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Parishes advancing goals, adding priorities and adapting to meet needs

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BY MARLENE A. ZLOZA

Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

      While the third anniversary of the Diocese of Gary’s only synod passed quietly last month, it’s clear parishes are continuing to implement their goals and reach out with new initiatives related to the eight ecclesial areas: Evangelization; Young Catholics; Sacraments, Prayer and Worship; Social Teaching; Discipleship/Formation; Marriage and Family; Stewardship; and Vocations/Leadership Formation.

      “We have changed our (original) Synod Implementation Plan slightly, but are continuing to work toward our goals and have added another priority with two new goals attached,” said Father Ben Ross, pastor at St. Bridget in Hobart.

      “For Evangelization, we’ll be hosting the Alpha Program (adult faith formation) for the third year this fall, and we are trying to build that up, since it is good for getting people interested in the faith,” Father Ross said.

      In the area of Young Catholics, “one of the big concerns in the synod,” the St. Bridget pastor noted, “we are still in the germinal phase, brainstorming new ideas for those 17 and under and for young adults 18 to 30, and continuing to reinforce religious education and building family catechesis.”

      Father Ross also mentioned a summer Bible study series being hosted by seminarians Nick Emsing and Robert Budzius on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. “It is connecting young adults with the readings for Sunday Mass to grow their faith and gives them a way to see other young people. The youth are the future of our Catholic Church.”

      In the area of Vocations/Leadership Development, St. Bridget developed a 10-member Pastoral Council chosen through discernment and “picking names from a hat,” said Father Ross. “I generate the agenda for monthly meetings, and the council is really meant to support the pastor” by reviewing and offering suggestions on a variety of topics through discussion.

      “I’m excited to see what they’ll do in the parish now that they have a deeper understanding after seeing the nitty-gritty of parish work. They have a greater appreciation for what goes on,” Father Ross noted.

      Under Sacraments, Prayer and Worship, the training of parishioners for a new Unbound Ministry based on the book by Neil Lozano, executive director of Heart of the Father Ministries and the Unboundministry efforts, has begun. ”We were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but we have about a dozen people in training,” noted Father Ross.

      “We want to use the family foundation to build and encourage discipleship through catechesis, faith sharing and mentoring our youth, and introduce small groups to our church by using a variety of resources and activities to share, inspire and fortify the faith of our young adults,” Father Ross said.

      An effort is also under way to reintroduce the parish to adoration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. “We have a statue and a stained-glass window of the Sacred Heart in our parish, so I know there was an interest, and I have found someone with great devotion to help me prioritize it,” Father Ross said. “We now include adoration to the Sacred Heart during the Holy Hour after our Mass on the first Friday of every month, and we have added it to the religious education program with coloring books and bookmarks.”

      St. Patrick in Chesterton has three parishioners leading the implementation of synod goals.

      “Danette Lashbrook is our director of music,” said Father Nate Edquist, former associate pastor. “One of our synod goals was to build up a comprehensive music program, she has done just that in an incredible way.

      Lashbrook, who started as music director at St. Patrick last August, had as her first goal, “to continue building up the choir and cantors,” now boasting 19 choir members that have developed into a musical family. “Of course, we could always use more members, and I’d like to increase the number of adult and youth cantors, too,” she added.

      The children’s choir, which formerly sang only at the Christmas Vigil Mass, now leads the singing at 11 a.m. Mass on the first Sunday of every month and has four very dedicated cantors from grades 6-8.

      Lashbrook reached out to parishioners to join a new Resurrection Choir that sings at funerals, and has nine faithful members “who come to sing for the family, when perhaps they are unable to sing for themselves. The voices of the community carry them through.”

      “I’ve been nurtured by all of them, their sense of dedication, and that’s what gives me life,” Lashbrook said. “Hopefully, they have enriched the people in their worship. We got new hymnals funded by a donor that were met with total acceptance. We were able to learn just a few new hymns before the pandemic struck, so we look forward to adding more soon.”

      “Elaine Krause is our coordinator of hospitality,” said Father Edquist. “One of our synod goals was to reach at least 75 ministers of hospitality by last January, and she is overseeing 95 individuals.”

      “I signed up to be a greeter in 2018, after I retired from teaching, but the whole structure of hospitality has changed since then, and Father Nate asked me to become the coordinator,” said Krause. “I make the agendas for the Welcome Team meetings, send out the minutes and schedule the greeters.”

      Krause has recruited a number of new greeters, mostly through word-of-mouth and personal invitation, and now the ministry has changed again with the COVID-19 pandemic. “We had organized receptions, a Fat Tuesday Party and provided breakfast or lunch for conferences at the parish, but now there are no hymnals to hand out and no food can be served,” Krause noted. The greeters now check-in parishioners who have registered to attend Mass, direct them to ushers for seating and disinfect the pews and other surfaces after every Mass, added Krause.

      “Marisa Kohnen is one of our youth mentors and mentors one of our small groups, which still meets via Zoom,” said Father Edquist. “She and her group also assisted with our Corpus Christi procession on June 14 by setting up an altar of benediction for the procession. One of our synod goals was to build up our small youth groups based on grade level and gender, and we currently have at least nine active groups.”

      Kohnen established one small group of seventh-grade girls that met monthly at the Heeg Center at the parish for guided prayer and discussions until the pandemic forced them to switch to Zoom, and hopes to add more groups for other ages once in-person meetings are again allowed. “It’s important for youths to have some outside influences for faith formation, other than their family. The development of our youth is so important,” she said.

      St. Stanislaus Kostka in Michigan City took a big step forward by meeting a parish priority in the area of Discipleship/Formation this spring when church buildings closed due to the pandemic. Masses from the parish are now being shown on the local access cable television channel six days a week, according to Mary Ellen Sebert.

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