Our parish recently participated in a diocesan synod. One of our main goals arising from the process is evangelization. The desire to bring our separated brethren back to the Church is nothing new to us. For the past several years, I was among a small group of parishioners making such an effort. We met once a week, kicking around ideas and devising various plans.
Four years ago, we used an old parish roster to compose a list of former parishioners who were no longer attending Mass to the best of our knowledge. Sixty-six personalized invitations were sent out inviting them to an informal pizza party, along with contact information for anyone who would like to talk privately. Only one person came that evening. We had a very nice discussion with him, but he never fully embraced a return to the Church. Cancer claimed his life last year.
For the past few years, we offered tours of our beautiful church during a local festival weekend. Setting up a booth on the sidewalk, we encountered a number of families, offering them rosaries, pamphlets, audio CDs, and guided tours. Most of them were out-of-town visitors, so we may not be aware of any impact we had on their lives.
Last year, we organized what we called a Friendship Chili Supper. We asked every one of our parishioners to bring a friend. We had a great turnout, and about half of those in attendance were not Catholic. After dinner, we presented a few lighthearted exercises to promote friendship. Prayer cards and short questionnaires were on each table for anyone wishing information about our faith. We also had a table full of free books, and other Catholic publications. Despite some wonderful conversations, we saw no measurable results.
Our most recent effort took place on December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas, with an Italian beef supper, and visit from the historical St. Nick himself. The event was well publicized in the local media. Again, we had a good turnout. The presentation on St. Nicholas was well received, but any evangelization that may have taken place went unnoticed.
It is often said that we just plant the seeds and the Holy Spirit does the work. That may be true, but it has become obvious that our efforts are falling short. As our renewed evangelization effort takes root, the entire parish will need to become more involved. While our previous efforts may have been icebreakers, we need to engage people in a more personal encounter. Doing so productively will require introspection on our own spiritual condition. We cannot share what we do not have.