November 30, 2018

Evangelization Supplement

Christmas video and door-to-door outreach capture heart of parish evangelization efforts: ‘We welcome you’

Father Aaron Pfaff, then-pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville, poses with newly confirmed Catholic Edy Ballard, center, and her sponsor, Carol McElroy, in St. Joseph Church after the parish’s Easter Vigil Mass on March 26, 2016. Returning to the Church after being away for 40 years, Edy Ballard of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville became involved in starting evangelization outreach efforts for her faith community. (Submitted photo)

Father Aaron Pfaff, then-pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville, poses with newly confirmed Catholic Edy Ballard, center, and her sponsor, Carol McElroy, in St. Joseph Church after the parish’s Easter Vigil Mass on March 26, 2016. Returning to the Church after being away for 40 years, Edy Ballard of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville became involved in starting evangelization outreach efforts for her faith community. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

With the Advent and Christmas seasons approaching, Jonathan Helt wanted to create a special message to entice non-Christians and fallen-away Catholics to come to his parish church at this time of year.

So the 37-year-old father of four put together a one-minute video for his parish that features “O Come, All Ye Faithful” playing as the following message is shared:

“This Christmas Season
Come Home
To Jesus
And His Church.
We Welcome You
With Open Arms
And Open Hearts.
Come Home
To the Catholic Church.”

The video ends with an image of Helt’s home church in the Terre Haute Deanery—Sacred Heart in Clinton. The closing image also provides the parish’s address and phone number.

“It will be worth it if it brings even just one person into a relationship with Christ,” Helt says. “I want as many people in his Church—that he founded—to know the peace and love that he offers.”

Helt’s video is just one way that he and other individuals and groups in parishes across the archdiocese are making grassroot efforts of evangelization—hoping to bring more people into the Catholic faith.

Helt is also working to start a parish evangelization team at Sacred Heart.

“Initially, what I’d like to have is for the existing parishioners to have more fellowship. Then I’d like to extend it to fallen-away Catholics. And as you see the love of our parish spreading outward, maybe it will draw non-Christians and Protestants to that light and that love. I urge other parishes to do the same.”

‘I want people to know Jesus’

If evangelizing sounds frightening to you or out of your comfort zone, then Gwen O’Connor understands that feeling.

“It’s a little scary for me because I’m not good at making conversation,” says O’Connor, a member of St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis.

Still, she and four other people from the parish have been going door-to-door in the neighborhood around the church, inviting people to Mass and different parish events.

“We’ve gone out about eight times on a Sunday afternoon within the past year,” she says. “We go in pairs when we can. We’ll knock on the door, introduce ourselves, tell them we’re from St. Philip’s down the street, and ask them if they have a church home.”

They share a flyer that has a list of parish activities and the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization’s card “Catholic Faith, 10 Things We Want You to Know.”

Sometimes, they also offer small crucifixes.

“People really like that,” O’Connor says. “It’s a symbol of who we are.

“People are mostly friendly. Sometimes, we get into a conversation. And we come across some sad situations at times. Sometimes, we ask if we could pray for them or someone in their family. When we’re done, we pray for them in the church.”

As far as she knows, no one has come to the church because of their efforts, but that hasn’t stopped their group.

“Only God can open their hearts,” O’Connor says. “We just keep doing what we’re doing and letting them know we are there. I want people to know Jesus. That’s the most important thing in life.”

‘I was hungry for more’

Edy Ballard’s invitations to help people discover the beauty of the Catholic faith come from an unusual perspective.

She had been away from the Church for more than 40 years, before choosing to return to the faith three years ago.

“I think it was just the Holy Spirit,” says Ballard, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville. “I was going to a Methodist church, and I felt I needed something more authentic. It was a natural progression of my spiritual growth. I was hungry for more.”

Her return has brought her joy.

“I felt like I went up to my attic and found a trunk that I had forgotten since 1969, and found these beautiful gemstones that were there all along.”

Rediscovering that treasure, she wanted to share it. So she approached Father Michael Keucher, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, and their conversation led to the idea of starting an evangelization and outreach effort in Shelby County, with the assistance of members of nearby St. Vincent de Paul Parish.

Since its beginning a year ago, the effort has led to evangelization outreaches at the St. Joseph Parish Festival and during the Shelbyville Chamber of Commerce’s “First Fridays on the Circle.”

The group also set up a “You’re Welcomed Back with Love” table inside St. Joseph Church, where returning Catholics have been offered gift bags that include a rosary, the parish directory and an information card for contacting a priest.

“There’s a perception from people outside the Church that it’s hard to get into the Church,” Ballard says. “I don’t think we do a good job of letting people know they’re welcomed.

“Evangelization is not just for a committee or a dozen people in the congregation. It’s every single person in the Church. We, as Catholics, have a responsibility. We’re the face of the Catholic Church. In a day and a time when there’s so much bad publicity about our Church, we need to let people know there’s a beautiful Church here for them.”

‘Our marching orders from Jesus’

These efforts at the parish level to evangelize are just what the Church needs, and what more parishes need to do, says Ken Ogorek, the archdiocese’s director of catechesis.

“Parish evangelization teams help reach the unchurched, the alienated and the practicing Catholics in a direct way that draws them deeper into the worship, teaching and stewardship ministries of the parish faith community.

“Without a specific plan to make disciples, a parish is essentially saying, ‘We’re OK with staying at our current size,’ or worse yet, ‘Shrinking is OK with us.’ ”

Christ calls his followers to do more, Ogorek says. He cites “our marching orders from Jesus” in the Bible.

“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:18-20).

Parish evangelization teams can have that power to make a difference in people’s lives, Ogorek says.

“There is so much untapped potential—so many souls in need of Jesus—throughout our parish territories.”
 

(To view the video that Jonathan Helt created go to bit.ly/2PDWtKs. For more information on the archdiocese’s “10 Things We Want You to Know...” card or to download a copy, go to www.archindy.org/yearoffaith/10things.html. To order free copies in English or Spanish, call 800-382-9836, ext.1550, or 317-236-1550.)

 

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