Laity’s faith, gifts shine through parish faith enrichment offerings
Within the parishes of the Diocese of Burlington, parish faith enrichment programs come in a variety of forms. One certainty is that many of these programs are inspired, designed and facilitated by the laity.
John McMahon, faith formation director for Holy Family/St. Lawrence Parish in Essex Junction and youth minister/confirmation coordinator at St. Pius X Parish in Essex Center, described their parish enrichment programs as “opportunities to further develop our understanding of the faith and to grow as disciples, to strengthen bonds of Christian community and apply our faith to how we live our lives,” he said.
While McMahon serves as “coordinator of things,” he stressed, “Many people throughout the parish drive the projects, from conception through completion. It’s a collaborative effort.”
For enrichment opportunities such as book studies, prayer workshop series and adult Scripture studies, the parish welcomes the help of Edmundite Father Charles Ranges, pastor; Edmundite Father Richard Berube from St. Michael’s College in Colchester and Deacon Gerry Scilla who facilitates the Bishop Robert Barron series on the Mass.
Among the laity, “parishioners with master’s degrees are involved in these offerings as well,” said McMahon.
In addition to these programs, the parish has a particular dedication to social justice and service opportunities for adults and youth alike, and often, together.
One such enrichment opportunity was a service trip to the Appalachian Catholic Worker Farm in Spencer, West Virginia. “The whole experience,” said McMahon, “was intended to be a retreat experience, reflecting on Catholic social teaching and service and applying it to people in poverty in Appalachia. Are we agents of change or of maintaining the status quo? The challenge to participants is to live differently.”
For McMahon, who is hoping to launch a men’s group in the fall, it is “important to offer events to bring people together, to pray together first and then to work together. I like to get away from the passive experience and prefer something that gets them engaged,” that has a strong group dynamic,” he said.
Wilma Ann Johnson, who has presented a number of adult enrichment opportunities in Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Parish in Bennington and St. John the Baptist Parish in North Bennington, appreciates the importance of group dynamics, which in her enrichment offerings is the experience of faith sharing.
Johnson, who completed a two-year Formation for Ministry Program in the Diocese of Albany, New York, said, “Although adult enrichment … involves exposure to a new subject or an old subject in greater depth, it inevitably involves faith sharing.”
Explaining her approach to adult faith enrichment, Johnson shared, “Adults need an adult space to get away from the news and get into the Good News.”
While adult faith enrichment may have the reflection of an Advent/Lenten retreat or the biblical focus of a scripture study, “it is presented in a more relaxed atmosphere. The preparation takes considerable planning and time,” not only of the content but of the environment, she said.
In 2017, in order to celebrate the Diocese of Burlington’s Year of Creation, Johnson developed four sessions to study and share insights in regard to Pope Francis’ Encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home” through the text, short videos, music, poetry and prayer. “We were joined by several members from another faith community and a retired Congregational minister. We used the prayers, for our Earth and its people, from the pope’s encyclical, and we read Wendell Berry’s poem ‘The Peace of Wild Things,” Johnson said.
In 2018, three sessions were offered to parishioners and to the general public for “Celebrate the Faith of Early Christians through their Catacomb Art” with visuals, short videos, music, early Christian writings and prayer.
“The adult enrichment, given in Bennington and North Bennington, had the support of both of our [Holy Cross] priests, Father Bob Wiseman and Father Hugh Cleary, who alternated and attended all the sessions,” said Johnson. “This reinforced the idea that adults have many gifts and ideas to share, but that we are all fellow travelers on this journey of faith. However, our life experiences may be very different. In all the sessions the participants had opportunities to react to the content or to particular questions regarding the content.”
With adult faith enrichment, noted Johnson, “everybody needs to feel valuable. Everyone needs to matter.” To ensure that, she said, “We listen. It doesn’t mean we always agree, but listening is a sign of respect.”
This fall Johnson is planning an adult enrichment on Hildegard of Bingen, 12th-century mystic, elevated to Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI. “Through her words, her paintings and her music we learn of her relationship with God and his Creation. Care of our planet Earth home, which provides one life-support system for all living things, has an ethical component which continually needs our focus. Therefore, I am sure that with Hildegard and her concept of ‘the greening of God’ we will be considering some things that were also covered in the ‘Laudato Si’’ sessions back in 2017,” Johnson said.
Johnson also serves a lector; member of the parish Worship and Spirituality Committee; 4 Winds Nature volunteer at The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales where she offers an ecology-related class to second graders once a month, and liaison between Vermont Interfaith Power and Light and Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales and St. John the Baptist parishes.
In Corpus Christi Parish, St. Johnsbury, the parish revitalization team recently sponsored the “Light of the World” retreat program, completing their first retreat and scheduling the next two, said Mary Anne Gummere, parish retreat director.
Gummere is also the wife of a deacon, member of the Bishop’s Pastoral Council and participant in the Diocesan Synod.
“The Light of the World process includes the same retreat every six months, so that all members of the parish can make it, a weekly six session post-retreat gathering that follows immediately after the retreat, and, finally, the formation of small faith communities that meet together on a continual basis. Topics are basic Catholic faith tenets: God loves me, sin separates me from God, Jesus died for me to heal the separation, I must respond to Jesus’s sacrifice through conversion and the sacraments,” Gummere explained.
Gummere stressed, “Adult faith enrichment programs absolutely foster vibrant parishes. Our purpose is to renew people’s encounter with Jesus so that they become disciples, to renew ourselves first then go out and make new disciples through intentional evangelization. The enthusiasm and joy within the group is palpable.”