BRISBANE archdiocese representatives Mike Humphrys and Michele Vuleta have returned from a United States visit inspired about new possibilities for mission.
Mr Humphrys and Ms Vuleta, staff members from the archdiocese’s Faith and Life Vicariate, visited America from late July to early August to discover new means of assisting parishes to become “more mission focused” and “better resourced” following recent stewardship initiatives.
As a member of the Everyday Mission Team, Mr Humphrys is responsible for supporting parishes and deaneries in their mission efforts while Ms Vuleta, who is deputy director of the vicariate, assists parishes in implementing the “Jesus, Communion, Mission” vision and the nine priorities of the archdiocese.
The pair visited six parishes while taking part in the Making Disciples course run by the Catherine of Sienna Institute, Colorado Springs. A generous scholarship donation covered their registration fees.
The visit also provided the opportunity to learn more about the Called and Gifted program, which has been undertaken by more than 25,000 people in the United States over the past decade.
“The study trip was a chance to see some of the fruits of the Called and Gifted program in parishes while doing the Making Disciples course as well,” Ms Vuleta said.
Called and Gifted focuses on identifying spiritual gifts, known as charisms, and encouraging individuals to develop and put these gifts at the service of the Church and the wider community.
“It’s about real people doing real things for other real people in the world and they do it in gratitude for what they have received … I was really touched,” she said of a visit to Holy Apostles Parish, Colorado Springs.
She said the 69-year-old pastor there, Fr Paul Wicker, was “full of energy”, conscious of where his gifts and talents lie.
“He’s a visionary and he knows what he can do … he employed a pastoral business manger with administrative skills to ensure that his dreams become reality,” Ms Vuleta said.
One initiative of the Colorado Springs community that “stood out” was the database it oversees which makes links with employment agencies and those searching for work, she said.
“They have a very strong mission focus … the pastor has this consciousness that whatever is happening in the church needs to be inviting,” Mr Humphrys said.
Holy Apostles Parish recently distributed 8000 flyers inviting people near and far to “come and see” what they do.
Another initiative of interest was that of parishioners who “have a stock of prayer shawls and chemotherapy caps for people facing illness”.
“When someone is facing serious illness, parishioners visit them and say, ‘This is for you from our parish’,” Ms Vuleta said.
All the parishes visited placed significant emphasis on the importance of prayer and its benefits.
“Nothing new is introduced unless it is discerned by the community as being of the Holy Spirit and evokes a response in the hearts of parishioners,” Mr Humphrys said.
The six parishes the pair visited all had mission statements clearly evident in their gathering spaces and printed on all parish literature.
In talking with members of the parish leadership teams, it was obvious to the visiting pair that each parish had a pastoral plan and clear strategies to achieve their goals.
“In all six parishes there was a very clear vision and a capacity, then, to develop their pastoral plan,” Mr Humphrys said.
“And that vision has developed out of their parish’s charism and it has involved the laity,” Ms Vuleta said.
Mr Humphrys concurred saying, “I was enthused to see that Catholic parishes could be vibrant, welcoming and mission focused, involving the laity in significant roles.”
Stewardship practices were evident in each of the parishes visited.
Parishioners were invited to give generously of their time, talent and treasure in gratitude for all the gifts they had been given by God.
Regular campaigns challenged them to consider how effective they were as stewards of their faith, vocation, time, talents, treasure and the Earth.
“Commitment cards gave Catholics many practical ways to express how they would pray, serve in an area of ministry, grow in their faith, nurture their vocation, give of their money and how they could care for the Earth in the coming twelve months,” Mr Humphrys said.
These cards and envelopes, also available for children and youth, made it easy for Catholics to take the step and become actively involved.
“It was powerful to see the young children come forward at the procession of gifts within the Sunday Eucharist and place their envelopes in their own special boxes,” Ms Vuleta said.
“Their envelopes might include a prayer, a drawing, a few coins and some good deed they did for their mum or another family member.”
While these parishes were well resourced, it was the level of ownership and participation in a great variety of parish ministries – in one parish, nearly 250 – that was impressive.
Stewardship invites Catholics to be active in their faith and provides a host of simple but important ways that they can contribute.
“If everybody does something, rather than being left to a few, then great things can happen and we saw the fruits of this in these parishes” Mr Humphrys said.
“We both believe the Called and Gifted workshop can help to form a mission mentality because it touches people’s hearts. People are given opportunities to learn about the charisms … and then they are encouraged to discern what spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has given them to serve others,” Ms Vuleta said.
In terms of how Called and Gifted can meet the needs of the Church of Brisbane, the pair are optimistic that it can build on the many positive and life-giving faith opportunities already on offer.
“We need to look at how we can become more intentional about proclaiming the Good News, more evangelising,” Mr Humphrys said.
“It’s about forming and equipping Catholics and then sending them out as apostles in the world.”
Ms Vuleta supported this vision by adding, “God will use it to help Catholics do great things for others.”