Tagged: Best Practices

Seven Tips for Parish Social Ministry

This is the sixth in a series of “Best Practices” posts that is covering various aspects of Life & Justice Ministries. (To see the all the entries in the series, click here.) Today, Pat Slater, pastoral associate for justice and community outreach at the Catholic Community of Christ Our Light in Cherry Hill, shares seven best practices for parish social ministry.

pat slater

It is a daunting task to think about what makes for successful parish social ministry.  However, the task was already done and done well in the Bishops document Communities of Salt and Light published in 1994.  So, if major points are missing from this blog post, it is probably because they are already in that document.  So, I just share with you some of the insights from my on-the-ground experience of parish social ministry.

1) Have activities that attract both “sprinters” and “marathoners.”  While it is wonderful to have people committed to the long haul for activities and causes, the reality of today is that many people are not geared up for the long-term commitment.  We are blessed to have a significant number of “marathoners” in our parish, but we have also created opportunities for sprinters.  Periodically the parish puts out a stewardship sheet with opportunities for short-term commitments like taking a turn at our community food pantry or helping with driving our Guatemala Mission team to the airport.  We also have sandwich making once a month on a Sunday morning which is a great hit with families, especially ones with small children.  Once a year we sponsor a parish-wide day of service (we call it Mitzvah Day) and have had over 300 volunteers out and about our community.  Presently, we have about 27 ministries which fall under the justice and outreach umbrella at our parish and so most sprinters and marathoners can find a home in at least one.

2) Make sure that the parish staff is united on the commitment to social justice and has some working knowledge of Catholic Social Teaching.  If easy to fall into silo thinking and acting in parish staff life.  While I am tasked with making sure justice and outreach is done, the whole staff supports these efforts and knows why we do it.  Justice is integrated into liturgy and is reflected in the curriculum and activities of our parish school, elementary, youth, young adult and adult faith formation. The message is incorporated into homilies and supported by the leadership when there is the occasional pushback from someone in the congregation.  I can also go to our clergy if there is a particular effort we are working on, and if it works well with the readings, ask that this effort on behalf of justice be incorporated into their homily.  This may only happen once or twice a year, but it is nice to know it is there.  It’s a good idea to furnish talking points.

3) Cover all the bases.  Good parish social ministry includes the hands-on activities listed in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, but it must also include education about justice and issues of justice and action around change.  We accomplish our educational pieces through articles in the bulletin, speakers and events.

4) Lighten up.  Realize that no one is going to accomplish everything around every issue.  Enjoy and celebrate the small victories and enjoy the people you are working with in the process. Celebrate.

5) Discern leaders; don’t let people just volunteer to be leaders.  It would be a mistake of biblical proportions if our liturgy staff person asked me to lead singing at our liturgy. I am not engaging in some false humility game.  It would be a mistake.  However, I can set up an agenda, follow up and follow through and those are good gifts to have.  Sometimes we ask for volunteers to lead and if the ministry or job needs a manager and the person has skills at management, then it might be a good match.  But if the ministry or job requires someone with vision who can inspire people, balance sometimes conflicting opinions and galvanize people for a mission, it might be better not to ask for volunteers.  If you are working with the typical mix of most parishes, don’t be afraid to appoint people who are qualified for leadership to leadership positions after discussing it with them.  Sometimes some very well-intentioned people volunteer to lead and while they may be gifted in many ways, leadership may not be among their gifts.  A good initiative can fail because of not-so-good leadership.

6) Feed my sheep; don’t count them.

7) Let the grassroots grow. I am fortunate to serve in a parish which has a long history of lay empowerment.  Many of the ministries and initiatives which are not in the wheelhouse of many parishes but are active here are due to the passion and persistence of certain individuals in the parish.  Some of have been inspired by going through JustFaith or a JustFaith module.  Some have had personal experiences which motivates them to work for change.  We have in place a process for taking the vision of one or a few to springing it on the parish.  The people come to our Justice and Outreach Commission with their vision and discuss it.  If the commission approves it, then they go to the pastoral council to explain it and I as staff liaison take it to the staff.  If the nuts and bolts need more work, then it might be kicked back for more work before it is proposed to the parish, but thus far, these initiatives have longevity because they arise from the committed parishioners.

Interested in chatting with Pat about your own parish social ministry initiatives? Find her contact information here



Five Tips for Building Global Solidarity at Your Parish

This is the fifth in a series of “Best Practices” posts that will cover various aspects of Life & Justice Ministries. (To see the all the entries in the series, click here.) Today, Cheryl Mrazik and Katie Kernich of Catholic Relief Services’ Mid-Atlantic regional office in Radnor, Penn., offer five tips for building global solidarity in your parish. 

As Catholics, we are blessed to be part of a truly universal Church that connects us to others around the world. The Catholic social teaching principle of solidarity beautifully expresses the universal nature of our Church: “We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching). But how can we live out this profound challenge in our parish communities? Here are some practical tips to consider:

1. Include the 6 o’clock news in your prayers at Mass. Often, we can feel very overwhelmed by the various conflicts, natural disasters, and other “bad news” around the world. It is easy to feel helpless and removed from these situations. But as Catholics, we are called to pray for and take action to assist those in need both in our own local communities and in our global community. Consider relating one intercession during the prayers of the faithful each week to a global issue that has been in the news lately. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) often has intercessions available on their website. Here is a recent example from CRS:

For communities around the world living in fear of war and violence, especially those in the Central African Republic, that the God of peace and justice will comfort and protect them in these dark hours, we pray to the Lord.

2. Create a visible reminder of your parish’s commitment to our brothers and sisters around the world. Your parish could start a chalice program, through which individuals or families in the parish can sign up to take a chalice home for a week and spend that week praying for people in another part of the world. Your parish might also display a “world prayer map” on which parishioners can place pins to indicate people or parts of our country and the world for which they are praying, inviting the rest of the parish community to join with them in prayer.

3. Invite speakers to your parish who address global issues. Many parishes have missions during Advent or Lent that include speakers. This would be an opportune time to invite a speaker who can share with the parish community about a particular global issue, or about the Church around the world. Many Catholic religious orders with missions overseas have speakers available for parishes. You may also invite a parishioner or someone else from the local community who has immigrated to the U.S. to share stories from his or her home country. CRS Global Fellows are priests and deacons available throughout the year, at no cost to the parish, to speak at parish masses about the global work of the Church and CRS’ projects overseas.

4. Celebrate members of your parish community who are living out our call to global solidarity. In your parish bulletin once a month, spotlight a parishioner or group of parishioners who has volunteered, advocated, or shown other types of support for global solidarity. At Mass, have the parish community bless parishioners who are traveling on mission trips overseas.  When members return from trips, invite them to share their experiences in some way with the rest of the parish.

5. Commit as a community to a particular global issue. Many Catholic parishes “twin” with other parishes overseas. Consider “twinning” as a parish for a certain period of time with a specific global issue. Select an issue theme and then try to consistently include that theme in the life of the parish through liturgy, faith formation, community activities and events, and so forth. Create a parish prayer related to the issue, place prayer cards in the pews, and pray the prayer together at every mass. Hunger is one issue example that has both local and global implications. Your parish could also take action to address hunger locally by serving food monthly at an anti-hunger organization in your community, and could address global hunger by participating in CRS Rice Bowl during Lent.

There are countless ways to demonstrate your parish community’s care and concern for our brothers and sisters around the world. Get creative, and remember to integrate global solidarity into the activities and events already going on at the parish!  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, “love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word.” May we all continue to be inspired as we together live out our Gospel call to global solidarity.

kernichKatie Kernich works for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in its Northeast/Mid-Atlantic regional office in Radnor, PA. In that role, she works closely with the Diocese of Camden and seven other Catholic dioceses in the region to engage Catholics in the global mission of the Church through CRS. Katie has a bachelor’s degree in theology from The Catholic University of America, and a master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame. Prior to starting with CRS, Katie worked in a parish in Fort Worth, TX, and as a campus minister at St. John’s College High School in Washington, DC.

CM headshotCheryl Mrazik also works for CRS in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic regional office, liaising with nine dioceses in the region, including the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Before coming to CRS, Cheryl worked at Romero Center Ministries in Camden, and in the campus ministry office of St. Augustine High School in San Diego, CA. Cheryl has bachelor’s degrees in English and Philosophy from the University of Scranton and a master’s degree in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh. 

Best Practices: Service & Justice with High Schoolers

This is the fourth in a series of “Best Practices” posts that will cover various aspects of Life & Justice Ministries. (To see the all the entries in the series, click here.) Today, the Ampersand interviews Jason Kidd, director of youth and young adult ministries at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego, Oregon. 

Jason grew up in the desert of Phoenix with his family.  He studied Electrical Engineering at Northern Arizona University.  It was during his college years that he more fully realized God’s abundant love and grace and began to explore the depth of his Catholic faith.  Shortly after, he felt called to serve in ministry full time.  Jason married his high school sweetheart, Sarah, and they followed God’s call to Portland, Oregon.  Jason and Sarah have been blessed with four beautiful children, Hannah, Grace, James and Matthew and a growing community to call home.  In 2011, Jason completed his MA in Theology from the University of Notre Dame.  After a decade in ministry, he still yearns to share the radical call of Jesus and building His Kingdom.  In his free time, Jason enjoys basketball, eating his wife’s delicious cooking, wrestling with his kids around the house, theology and exploring the gorgeous Northwest.

What different successful service and justice activities have you included in the youth ministry program you coordinate? What made them successful?

We have done a number of activities during which the middle & high school teens have served including: assisted living centers (playing cards), homeless shelters, soup kitchens, poverty/famine retreats, summer mission trips, CRS rice bowls, and other collections of food or clothing. In my experience, there are two pieces that have helped make these experiences more impactful.

First, hands-on serving people face to face is invaluable. This challenges teens’ preconceived notions about poverty and those who live on the margins. When we see a young family without shelter in line for dinner, it breaks down walls. When we spend time with the elderly, they recognize Christ in them and recall their own grandparents whom they often forget. Interacting with people reminds our teens that regardless of the situations that them on the margins, they are still people; with a name, a story, and the longing to be loved.

From these relational experiences, God enters into our lives and it is harder for us to ignore or overlook our neighbor in need. We are now more aware than before of the need for justice; because its not just numbers, but there is a person we have encountered. Even more importantly, through these conversations we see our own “need” and brokenness. We recognize how God, through our neighbor, is working to restore us.

Secondly, teens must be prepared beforehand and debriefed after. It is important before we go to be reminded of why: as disciples of Christ – NOT to serve so we can pat ourselves on the back.  God wants to transform us through these experiences.  Serving the marginalized is one of the Church’s proper roles. One hundred years ago, it was the church directly that gave drink and food to the needy, sheltered the widow and orphan and cared for the sick.

Part of our prayer and worship of God is to go out and love our neighbors. Working directly with the “least of these” and doing adequate prep and follow up around the service has really helped our teens integrate charity and justice, not only into their faith life, but their whole life.

Why do you think including Catholic social teaching in the formation of young disciples is important?

Catholic Social Teaching is a beautiful hidden treasure of our church, but most especially we need to teach it to young people because Jesus clearly taught his followers to love and serve those in need.

With the push by the church for the “New Evangelization” we are being encouraged to personally renew our relationship with God, those who identify themselves as Catholic, and to share the faith with others. After hearing and reading Frank Mercadante’s book Engaging a New Generation, I think the key to this New Evangelization is Catholic social teaching in practice. He suggests that the older process of conversion (believe, belong, then behave) has been rewired. Postmoderns don’t first find Jesus then live that faith. Rather, they want to see the faith lived out and through that experience and find Jesus.

Pope Francis models this perfectly. He speaks and witnesses to being a “church for the poor” and look at how it has resonated with the world, especially young people! They fall in love with Jesus because he models Jesus’ sacrificial love, putting the other first.

Pope Francis visits a poor area called a favela during his trip to Rio.

What advice would you give to a youth minister looking to deepen his or her ministry’s involvement in service and justice activities?

First off, don’t wait. Organizing a service project is not difficult. Find a good non-profit and get the teens serving people face to face. There may already be opportunities in the parish.

Second, ride the wave of the “Francis Effect.” He has captivated the world’s attention, so intentionally use that in your promotion of the event.

Lastly, make sure to do the prep before (even 15 minutes before) about WHY we are doing this. Remind them to stretch themselves, get to know someone’s name and their story, and look for Jesus’ face in the people they serve.

Then process the experience after (even on the ride home). Questions like: “Where were you uncomfortable? Who did you meet? What surprised you? Was the service what you expected? Why/why not?” are perfect.

(Resource: 20 Questions for Reflection After Service)

Any favorite resources for forming young disciples in Catholic social teaching?

The Life Teen & Edge resources are great. They have whole semesters on Catholic social teaching that include teaching outlines, relevant small group discussion and great media resources. They have also started a number of missions across the country (Houston, Nashville, St. Louis & Atlanta) and one in Haiti where young people can go serve.

Catholic Relief Services also has a “Food Fast” retreat resource for free. World Vision (a Christian Non-profit) has a “30 Hour Famine” retreat resource with some great videos and activities.

We have used the Center for Ministry Development’s “Young Neighbors in Action” for our Mission trip this past year. Ave Maria Press’ Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter has a great chapter titled “Be Restorers” on how to get the whole parish serving outside the walls.


Catching Up With “Rebuilt” Event Speaker Brian Crook

This is the third in a series of “Best Practices” posts that will cover various aspects of Life & Justice Ministries. (To see the all the entries in the series, click here.) Today, the Ampersand interviews Brian Crook, director of missions at the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, about parish-based justice work. Brian was one of two fantastic guest speakers at the diocesan “Rebuilt” event last month, along with Fr. Michael White, pastor of Nativity and co-author of the smash-hit book.

Brian, center, on parish mission trip to Nigeria in 2011.

What is the role of missions within the parish? Why is it essential for our parishes to be reaching out to those living on society’s margins?

We are all called to be missionaries. The Church, the Body of Christ, exists for people outside of the church, and as members of the Body we share in that mission. Church isn’t ever just about one thing. It’s a movement, a movement that is ever-evolving and ever-expanding. It’s been said that a parish should always be going “deeper and wider” — that is “deeper” in the faith of its members and at the same time “wider” in its reach to outsiders. Both are necessary. Both are essential.

In my experience, service activities can be great igniters of faith for people. Why do you think that is?

Seeing God at work is inspiring. Even more so, experiencing God at work first-hand and being a part of that in the world is precisely what we’re made for. I think you’re absolutely right: by it’s very nature Missions ignites faith. We can’t just come to church for an hour each week and expect to experience all that God intends for us. We have to get involved and take responsibility for our faith, and when we do, we learn about who God is, who He has created us to be, and our purpose in the world. That’s exciting.

What are some practical tips you’d have for parishes looking to deepen their engagement in service and justice work?

Do fewer. That’s not good English, but my point is not to “do less” but to “focus more.” So many parishes I know simply have way too many social justice ministries and outreach programs. As a result their efforts get spread too thin and a significant impact is never made. We’re called to do something, but not everything. By narrowing the focus of your parish’s service and justice work, you can actually accomplish more. Think of it this way: when someone asks what your parish does for Missions, try to answer them in once sentence.

Why do you feel called to the work you do?

My story has revolved around Church of the Nativity for many years. I know God because of this local church. More than serving as the Director of Missions, I feel called to serve the kingdom movement that God is unfolding in Timonium. I would say though that my Jesuit education and past experiences with service trips have ingrained in me the importance of Missions. I am most passionate about Missions work because by serving others, it has helped me understand how desperately I need of God in my own heart and in my own life.

Any favorite Scripture passage that inspires your missions work? Any favorite quote from Catholic social teaching?

I love Galatians 5:13-14: For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I love these verses because it drives home for me that Missions overflows from the freedom we’ve received in Christ. It’s not an obligation, it’s not a duty, it’s an honor. It’s an honor, and it’s simple, so simple that it could be summed up by saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”


Five Tips for Parish Respect Life Ministry

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.

Jennifer Ruggiero

Jennifer Ruggiero

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 FoundationContinue 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.