By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press
LINWOOD – Parishioners hungry for more of the faith.
A pastor and parish council seeking to give them something relevant for their lives.
These desires have come together, producing a speaker series. It starts with Bishop McManus and local laymen this Lent, and is intended to continue.
Father Lawrence J. Esposito, pastor, and Jason Cote, parish pastoral council chairman, told The Catholic Free Press how the parish got to this point.
Father Esposito has been pastor of Good Shepherd for several years, and more recently was also named pastor of St. Augustine Parish in Millville. The two have separate parish councils and activities.
“We really put the emphasis on the pastoral,” Father Esposito said of Good Shepherd. “Our parish council doesn’t really get involved in buildings and parking lots. My vision of the parish council is to help to carry out the mission and the vision of the parish. It’s out of the parish council that this speakers’ program arose.”
“It really became a discussion one evening,” Mr. Cote said. “We really felt like people want to understand their faith more.” And the council has been talking about how to help them grow.
“What’s real life for people?” he asked. “How do we help people understand that what the Church teaches is relevant to daily life?” He spoke of the goal of having a relationship with Jesus and being his disciples.
He said the council members read and discussed the book “The Story of a Catholic Parish Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making Church Matter.” In 2014 one member attended a local seminar by the co-authors, Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran.
Father Esposito said he felt it was important for his parish council members to read the book, so they could help define the parish’s vision and mission.
“I see the council as advisory to me,” he said. “And I am not going to waste their time or ministry” ignoring what they discuss. If he sees a problem, he says so. They work it out together and usually reach a consensus. They don’t vote and he doesn’t veto proposals, he said.
“We ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit,” Mr. Cote said.
The parish staff has as much input in the discussions as council members; together they number about a dozen people, Father Esposito said.
Mr. Cote said Father Esposito “challenged us to cultivate the idea: How do we teach people about Jesus Christ and how do we make him relevant in their lives?”
They chose a three-year Lenten program called “Living the Eucharist.” After the parish completed it last Lent, participants asked what they would do next, Father Esposito said. Some participate in the parish’s ongoing Bible study, but some wanted something else.
Father Esposito said he’s found that people don’t attend parish missions if they can’t go each night and don’t commit to several-week programs.
So the parish council discussed having speakers talk about topics people are curious about. They came up with three, for starters, all scheduled for 7-8:30 p.m. in hall beneath the church. (Given how parishioners linger after Sunday Masses, discussions could last longer.) Each talk is on a different night of the week and stands alone; people do not need to attend all of them.
On March 8 Bishop McManus is to talk about conscience.
On March 21 Marc Tumeinski, an assistant professor of theology at Anna Maria College, is to talk about tolerance.
On April 6 John Zawacki, who has spoken at the parish before, is to talk about humility. He is co-chairman of the Parish Renewal and Evangelization subcommittee of the diocesan Pastoral Council.
“I believe that we have a wealth of good speakers and teachers (in the diocese) that we don’t tap nearly enough,” Father Esposito said.
“And witnesses,” added Mr. Cote.
He said the parish wants to help people learn what the Church teaches and why. There will be time to ask questions, not in a challenging manner, but so attendees can understand the faith, he said.
Last weekend Good Shepherd put a flier about the speaker series in the parish bulletin. They are publicizing it to their deanery and through the media. Everyone is welcome to the free talks, which are to be accompanied by refreshments and aimed at forming the faithful, not evangelizing the unchurched.
If these talks are well received, the parish hopes to have more speakers, perhaps every other month, Father Esposito said. He said participants will probably be asked what other topics interest them.