|Adam Janke, program director for St. Paul Street Evangelization, addresses participants at the Bloom Where You Are Planted evangelization workshop, held at St. Philip Church in Franklin. Photo by Mary McWilliams
Evangelization isn’t typically associated with Catholics, but St. Philip Church in Franklin is embracing the concept of sharing the Good News.
About 40 parishioners took part in a Sept. 24 workshop to learn how to make people feel more welcome in their church and feel confident in expressing their faith.
The day-long workshop, Bloom Where You Are Planted by St. Paul Evangelization Ministries, went beyond welcoming people who walk through the doors. It did, in fact, teach Catholics to leave the comfortable setting of their church and go out into the streets engaging non-Catholics and marginal Catholics in the faith, but in both an informed and spirit-filled way.
“We can’t just say, ‘Go tell Father’ or “Go ask Father.’ We need to practice how to respond,” Adam Janke, program director for the ministry, told the attendees. Janke was referring to common questions, misconceptions, and even lies that are told about Catholicism, sometimes even by Catholics who never really understood the faith.
Workshop participants became familiar with typical scenarios and 15 “archtypes” that Catholics often face such as those who claim to be “spiritual but not religious,” or believe in science, or who think Catholics belong to a cult or worship statues. A frequent Catholic response is to say nothing, due to lack of confidence or knowledge to speak out and it’s easy to find Catholics who have family members, co-workers, friends, and neighbors who have left the faith, are leaving, or who have questions.
Ana Anaya said she signed up to feel more secure in defending her faith. “I want to feel more confident to share what Catholics are about,” she said, adding that perhaps she might be able to help people convert or at least encourage lapsed Catholics to return to the faith.
When she does speak of her faith now, she puts it in personal terms, such as an experience she had or comfort she received that came directly as a result of being Catholic.
Janke offered a strategy about how to engage people and create opportunities to open up discussions that can lead to an “Emmaus experience.”
“Jesus didn’t debate. He opened their eyes,” Janke said. Finding common ground is the beginning.
There is a basic formula to follow:
• Let them tell their story and listen. This is a step in building relationships and allowing discussion.
• Proclaim the Gospel and answer questions. Proclaiming the Gospel could be setting up a booth and handing out rosaries, or carrying extra miraculous medals. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so and tell them you’ll find out. “God gave us a positive faith,” said Janke. “Every question has an answer.”
• Make an invitation to the faith, such as asking if they’ve ever considered becoming a Catholic.
• Offer a short prayer on the spot.
“I can’t think of anyone who has turned down a prayer,” Janke said and recalled an atheist who went on for 30 minutes on why there is no God, after which he eagerly accepted Janke’s offer of a short prayer for the young man’s upcoming exams. Janke cautioned listeners to never accept a label, such as “atheist.”
Telling a personal story, such as why it’s great to be a Catholic, is another part of sharing. Bringing in the “kerygma” is a vital element of sharing the Good News. Kerygma is a “vibrant and valiant proclamation by someone filled with the Holy Spirit that moves the heart of the listener to respond in faith.”
That kerygma should be simple, personal, always focused on Jesus Christ, and rooted in the Word of God. It also contains a call to repent and convert.
For those who don’t quite know where to start, St. Paul Street Evangelization offers training and many free resources. The program, Seeker Small Groups, will soon be available free to any person or parish who wants it. It was written for the 260 teams that St. Paul’s has in communities throughout the world. The teams go out into the street to evangelize in a non-confrontational manner. The teams, Janke said, provide a bridge between the community and the parishes.
To learn more about St. Paul Street Evangelization or to find resources, go to stpaulse.com or streetevangelization.com.