LUTZ, Florida — For Charmaine Carter, director of adult faith formation at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg, the Parish Growth Summit “was transformational.”
“Day-to-day, we can fall into the mundane of ministry. But this workshop has reinvigorated my heart, my mind and my passion for doing ministry and doing it the way Christ has called me,” she told the Gulf Coast Catholic, the online news outlet of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
Parish and pastoral center leaders from across the Diocese of St. Petersburg gathered for the recent summit at the Bethany Center in Lutz for one purpose: growing the Catholic Church.
The theme for the gathering came from Luke 14:23, the parable of the great feast. In this parable, Jesus speaks of a dinner that was prepared, but those who were invited never showed. The Master then orders the servant to find new people to invite so that “my house may be filled.”
The summit provided 32 hours of praying, learning, dreaming and envisioning plans for filling our churches.
Carter said she felt the call to be more courageous in her ministry and to invite more people to follow Christ.
“The Lord spoke to me and said you need to grow in courage and trust that I am going to be with you to accomplish that which I have called you to do,” added Carter.
The Parish Growth Summit, held April 25-27, was an initiative of Courageously Living the Gospel, the St. Petersburg Diocese’s vision that calls the faithful to proclaim the Gospel and invite all to encounter the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
National speakers from Casting Nets Ministries, a Kansas-based lay apostolate, spoke about the seven pillars of effective evangelization: prayerful, invitational, hospitable, inspirational, sacramental, formational and “missionful.”
“We have to go outside our comfort zone. Greatness comes from pushing the limit. Our culture is no longer a Christian culture. It’s a hostile culture,” speaker Chris Stewart said about the inspirational pillar.
“We need more inspirational people to inspire other people, and to love others no matter who they are,” he added.
The speakers also reminded participants that the greatest Christian vocation is to be disciples who make disciples — that inviting others with a personal invitation, like Jesus did, is essential to this vocation.
“We have lost the art of personal invitation. We need to look another person in the eye. It’s hard to do that because it makes us vulnerable. But our personal invitation means something to someone,” said Stewart.
Chris McBride, parish manager of St. Jerome Parish in Largo, Florida, led parish representatives through highly detailed, parish-specific reports with demographic information about people living in their mission field, which covers a 20-minute radius from the church.
The reports also provided ministry preferences, religious beliefs, communication styles, and other helpful information about those living in the neighborhoods around each parish.
Father Mike Smith, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in Temple Terrace, Florida, and a certified Dream Manager coach, led the parishes in a visioning session of their “dream parish”: What would the parish look like if God’s “house was filled.”
“We heard repeatedly during the synod process people’s deep desire for others to develop a close relationship with Christ and his church. They expressed concern and disappointment that many are not practicing their faith and hoped that they would come back,” said Lois Locey, St. Petersburg’s diocesan chancellor for administration.
Currently, Catholic dioceses around the world are engaged in listening sessions in preparation for the Catholic Church’s 2023 synod on synodality.
“Instead of just lamenting, we, as a united diocese, are taking action,” Locey said. “The summit was an opportunity for parishes to partner with other parishes and diocesan ministries to grow forward the church in concrete ways.”
She said diocesan and parish leaders “are inspired by the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on stewardship,” first published in 1992, which said: “Jesus’ call is urgent. He does not tell people to follow him at some time in the future but here and now — at this moment, in these circumstances. There can be no delay. Go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
“For the parishes and Diocese of St. Petersburg, there will be no delay. We are going to go and proclaim the kingdom of God and invite others into a deeper relationship with God and others,” added Locey, who also is an adjunct professor at the Center for Church Management at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
Twenty-nine parishes participated in the Parish Growth Summit and most of them brought a pastor and a team of parish leaders that included a combination of staff and volunteers.
Kathy Brasseur, office manager at St. Scholastica Parish in Lecanto, Florida, said it was one of the best diocesan events she has attended.
“It was educational and it touched my heart. This experience moves me to do more than what I’ve been doing and to overcome my fears. It starts with me. I have to be more prayerful and more formational to be an example to others,” she said.
Father Jonathan Emery, pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Largo, attended the summit with three parishioners.
“It’s good to be reminded and to get fired back up about evangelization,” the priest said. “It reaffirmed my views that evangelization needs to be relational, and it involves walking with small groups of people.”
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Peterson is executive director of communications for the Diocese of St. Petersburg and writes the Gulf Coast Catholic, the diocese’s online news outlet.