. The process helped those in ministry to see how they support others on this faith journey and to identify new ways to support people. 
“It really helped in understanding how all of the parish’s evangelization ministries work together on this shared mission,” Rowan said.
Another ready resource for parish ministries, adult formation and evangelization that Rowan used was the book “Forming Intentional Disciples” by Sherry Weddell (www.siena.org). She saw that the first few stages of “Relit” paralleled well with the conversion models introduced in Weddell’s book, so she used them together in talking with ministries about ways to evangelize and, in particular, helping RCIA ministers think through how they walk with people. 
O’Connell praised Rowan’s ability to integrate these resources into parish life.
“Rowan is committed to adult faith formation and evangelization and has great experience in helping people get started, reconnecting with the church and learning more about their faith, and providing the setting for those who want to explore their faith more deeply,” O’Connell said. 
Another effort to implement the Pastoral Plan at St. Thomas More involves the development of Witness Weekends, which were started to help parishioners enter into the encounter with Christ as a community. Once a month during Mass members of the parish give witness to what meeting Christ has meant in their lives. This initiative was brought forth and implemented by a sub-committee of the parish’s Pastoral Council tasked with considering how they would implement the diocesan Pastoral Plan. 
O’Connell said these witness talks allow parishioners to hear about others’ encounters with Christ and reflect on how God is present and at work in their lives. 
“In giving these talks and sharing their experiences, the parishioners take a risk, but as Pope Francis says in Evangelii Gaudium, ‘The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms,’” O’Connell said.
For additional information about these ministries and other adult formation and evangelization opportunities, visit the parish website at www.stmaustin.org. Rowan has established a detailed list of other resources, both print and online, for the formation and evangelization of adults, contact her at Dawn@stmaustin.org. The diocesan Pastoral Plan website at www.austindioceseplan.org offers resources, ideas and stories about what other parish are doing to implement the plan.