OSHKOSH — Kristin Bird and her Burning Hearts Disciples are companions on the journey with those looking to renew or deepen their faith. “It’s the model that Jesus did,” said Bird, founder of Burning Hearts Disciples. “We walk with people.”
This apostolate ministry will be one of many recognized at the April 8 Jubilee Mass at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay. Each month during 2018, the diocese marks the 150th anniversary of the diocese with a special themed celebration. April’s focus is Diocesan Apostolates and Retreat Movements.
Bird started Burning Hearts Disciples nearly four years ago with the help of her newly-retired parents, Steve and Maureen Anderson, and donors who promised funding for two years.
“My dad had retired from corporate life and both (parents) got more involved with their faith,” said Bird. “They had always been involved in their parish, but now they saw it more about faith. As they discovered more, they caught on fire and called me.”
Bird had been working in youth ministry in parishes for 15 years with middle and high school students. She said she was feeling somewhat frustrated and felt she was failing families because there was only so much the parish could do one hour a week.
“Everything we did assumed we’re all at the same place, but the longer I worked in it, the more I realized that students and families were not all in the same place,” she said.
Bird was ready for a new challenge to create new disciples and help others rekindle their Catholic faith. “I looked at it like a blank sheet and asked, ‘If you want to live out the new evangelization, what would it look like?” She said her dream was developing a program for Catholics who wanted to grow in their faith. “Would it be with a video series, books?” she asked.
She learned that it came down to walking with people on their journey. This means meeting people where they are because not everyone is in the same place, Bird explained, especially when it comes to how they approach or live their Catholic faith — or even how they understand their faith.
As she explored this further, she began to lose her feeling of fruitlessness. “Now it is fruitful, and the more fruits we see, we are reminded this is the Holy Spirit’s ministry,” she said.
“I didn’t think parishes would be interested, but the Holy Spirit proved me wrong,” Bird said. Burning Hearts Disciples took off and grew as parishes around the country responded. The program is aimed at individuals or parishes.
In addition, she said, it helps the Green Bay Diocese as part of Bishop David Ricken’s new evangelization efforts. This includes facilitating retreats for parish and diocesan leaders and leading parish missions. Burning Hearts has helped with a regional discipleship seminar in this diocese and plans another one in the fall. It also works with Alpha, a series of sessions exploring the Christian faith now being used in parishes.
“Dioceses and parishes often don’t have the time to start something new,” said Bird. “Many of them are in maintenance mode. We can come in and help them plan for a mission and a fresh approach.” Burning Hearts uses its tools to help people re-light or stoke the fire that burns within the hearts of Catholics, said Bird.
Bird said her ministry does not use a prescribed set of materials, but rather, “we determine what they need after we meet with them initially. Our goal is relationship building.”
While Bird is located in Oshkosh, the organization serves nationally. “There is a lot of focus here in our diocese because we are here, but other places have asked us to come and do this in different places,” she said.
In 2017, Burning Hearts offered parish missions in four different dioceses around the country, including Florida and Louisiana. Its 2017 outreach also included:
n Having seminars focused on “Discover Jesus” in the Green Bay Diocese. Next fall, the seminar will focus on “Follow Jesus.”
n Being invited to participate in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Convocation of Catholic Leaders as a collaborating organization in Florida.
n Accompanying 14 Catholic parish, school and diocesan teams in the creation of a culture of missionary discipleship through focused formation, strategic planning and ongoing support.
“The focus for 2018 is on Christ-centered collaboration,” she said. “We are partnering with people and organizations to re-energize the Catholic Church and foster cultures of discipleship around the country. Fostering those creative Spirit-filled relationships is a key focus of our ministry in this year.”
For more information, visit www.burningheartsdisciples.org.