Evangelization Teams, Part 3
How Do We Sustain Them?
by Frank DeSiano, CSP
Although leaders have called for evangelization teams in every parish, this has not come about. Fr. Alvin Illig, the Paulist who founded this ministry, dreamed of every parish hiring a Director of Primary Evangelization—that is, someone who helped a parish reach those who weren’t being reached by the parish’s present ministry. Beyond this idea, parish evangelization teams have had trouble getting started, and even more trouble sustaining themselves.
There are attitudinal reasons for t
his—and organizational ones. I’d like to start looking at the organizational reasons for the difficulty evangelization teams experience. Near the top I’d have to place their isolation. Evangelization teams are often filled with very sincere people who feel a yearning to accomplish something important—and they feel like they are the only ones. They feel alone and isolated in their quest.
Certainly one of the common complaints I hear all the time goes like this: the pastor doesn’t care about evangelization. (The pastor is busy caring for a lot of other things, surely, so he thinks evangelization is a luxury. Big mistake, Father—but that’s another issue.) Yet even when the pastor does care about evangelization, teams can still feel isolated.
This is because critical channels of communication are being blocked in the parish. A typical example might go like this: the evangelization team, meeting every other Thursday, had talked about organizing a big “welcome weekend,” at attempt to reach the entire neighborhood in some social way. They’ve sketched the idea and its cogency has grown upon all the team members. “Let’s talk to Father about it,” they conclude.
When the talk to Father, however, life gets very complicated. “We don’t have any free weekends,” Father says, pointing to a parish calendar that filled up six months before. “Besides, I don’t know who I’d be able to get to help with an idea like this, and it will cost money that is not in the budget.” Poof goes the balloon…another dream deflated for the evangelization team.
Had Father, or someone from the staff, or even someone from the pastoral council, been involved in the discussion, or even known about them, then things might have shaped themselves differently. Right in the beginning, Father might have caught the idea and felt its cogency, its power. Right in the beginning, how an idea like this related to the rest of the parish and pastoral ministers would have gotten clarified. Instead of an idea seeming to intrude on a already busy parish, it would have worked another way. The idea would have built upon the dynamics and ministries of the parish, showing how different aspects of the parish might become involved in the project.
Parishes simply have to defeat the isolation of their evangelization teams. Some of the same dynamics can attend groups like the Legion of Mary, or even an Ultreya group—people sitting in one room talking in their circle, but no one is connecting that circle to the wider parish dynamics.
It is absolutely essential that all evangelization teams have interchange with the pastoral leadership of the parish. There are various ways this can be organized: the pastor can visit the team when it is meeting every once in a while; a pastoral associate can work with a team, and report to the staff and pastoral council; or the pastoral council can have a delegate at the meeting, keeping the pastoral council apprised of what is happening.
Some of these issues are addressed in the Parish Evangelization Jump Starter Kit a tool designed in response to widespread replies to a survey we conducted a year ago.
One of the biggest fallacies the Catholic clergy labor under is this: “We are so busy taking care of our parishioners, we don’t have time to reach out.” Father, let’s face the facts here: 1) you are missing most of your Catholics just be attending to the ones who come; and 2) by not developing a sense of mission and outreach, you are depriving your parishioners of an essential dimension of parish life. You have shrunk their vision and deprived them of the mission call that belongs to the whole parish.
Next time, I’ll explore other organization issues.