St. Luke`s parish in Mapleridge, B.C., recently invited 8200 people to dinner.

St. Luke`s parish in Mapleridge, B.C., recently invited 8200 people to dinner.

February 6, 2012
PAT BYRNE CASEY
THE B.C. CATHOLIC

St. Luke's Parish in Maple Ridge, B.C., recently invited 8,200 people - give or take a few thousand – to dinner.

That number, says a media release from their office, represents the one-fifth of the local population who are lapsed Catholics.

"Those of us who live our faith take great comfort in it," said Vernon Robertson, a parishioner and the organizer of the event, a "full meal deal" entitled Discovering Christ.

St. Luke's was the first parish in Canada to offer the program.

"This process reaches out to people who are experiencing a lack of peace and purpose in their lives, whether they are Catholics who have drifted away or people who have never really been part of any faith community."

PARISH HALL PACKED

A positive RSVP from 87 people was enough to pack the parish hall for seven Monday evenings and one half-day Saturday.

"Our participants ranged from people in their 30s to two in their 90s," said Robertson, "and most completed all seven weeks. Everyone who filled out an evaluation reported it to be a positive experience."

Each week the group enjoyed a meal prepared by parish volunteers and then watched a short video with basic information about Christianity and Catholicism. Discussions at each dinner table followed.

Robertson said the discussion played a crucial part in the evening, answering a need expressed by young adults who are increasingly turning away from organized religion because they say they don't feel comfortable expressing doubts.

YOUNG CHRISTIANS

A study by Barna, a California research group, has reported a sense of disconnectedness as one reason for a statistic Robertson finds troubling: Three of five young Christians abandon church after the age of 15.

"We didn't invite people so we could tell them what to think," said Robertson. "We wanted to hear what they think, how they feel, about Jesus Christ and Christianity."

Participants seemed to agree with Robertson, almost unanimously reporting the discussion time to be the most satisfying part of the evening and suggesting that it be prolonged in future sessions.

Discovering Christ videos and content were developed over 15 years by ChristLife, a lay Catholic ministry in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and are currently being used in eight U.S. states and in Europe.

A response to the Church's call for a new evangelization, it is designed to help Catholics understand evangelization and to equip them, working within their parishes, to take part in a task the Church calls essential.

The course is similar in format to the Alpha Course which originated in the late 1970s in London, England, and has since spread to offer more than 55,000 courses in 166 countries through all major Christian churches, including Catholic.

WONDERING ABOUT GOD

While originally designed for lapsed Catholics, Discovering Christ, like Alpha, welcomes anyone interested in Christianity, said Robertson.

Some individuals at this first course acknowledged having been raised in another faith or having no faith.

"Those people came with questions. They were wondering about God and where faith fits in their life," he said.

Robertson said he noticed an amazing comfort level in the room from the first evening, more than he has experienced in any of the programs and gatherings he has attended over a 20-year involvement with evangelization in the archdiocese.

His sentiment was echoed by other members of the Discovering Christ presentation team.

'BOWLED OVER'

"There was a real and immediate cohesiveness in the group," said Greg Pace. Retired teacher Marie Mandoli said she was "bowled over" by the love she felt in the room.

Asked what of significance had happened to them during the seven weeks, many participants' comments were similar:

"I felt the amazing presence of the Holy Spirit."

"It brought me closer to Jesus."

"I am a happier person and feel closer to God than ever before."

"It touched me, especially the video on The Father's Love Letter."

"The Lord spoke to my heart."

Forgiveness was a common theme in respondents' comments: forgiving others and forgiveness from God.

"The greatest revelation given to me was realizing that no matter what I do wrong in my life, the Lord will always love me and never abandon me," said one.

Another told of being touched by Jesus and being able to forgive and let go of anger she had been carrying for more than five decades.

St. Luke's parishioners say they are excited to be offering Discovering Christ again.