Ryan O’Hara addresses participants at the diocese’s Parish Evangelization Workshop. The events were held May 5 and 6 in Rice Lake and Rhinelander. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

“There is a lot of life and enthusiasm in our diocese,” said Chris Hurtubise, director of the Office Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship for the Diocese of Superior. “I think people are just looking for some tools and direction for concrete ways to pursue our mission.”

With only a small handful of parishes not represented, the Parish Evangelization Workshops held in May offered that sense of direction.

They were “a huge success,” according to Hurtubise.

Sessions took place on May 6 in Rice Lake and on May 7 in Rhinelander. Eighty-three people participated in the west-side session and 73 in the east. The presenter was Ryan O’Hara, who hails from the Twin Cities and speaks frequently in the Diocese of Superior.

This workshop was “the first really practical step in our three-year Maintenance to Mission launch,” Hurtubise said, stating that the first year was focused on the clergy. “Since November, we have been broadening that to include more leaders at the parish level. We had previously brought in speakers to address the mission of the church, the context of our increasingly secular culture for that mission, the priest’s role in that and the need for leadership teams.

“These workshops were the first opportunity for the parish’s teams to come and be formed in the key first steps of moving from maintenance mode toward becoming missionary,” he added.

All participants were provided with printed booklets titled “Parish Discipleship Pathway,” a publication of the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship. It presented four aspects of the discipleship process: pre-evangelization, evangelization, discipleship and apostolate, and reviewed the roles of the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist in this cycle of mission, which begins with baptism and seeks above all the holiness of all persons.

Tools for evangelization and mission partners were also offered, as well as an outline of steps for discerning a vision for parish evangelization. The booklet provided the framework for O’Hara’s talks. The first talk was “Discipleship Pathways,” and the second was called “Everyday Evangelization.”

“Discipleship Pathways” covered a three-prong concept of belong, believe, become. These three elements fit in with the four stages of the discipleship pathway. Belonging is pre-evangelization; believing is evangelization; becoming is both discipleship and then apostolate. A key reflection was that bridges need to be in place connecting the four stages.

Discerning the pathway involves prayerful evaluation, determination and prayer, as well as casting a clear vision and specifying the steps of implementation.

“Everyday Evangelization” took the concepts to an even more practical level. O’Hara’s talking points came largely from Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), and centered on the informal preaching opportunities every person has on a daily basis and habits that constitute this framework of everyday evangelization.

“How many conversations do you have in a day?” O’Hara asked his audience. He estimated five per day, which added up over a year are close to 2,000. “What if 1 percent of those were spiritual?”

“Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others,” he said. “It can happen unexpectedly anywhere with anyone, every day.”

He encouraged attentiveness and openness to the Holy Spirit – being ready and alert, available to God for his moments of grace.

“Each of us has enough Scripture inside of us that we can have access to it internally,” he stated, then asked, “Can we talk about it extemporaneously like we can talk about ourselves or our children?” His suggestion was to “keep in sync with the Gospel,” reading the daily Mass readings to have it fresh.

For the personal sharing, O’Hara led the exercise, admitting that for himself, one-to-one conversations do not come naturally in regards to sharing the faith. He offered a sentence framework that has never let him down and has led to many beautiful conversations.

“I know in my own life,” he shared the formula, “God has – insert blank – and freed me from – insert what applies.”

Giving five minutes, the speaker asked those present to develop this one-sentence testimony, coming up with two lists. One list was made of words that express how God has impacted personal life and the differences a relationship with God has made; the second list comprised the experiences of growth, healing and freedom. He then asked everyone to choose the most powerful item on each list.

O’Hara admitted the exercise might be challenging for many and said it provided fodder for personal reflection and future growth.

He then moved on to asking for each to make a list of who they want or feel need their prayers and commented on the different dynamics that work better for men and women. Men have better conversations when working or doing something physically active together; for women, social face-to-face encounters are most satisfying.

The four habits O’Hara presented were intercession, invocation, investment and invitation. “In spite of fear and busyness,” the implementation of these practices is based on a desire to grow and is fostered with zeal, courage and by paying attention to opportunities. He ended by acknowledging the role that practice plays in making these habits become a natural way of being and responding to others.

In his own closing comments, Hurtubise asked, “Why would we not long to give the gift of relationship with Jesus if we’ve experienced him as meaningful in our own lives?”

He also added that there is a necessary distinction between apologetics and evangelization. The secular world, he said, wants to leap into debating about controversial topics, but he offered that it is always better to not try and argue people into the faith; rather, “we invite them into a relationship.”

Bishop James P. Powers thanked O’Hara and attendees and spoke of Catholics’ role as evangelizers in proclaiming the Gospel.

“This isn’t a program … Which is why we’re asking members of every cluster and/or parish” to take part in this joint venture,” he said. “This doesn’t mean that we’re all going to take the same path,” but it does involve laying foundations that will last for years to come.

One practical consequence will be that transitions between priests in each cluster should be much easier.

“We are one family. We need to give witness together – the witness of our hearts, of our experience,” Bishop Powers concluded. “We need to give the witness that tells other people that we have a great gift, one that we want to share.”

In comments following the event, Hurtubise shared how significant and encouraging it was that almost every parish or cluster was represented. “The sense that I had both days was that the almost 200 people who participated (urgently wanted) to not only see the church survive, but thrive.”

Hurtubise added a comment about Bishop’s Powers’ Pastoral Letter of Evangelization which was released on Pentecost. Entitled “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” Hurtubise said that the tools and resources offered in the workshops “will serve as practical sister pieces to the bishop’s letter, which beautifully lays out his vision for the mission in our diocese.”

“Personally,” he said, “I am really excited to see where the Holy Spirit leads, as more and more people jump on board with this initiative. God is on the move!”