Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 10, 1999
Mission brought parish together
It was a start at evangelization, say Fort parishioners
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
Members of Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Fort Saskatchewan learned so much from their parish mission, they can't wait to share their experiences with others.
A handful of those who organized a two-week long mission last fall have joined the provincial missionary team headed by the Oblates. They've already been involved in three missions, and 12 more are planned, including one at Annunciation Parish in west Edmonton.
"It's been an opportunity for us to come together as a family," says missionary team member Joe Staszko.
"Working together has been very life-giving," agrees Gladys Brown. "We have become a much closer, much stronger community."
Part of their role on the provincial team is to bring feedback to the Oblates on what worked well during their own parish mission and what could be improved.
However, the parish's pastor says he's unsure whether the mission achieved its objective of bringing fallen-away Catholics back to the Church.
Staszko says the most effective and powerful experiences at the mission involved simple rituals. At one evening Mass, a large print of an icon of Christ's face was divided into more than 400 pieces and distributed among those at the Mass.
Each person was asked to bring their piece back the next evening and reassemble the picture. All but five pieces were returned.
"It was a very bonding experience," Staszko says, "especially for the young children who were so excited to see where their piece fit into the big picture."
But the five missing pieces send a strong message, Staszko's wife Helen adds. "It really shows the brokenness of the Church and that there is still work to be done to reach out to members of the parish."
The pastor, Father Duncan MacDon-nell, agrees the mission was a "good start to focusing on evangelization."
To keep the spirit alive, MacDonnell says, the parish will hold an annual three-day renewal retreat for the next three years. The first is planned for this fall.
MacDonnell says part of the renewal will focus on revitalizing the listening centres set up during the mission and getting new members to join. Half of the 16 listening centres are still running regularly, with about 10 members in each.
The listening centres meet monthly at a parishioner's home. A "listening leader," reads a Scripture passage and members participate in reflection and discussion.
Ted Armstrong says although the centres were a new experience for many parishioners, "we are getting the response, and I think people are becoming more confident."
"People are really warming up to them," agrees Brown, adding that the small group format helps to build community.
"I've had people at my listening centre tell me that they had found the parish cold in the past, and now they feel welcome."
The listening centres reflect the participatory nature of the mission, Staszo points out. "This was not a sit down and listen mission.
"Some people came the first night and realized they would have to participate, and they never came again. Our challenge now is to find a way to invite those people back."
"I've been on parish missions before where I've just gone to see what I can get out of it," adds Jean Lorenson.
"But when I went into this mission, I got out of it what I put into it."
MacDonnell says the size of Our Lady of the Angels Parish makes it difficult to determine whether there has been an influx of people returning to the church since the mission.
With about 1,200 families, it's the largest parish to undertake this type of mission, traditionally run by the Oblates in smaller communities in northern Alberta.
But MacDonnell says he has recommended the process to a number of larger parishes, suggesting they begin planning early and involve as many people as possible. More than 120 parishioners volunteered in some way during the mission at Our Lady of the Angels.
"This mission from the beginning had a lot of involvement from the grassroots," he says, adding that's where he places his hope for the future.
"People are talking and there is some response, but we need to keep moving. This is a first step to ongoing conversion and evangelization."