By Tanya Connor
The Catholic Free Press
Christmas in August?
Not exactly. But preparation for it and a look at what the holiday can do for people who have been away from the Church.
A training workshop is being offered to help parishes plan a “Christmas Carol Festival” that could help bring inactive Catholics back. After all, who doesn’t love to sing Christmas carols?
John and Therese Boucher, of St. John Parish in Worcester, developed the workshop while he was director of evangelization for the Diocese of Trenton, N.J.
They say religious carols are good evangelization tools because they summarize the Gospel message.
They’d tried various events to bring people to church and Mr. Boucher said he “spoke to a lot of seekers.” Some called his office and complained about the Church. When he asked what they liked about it, some said they liked singing Christmas carols when they were younger. This inspired the Bouchers to develop the festival.
Mrs. Boucher said they held the first workshop and festivals in 2007 in the Trenton Diocese.
In the Worcester Diocese St. Mary’s in Shrewsbury and Good Shepherd Parish in Linwood have held the festivals, they said.
Laity can run the festival, with the pastor’s permission, Mr. Boucher said.
The festival is extremely effective in bringing unity in merged parishes and even has brought disgruntled parishioners back to church, Mr. Boucher said. Everyone appreciates Christmas and the festival is a chance for members of the former parishes to share their Christmas traditions, he said.
The Aug. 20 workshop is to train active Catholics how to plan a Christmas Carol Festival to hold during Advent. Mr. Boucher said they do a brief sample festival during the workshop, then explain it step by step.
The idea of the festival is for practicing Catholics to invite marginal and inactive Catholics and the unchurched to their church hall or a large home to sing Christian Christmas carols, and invite them back for other events. (These places may seem less threatening than the church itself.) Mr. Boucher said people will go to things when invited by family members and friends.
There are also other components and options for the festival, which should last about an hour, the Bouchers said.
A priest can speak about who Jesus is and what he wants to do in people’s lives. Lay people might share how they came closer to Christ at Christmas time or make brief comments, such as: “I like ‘Away in a Manger’ because it shows Jesus was willing to become one of us – poor and a baby.”
Adults can re-enact Jesus’ birth so other adults can identify with Mary and Joseph. Attendees can be invited to go to the manger.
Refreshments can be offered to help build community.
“When we want to reach out to marginalized and inactive Catholics, we have to think like them,” Mr. Boucher said. “You can’t be throwing all kinds of liturgical words at them.” (They don’t know what the words mean.) The festival provides a comfortable, welcoming experience of church.
Mrs. Boucher recalled a priest who was unsure about holding the festival during Advent. But, she said, “That’s when people have Christmas on their minds.” Visiting his parish’s religious education classes, the priest discovered that the students didn’t know the religious Christmas carols.
The festival won the New Wineskins Award for extraordinary achievement in Catholic Evangelization and Catechesis from the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, a press release from the Bouchers said.
The couple have written books about evangelizing. Last winter they presented their 10-session evangelization program “SENT” to people in the Worcester Diocese’s permanent diaconate program and other interested people.
– For more information or registration, contact Elizabeth Marcil at firstname.lastname@example.org
Christmas Carol Festival
Sponsored by: The diocesan Office of Religious Education as part of its adult faith formation and evangelization ministry.
Being held: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 20 in the second floor meeting room of St. Mary Parish in Shrewsbury.
Cost: $25. Fee due by Aug. 12. It includes the guidebook, beverages and refreshments. Attendees bring lunch.
Group rate: Groups of four or more can request a discount by calling the Religious Education Office at 508-929-4303.