The eighth annual Leadership Convocation of the Diocese of Green Bay will offer answers to those questions and more. The convocation — titled “Parishes: Called to be Holy, Fully Engaged and Fully Alive,” based on Bishop David Ricken’s pastoral letter by the same name will be held on Thursday, Oct. 30, at the K.I. Convention Center in downtown Green Bay.
“It’s about making church matter,” said Mary Ann Otto, stewardship director for the diocese and chair of the convocation planning committee. “We brainstormed together, in light of the pastoral letter, to see what can be new and innovative to serve the parish leaders and what is current.”
With that focus in mind, they invited both Dr. Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development with the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, and Fr. Michael White and Thomas Corcoran, authors of the popular book, “ReBuilt Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter,” to speak.
Fr. White and Corcoran serve at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Md., where their innovative ideas about Catholic parish life have transformed Nativity from “a typical suburban parish” with a weekend attendance of 1,500 to a vibrant “Sunday experience” which sees some 4,000 attendees each weekend. Not only are there Sunday Masses offered, but also a variety of experiences — from a parking ministry, to programs for children in three different age groups, to a Café Vista, open after all Masses with complimentary beverages.
“Most people are still going (to our church) for an hour — but for that whole time — from parking ministry, to the greeters and children’s programs, it’s not just ‘going to church,’ but worshiping the living God and being part of a community,” explained Corcoran, who has served at Nativity since 1997.
Corcoran, himself a father of seven children, said that he believes Nativity is not that different from most parishes in Wisconsin, so the changes needed aren’t huge.
“It’s about being relevant to both people in our churches and the people in our community,” he said. “There are many people in our community, and we assume in many other communities, where church is not relevant to them. Maybe, they drive by a church, but the last thing they think of doing on Sunday morning is going to church.”
To change that, Fr. White and Corcoran (who also wrote “Tools for Rebuilding”) went to other churches — that aren’t Catholic. Instead, they studied evangelical Protestant parishes with large congregations — the mega-churches — to see what made them relevant to people. The answer? It’s about making people feel welcomed and engaged in the mission of the church itself: moving them from being “consumers of religion” to disciples of Christ.
No one today can show how to be a disciple of Christ better than Pope Francis. Dr. Reyes will explore “Pope Francis and the Culture of Encuentro: Prayer and Mission.”
Encuentro, which means encounter, is about being part of a community, Reyes explained, and is opposed to what Pope Francis has called a “culture of indifference.”
“The heart of encuentro is overcoming modern individual culture by a genuine meeting: knowing and having an exchange with other people,” Reyes said. “It’s ‘lived solidarity.’”
He maintains that true encuentro is something that people in the United States don’t understand very well; instead we have “the illusion of encounter.”
“We do live in a culture of transaction,” Reyes said. “The way we deal with people is in a transaction: buy, go to meetings, go to soccer. … We get things done. Everything is a transaction. There is something to the modern pace of life, to our inclination toward activity over contemplation, that all pushes against the kind of attentiveness — and frankly time — that we need for encounter. Encuentro means reorienting our lives: How do I live, day by day? What do I cram into my day? Genuine exchange with another human being — eye-to-eye — takes genuine attention.”
Pope Francis, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and even Pope John Paul II exhibited encuentro, he said. “That’s why people say that 15 seconds with John Paul II or Pope Francis was like they were the only person in the world,” Reyes said.
Encuentro doesn’t take a lot of time, Reyes added, but it does take full engagement, being fully attentive to the person in front of you. He said Pope Francis does this so well that, even in the language he uses in homilies and addresses, people “feel like you are in a conversation with the Holy Father.”
And, Reyes added, encuentro has to take place whenever the opportunity arises — “even if you aren’t feeling very social” at the moment. It’s about seeing Christ in others — and bringing Christ to others.
“It’s Christ in you and Christ in them — they meet something so much deeper than just a person,” Reyes explained. “That goes beyond anything natural; it’s supernatural. … We walk away changed.”
Both Reyes and Fr. White will also offer other workshops, along with members of the diocesan curia.
For more details about the Leadership Convocation, call 877-500-3580, ext. 8295, or visit www.gbdioc.org.