This is the second in a series of “Best Practices” posts that will cover various aspects of Life & Justice Ministries. Today, Jennifer Ruggiero, director of the Office of Respect for Life in the Diocese of Metuchen, NJ, offers five tips for parish-based respect life ministries. Director of the office since 1997, Jennifer coordinates educational programs on church teaching on a wide range of life issues and works with a network of volunteers to help advocate for public policy which promotes respect for all human life.
A Parish Respect Life Ministry helps to promote the sanctity of human life at all stages and in all conditions within the parish and local community. Parish Respect Life Coordinators and their Committees, under the guidance of the Diocesan Respect Life Office, provide resources, actively evangelize their fellow parishioners on the life issues and support their pastors and parish priests in making pro-life prayer and activity visible and viable at the parish level. Here are five important tips for those who are beginning this important parish ministry. This can also be a refresher for those who are part of an existing Parish Respect Life Ministry.
1. Make Prayer Your Foundation – “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2)
We cannot say that we are people of God if we are not people of prayer. Like most things, one’s prayer life must be nurtured and developed; otherwise it will wither away and die. Our Lord teaches that our prayer must be urgent, persistent, faithful and expectant – grounded in faith, hope and charity. Pro-Life work is God’s work and can be extremely challenging and frustrating at times. Therefore, Respect Ministries must be grounded in prayer to be effective.
2. Foster Relationships and Collaboration – “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Peter 4:10)
A Parish Respect Life Ministry may be a distinct committee or a subcommittee of another parish organization. In either case, it is essential that the Respect Life Coordinator and Committee members develop a good relationship with the pastor and the parish staff. It is important that the pastor agrees with and supports your plans for any programs/activities in the parish. Also, by fostering relationships with other parish ministries, resources and information can be shared more successfully. For instance, if you want to educate the parishioners about an important life issue, you may reach a larger audience by having your speaker do a presentation at a regularly scheduled Rosary Altar Society meeting or Knights of Columbus gathering. The more you can integrate the pro-life message into other parish activities the better.
3. Develop Your Committee – Form and Educate – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)
Don’t be a committee of “one!” If you are asked (or you volunteer) to be the Respect Life Ministry Coordinator in your parish, invite others to work with you. Seek out people with a variety of gifts, backgrounds and interests. Work together towards a common goal. Plan a community building activity to foster teamwork. Be informed about the issues. Conduct some type of ongoing training or formation session to help educate your members. (This may be done through programs run by the Diocesan Respect Life Office) Based on each person’s gifts, give each member a task or ongoing responsibility, being mindful of their time limitations.
4. Make Your Ministry Joyful – “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” (Psalm 100:2)
Nobody likes a sourpuss! In order to attract others to the pro-life message and the ministry, we need to be joyful in our work. Although many of the life issues are difficult, we need to celebrate the beauty of each and every life and remain a positive presence for those who are suffering or are in despair. As you plan programs and events for this ministry, keep this in mind and always take a positive approach. Proclaim a Culture of Life!
5. Be Compassionate – Have a Listening Heart – “Make your ear attentive to wisdom and incline your heart to understanding.” (Proverbs 2:2)
In today’s culture, many of the life issues are controversial and evoke an emotional response. Our ministry involves reaching out to meet the needs of those who are most vulnerable – especially mothers and their unborn children, those who are seriously ill or dying and their families. Many of those we minister to are in despair and may have made choices which are not life-affirming. Never be judgmental. The wrong words can cause great harm. We must proclaim the truth in love and remember God’s divine mercy! Be sure to show respect for those who disagree.
The key to success of a Parish Respect Life Ministry is the work of informed and committed lay people in the parish community, with the support and encouragement of the priests, deacons and religious. The Parish Respect Life Ministry can help to make the parish a center for life -a place where parishioners understand the issues and the importance of meeting the needs of those most vulnerable in the parish community. May all who are involved in Parish Respect Life Ministries serve as witnesses of truth and embody our Lord’s command to love one another as He loves us.