By Fran Lavelle
My home in Starkville is out in the country. On my way home by way of a narrow gravel road, I pass by the Volunteer Fire Department. It occurred to me the other night that I have volunteers in my local rural community that are trained and prepared to come to my assistance if I ever experienced a fire on my property. These folks are trained to save lives. I am grateful that there are people in my community who take on that responsibility and take with it the seriousness of being prepared. Sometimes, however, folks in ministry are hesitant to ask “too” much of the people in the pews. The concern is that as volunteers we fear that by placing too many requirements on them, they will quit. I think the opposite is true.
Proper training gives us a certain level of competency. The more competent one is, the more willing they are to take continue to take on responsibility.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed with and extensive increasing list of things to do and decreasing budget and/or energy to do them. Sometimes we just need to spend the money, time and energy to gain insight, perspective and rest that we most need to do our ministry with competency and care. So it was for the more than 50 people from the Diocese of Jackson who recently made the journey to Kenner, La., for the 33rd Annual Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference. This year’s theme, “Christ Centered People: Called, Gifted and Sent,” drew more than 900 people from the Gulf Coast region and beyond.
One of my favorite parts of the weekend was seeing contemporaries from around the diocese. Our delegation from the Jackson diocese included priests, sisters and lay people. I am still very new to this job and this was the first time for me to attend this conference. I take no credit for the success of the weekend, but I must say I was so proud of each and every member of our diocese who attended. The weekend was educational, reflective and challenging.
One of the best keynote speeches was given by Father Steven Bell, CSP. Father Bell was formerly on the staff at Busted Halo and now serves as the pastoral associate at St. Thomas More Newman Center in Columbus, Ohio. We had a chance to chat before his remarks as I had been asked to introduce him. Father Bell challenged us to step out of our role as “church people” and look at our ministry with new eyes. What if I were coming to this event/activity for the first time? What would my experience of hospitality be? How would I fit in? Hospitality should resonate in every aspect of what we do in ministry.
It does not matter if one is the pastor, DRE, youth minister, catechist, book keeper or janitor hospitality should be the hallmark of all that we do. This is a challenge that I keep before me in my ministry and in working with college leadership underscored often. It does not hurt, however, to be reminded of it again.
While it is a regional conference, speakers came from all over the US. Hearing the perspective of someone who comes from a different place can be beneficial and enlightening. In those moments we realize how much a like we are and that no place is free of challenges. For example, a workshop speaker made a statement that I have not heard before but resonated with me immensely. He said that we’ve got to stop treating youth like a problem and start treating them as vital and integral members of our parishes. Zowie! They are NOT, he reminded us, the future of our Church. They are in every way, the Church of today.
His challenge made me think about the ways our Office can better serve the people in our parishes chosen to minister to our youth. Just like my volunteer firefighters down the lane, I want our catechist and DREs/CREs to feel like they have the education, training and tools to do their very best. And, like my volunteer firefighters, there is something life-saving about the mission. If your parish is not already taking catechetical training seriously, maybe this will serve as food for thought. I encourage you to make the investment.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of the Office of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)