GREEN BAY — Gather more than 550 people, all of whom work in parish ministry around the diocese, throw in workshops, keynote speakers and time to share stories and the energy is palpable.
“I come because it’s not just a matter of what you learn, but it’s also to be inspired,” said Sr. Pam Biel, pastoral leader at St. Mary Parish in Omro and Sr. Mary, Winneconne. “It’s to keep me with people who are doing what I am doing in ministry; it’s to be encouraged and go back home more committed.”
Tom Donovan, business administrator for Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh, echoed the sentiment: “I come back to see the people. I know it’s about (workshops and speakers), but it’s also the people.”
Ellen Mommaerts, director of the Norbertine Volunteer Community, said, “For me, it’s an opportunity to engage and network with people I don’t get to be around every day. … I come not so much for the programs, but for the mutual support in ministry.”
Walking through the displays from 83 vendors, Cristal Wavrunek, of St. Isidore the Farmer Parish, Tisch Mills, said that she also comes every year. “You come away with a little different idea on how to do things,” she noted, and then laughed. “Or you can go back and say, ‘I was right!’ It makes it easier to persevere.”
One of those vendors was Judy Goolsbey of the Diocesan Charismatic Renewal, a group that will mark its 50th anniversary in 2016. “I’m meeting a lot of people who have been through our programs,” she said. “such as the prayer groups or Koinonia.” She said that people don’t always realize that charismatic prayer is part of the Catholic tradition, but “even the first reading at the (convocation) Mass today was about praying in the Spirit” (Eph 6:10-20).
And the speakers were well received. Many attendees had already read the book, “ReBuilt. Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter,” by keynoters Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran.
For example, Fr. Paul Demuth, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Green Bay, brought 19 staff members to hear Fr. White and Corcoran. “We’ve been working with the ‘ReBuilt’ book (as a parish) for two years now,” Fr. Demuth said. “And we just unveiled our new parish vision statement last week: ‘Welcomed, Valued and Enriched in Christ.’”
After listening to the keynote and hearing its three points about music, message and mission, Fr. Philip Dinh-van-Thiep, pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Allouez, noted that the talk made sense to him and his parish experiences. But, he added. “The emphasis on music was a surprise to me. I knew it was important — I just didn’t know it was a priority.” He thought a moment and then added, “But you can tell (what works with music) by what they sing — and when they sing.”
Amy Matz, director of religious formation at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Neenah, “was really excited by the speakers. I think it’s always valuable to attend these types of seminars. Today’s topics were fantastic tools to have parish staffs look at how they do things and perhaps change the ‘it’s always been done in our parish’ mentality.”
“The Leadership Convocation,” she added, “is a wonderful opportunity for parish staffs to be together and network with other staffs. I like the concept that the speakers spoke on, but putting it into practice in this diocese might be challenging.”
Still, as Fr. White noted, challenge is what it’s all about in Jesus’ commission to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). He added, “Your zip code is your mission field.”