By Joanna King
FLOWOOD – Father Gerry Hurley and his leadership team are moving forward with a successful evangelization program launched at their parish designed to convert hearts and souls and bring faithful closer to Jesus Christ.
The church’s leadership team is working to focus the parish as a community that is moved “by the Spirit to expand our relationship with Jesus and the Father,” says Father Hurley, pastor of St. Paul Flowood, about the parish’s evangelization initiative inspired by Father James Mallon’s best-selling book “Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish.”
In 2014 Father Mallon, episcopal vicar for parish renewal and leadership support for the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth in Nova Scotia, Canada, released the book designed to guide parishes seeking to cultivate vibrant and dynamic faith communities centered on missionary discipleship. Over the past five years, St. Paul Flowood took what they learned from the guide and slowly began introducing different programs as part of a parish renewal project reaching out to various age groups and all members of the parish community. “We are establishing a direction of what is important,” said Father Hurley.
The parish used the ChristLife series (Discovering Christ, Following Christ and Sharing Christ) as an evangelization ministry to equip area Catholics for the essential work of evangelization as disciples of Christ. It launched with success. Another program is the parish’s small group ministry designed to encourage parishioners to get involved in the life and ministry of the parish. Alpha is an interactive evangelization program for youth used in the parish.
“Our ChristLife experience and our small group ministry processes have been a huge measure of growth and development in our parish,” said a pleased Father Hurley. “We have almost 400 people participating in small groups, which is certainly encouraging. There is much more work to be done because at the center is a community that is united, not uniform, but a united community with freedom of expression and growth, reflecting on what it means to be a true Eucharistic community,” Father Hurley added.
Father Mallon asserts that the Church has “an identity crisis.” In his introductory video, he states that “We’re a missionary church. We don’t have a mission. We are the mission.” Rather than be missionary, Mallon states that “often in our parishes we become maintenance focused and that is . . . we are content to maintain the flock.”
Moving from maintenance to mission is the message at the center of Father Mallon’s Divine Renovation. “In the life of a parish there can be so many things going on. So much busyness, so many requests for time and energy and events. . . . Are we so lost in busyness that we have forgotten the main thing,” asks Father Mallon.
Going back to the Great Commission, the instructions of the resurrected Jesus Christ to his disciples to spread his teachings, Father Mallon suggests that there is where parishes can find the “main thing’” which is to “make disciples.” Going, baptizing and teaching are the means by which we fulfill the command to “make disciples,” says Father Mallon.
“We’re led to be outwardly focused . . . to reach the un-churched,” Father Mallon explains, “Jesus didn’t say go and be disciples. He said go and make disciples. He didn’t say go and make disciples of people in the pews.”
At this point, the movement at St. Paul is not totally welcomed by everyone in the parish family, but the witness of results from the efforts of the parish’s new ministries continue to change hearts and encourage the pastor. Father Hurley says that “while there is still a great deal of push back, we are confident in where we are moving,” he said adding that he feels a great deal of support from his parish.
Rachel Mathias, a teacher at Brinkley Middle School, grew up at St. Paul receiving her first communion there as a child. She reflected at a small group meeting through St. Paul and shared that she appreciates the parish change in the direction from maintenance to mission and is happy about the additional freedom of expression of faith and love that it has afforded her.
As part of parish changes, St. Paul music ministry featuring traditional music and songs since its beginning, has added a “praise team” complete with bass, guitar, piano and drums.
“I miss our choir in a way, but I’m grateful that we’re at this point now,” said Mathias, a part of the choir since she was in tenth grade. “Yes, it’s different from what we are used to, but I have never felt closer to Jesus in Mass,” says Mathias, explaining that she has a new and stronger relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist with the help of her parish’s evangelization initiatives and new programs.
“For me it’s kind of like the Eucharist didn’t really sink in and have as much meaning until I realized who it was that I was actually talking to and singing to. So, I feel like for me that is my mission now. Yes, it’s definitely different than what I grew up with . . . but I have never felt closer in what we are doing than we are right now.”
Father Hurley said that he and his staff “are very enthusiastic about the growth and development thus far. We get much feedback and some resistance, but this is a natural part of this intense growth process,” he said.
To match their divine renovation, St. Paul Flowood is working on a capital campaign to renovate parish facilities and create a larger, more welcoming place of worship. The parish seeks to expand and improve their spiritual home and grow the parish flock with disciple and faithful brothers and sisters, who will open their arms and hearts and share stories of what a difference having a relationship with Jesus Christ has made in their lives.
Father Hurley displays a warm welcome on the parish website: “Jesus invites each of us to a personal relationship with him,” he states. “We hope to be a great companion to you on your journey of faith!“