Evangelization can take many forms.
Sometimes, it can look like a friendship forged between a new parishioner and an established one — a relationship centered on the church community that can impact the spiritual lives of both parties.
Other times, it can be as simple — and breathtaking — as a pristinely cut stained-glass window depicting the zeal of a martyr whose life was the ultimate testament of faith.
Over a period of three years, parishes throughout southeastern Wisconsin have been examining and enhancing their efforts for evangelization after the 2014 Archdiocesan Synod identified it as one of the key priorities of the Church in the next 10 to 15 years.
That concept of evangelization centers, of course, around sharing the mystery of the Sunday Mass, as well as enhancing a sense of Catholic identity among the faithful.
At St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, an evangelization committee tackled both those issues, seeking to identify ways the parish — which includes one campus in North Lake and one in Monches — could improve its efforts to share the Gospel message not only with new communities but within its existing one.
The idea was to create “an environment of welcoming, of pilgrimage, of opening the Church up and explaining God’s love to anyone,” said Chris Slowinski, director of evangelization and stewardship at the parish. “We had small initial steps, but recently those steps have really started to blossom.”
It’s been most noticeable in two ways — first, the installation of stained-glass windows in the newly renovated North Lake church that tell the story of seven North American saints, and second with “Getting to Know You,” a unique new ministry that pairs “established” parish members with newer ones to increase a sense of community within the congregation.
Both the windows and the Getting to Know You program are ways to show the parishioners that “the parish is more than buildings,” said Slowinski. “The parish is people.”
Windows ‘a point of pilgrimage and pride’
When renovation work began on the parish’s North Lake church, a 1917 Alexander Eschweiler-designed Tudor Gothic building, it was decided that the replacement of old diamond-paned windows with new stained-glass creations could be an opportunity to evangelize the stories of Catholic saints.
From a list provided by Fr. Bill Stanfield, the interior design committee chose St. Damien de Veuster, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Isaac Jogues, St. John Neumann, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Frances Cabrini and St. Junipero Serra.
“We’re hoping that these windows will prove to be a point of pride, of small pilgrimage, to help people learn about these brave and beautiful saints,” said Slowinski. “These saints all have one thing in common — their need to go and make disciples, at their own peril.”
The evangelical nature of the windows was evident immediately, said Marilyn Guenther, a member of the interior design committee. On the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Fr. Stanfield gave an overview of the saints’ stories during his homily.
“Everybody was craning their necks, turning around in their seats to see these windows,” said Guenther, who will give educational lectures on the saints to the parish in the fall.
“When the east morning sun rises up through those windows, it just sends rainbows all throughout the church,” she said. “People’s eyes just light up.”
A problem that impacts many areas of modern parish life is the contemporary parishioner’s inability to commit to one place of worship. It can make for a transient population and ever-shifting community, where it’s hard to feel a sense of rootedness.
Enter the Getting to Know You initiative — a ministry that pairs long-term parishioners with newcomers in casual social relationships. The premise is simple — a brunch at someone’s house, a dinner, a coffee or even a phone conversation can help people put down roots and feel more connected to their church — which can, in turn, help them feel more connected to Christ.
Shortly after Easter, 13 new parish families were paired with longer-term parishioners, resulting in about half a dozen dinner parties.
“We’re trying to build a community of believers that loves and cares for each other,” said Mary Hobert, a member of the evangelization committee. “The vehicle is the dinner, but the point is getting together. The vehicle could also be coffee, it could be brunch, it could be a picnic, it could be meeting at their kids’ soccer games and having a get-together afterwards. It could be a mentoring relationship where you check in on the phone and say, ‘How can I pray for your this week?’”
In growing the ministry, Hobert and the evangelization committee is looking to the examples of the disciples, who clung to one another in community after the crucifixion, resurrection and Christ’s ascension into Heaven.
“They didn’t leave because they had built relationships — first, with Him, who left them with a job to do, and with each other, which went to death. Literally they died for Him and for each other,” she said. “That’s the spirit that we have to nurture in our people. That is the experience that everyone is yearning for. That is the desires of our hearts to know and be known, to love and be loved.”