CANTON — Like other pastors in the Archdiocese of Detroit, Fr. Ron Richards attended the Amazing Parish Conference in April with his leadership team. But unlike most, he had already attended the conference two years earlier in Denver.
“It was still well worth attending the second time to hear the information again,” said Fr. Richards of St. John Neumann Parish in Canton. “What was different this time, and what really helped and inspired me, was hearing Fr. James Mallon, who spoke at the conference.”
Fr. Mallon’s book, Divine Renovation: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission, serves as a guide for pastors and Church leaders to infuse new life into their parishes through evangelization and mission. The book challenges each parish to become a group of missionaries instead of simply maintaining the status quo.
In June, Fr. Richards attended a Divine Renovation Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“That really solidified the Amazing Parish Conference for us and made it clear that we had to focus on one thing and invite people into evangelization as a parish,” Fr. Richards said. “I think of missionary zeal as another term for evangelization.”
At the conference in April, “missionary zeal” was presented as one of the seven traits of an amazing parish, and Fr. Richards knew it needed to be the focus at St. John Neumann. To do so, he and the parish leadership team identified the Alpha program, which seeks to bring participants the basic, saving message of Jesus Christ, as the “one thing” from which everything at the parish would flow.
More than 800 parishioners have been through the program, and after taking Alpha, participants were then divided into smaller groups of 20-30 people who meet twice each month.
“These groups will be there for each other for the rest of their lives, and that’s powerful,” Fr. Richards said.
Because Alpha goes to the heart of the message of Jesus, the groups will continue to grow in faith and learn together through Bible studies and other multi-week series.
In addition to the Alpha innovation, after the Amazing Parish Conference, St. John Neumann’s parish council was also restructured to work more proactively toward the mission of evangelization, Fr. Richards said, and a new leadership team consisting of five staff members was formed to focus on long-term vision through weekly meetings and quarterly planning sessions.
“Our parish vision is an evangelization unique to our parish in outreach to the poor and to youth,” Fr. Richards said.
Chris Leach, coordinator of youth and young adult ministry at St. John Neumann, said missionary zeal is critical to his work with the 130 young people who participate in the parish’s youth groups.
“It’s exciting from a youth ministry standpoint because a lot of this (evangelization) is the same thing we’ve had to do in youth ministry all along to reach young people,” Leach said. “As a parish, that’s exciting because we’re all operating under one goal. We can build the kingdom faster when we do it together.”
In order to expand outreach to youth, a second youth minister has also joined the staff.
“We’ve already changed how we trained the peer leaders in June,” Leach said. “We used to show them how to pray or how to write testimonies; this time we also gave them opportunities to use that — to pray with others and share their testimonies. Now they can take that out into the world.”
The youth ministry program at St. John Neumann features a strong discipleship component; in the fall, teens will sign up for small discipleship groups who meet weekly for topics such as “True Manhood” or “True Womanhood,” and “What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ?” Each topic will be covered in a 4- to 8-week series, and teens may register for those subjects they most want to explore.
Fr. Richards and his staff will introduce many of the new parish-wide programs this fall as they make clear the parish’s new “missionary zeal” identity.
“With all of this, there’s a trust in God,” Fr. Richards said. “As long as we’re working hard at doing His work, I just know he’s going to help us out. He’s done it before.”
Amazing Parish series
This story is the second in a series about how parishes have changed their approach to ministry after attending the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Amazing Parish Conference in April. For others in the series, visit www.themichigancatholic.com/features/unleashthegospel.