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Engaging with parishes: how can we help?

By Ashley Wiskirchen

“How can we help them?”

 I hear this question often as I participate in parish engagement work at Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.

I heard it during each one of the Parish Engagement and Charity Events (PEACE) we hosted last fall, and it’s usually the very first question I get in any Q&A portion of Parish Ambassador formation calls.

I even hear it after Mass when I’m headed down to enjoy coffee and donuts at my own parish:

“How can we help them?”

“Them” — our neighbors in need.

We know the need across the 38-counties we serve is very high.

Community members down the street and across the state are struggling under financial strain, in need of mental health support, searching for fresh and nutritional food they can afford to fill their refrigerators and pantries.

“We” — the people of many parishes who are answering Bishop McKnight’s call to grow our ability to become beacons of hope for their communities as Centers of Charity and Mercy.

Answering this call to serve their neighbors is nothing new for many parishes.

Yet, the need persists — ministries need more support and more hands to keep help flowing.

In light of this, I often ask myself, how can we — Catholic Charities, the charitable arm of our diocese and the non-profit created to provide social services — help them — the faithful who find themselves wholly dedicated to alleviating the suffering of their neighbors through Works of Charity and Mercy?

“Catholics are a people of ‘and,’” shared Paul Crnkovich, Director of Adult Faith Formation at the St. Thomas More  Newman Center in Columbia.  “So when we talk about formation and service, we echo what Scripture tells us: Word and Deed.”

“The work of the Gospel is both proclaiming it, and then doing it,” he concluded.

Prior to Paul’s role at the Newman Center, he served as the Director of Parish Engagement at Catholic Charities Fort Worth — a Catholic Charities agency situated among nearly 4 million people.

“I loved the work of parish relations when I was with Catholic Charities of Fort Worth,” he shared, “the mission-focus of faith formation and service are personal passions of mine that I carried to the role I have now at the Catholic Newman Center.”

With Paul’s help, our agency provided formation on foundational teachings of the Church to over 80 attendees of last fall’s PEACE events.

At the core, our work to support parish social ministries is simple, but profound: how can we equip the faithful to continue or increase works of charity and mercy where they are, with what they have?

We have three ideas for you to reflect on today.

Renew practices of prayer

“Prayer is the relationship with the one who can actually make things happen — Jesus,” shared Paul. “When you understand the purpose of your existence, to be with God forever, your ministry flows from Jesus and frees you to be the light of his life to those you serve.”

While it’s tempting to shift from “being” to “doing” in any ministry, rooting yourself in personal prayer is truly the only way to let the love of Christ work in and through you.

If you feel burdened, burnt out, or distressed by the work before you — take a figurative step back and ask yourself, “where is God in this?”

Revisit and renew your practices of prayer often.

Attend Mass, pray the Rosary, frequent the sacraments and pray with your family and fellow ministers.

That could sound like a trite platitude — but the power of prayer in your ministry for others can never be overstated.

Through prayer, your spirit can be rejuvenated, freed and confident in your ability to share the joy of the Gospel.

Know and carry out the Works of Mercy

“The parishes offer an interesting intersect for Catholic Charities agencies — they are both the place of worship, and have one foot firmly planted in their local community —  priming them to serve,” continued Paul.

He continued, “The Works of Mercy are the specific ‘how’ in which we live out the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 25, including both physical and spiritual needs.”

Reflect at the individual level, within your family, in a particular parish ministry and the parish as whole — how are we meeting these needs?

The physical needs which may be more evident and tangible, but also the spiritual needs of prayer, counsel and comforting others.

Not sure where to start?

One of the most practical ways to do this with Catholic Charities is to send your Parish Ambassador or another parishioner to events like PEACE or formation opportunities and welcome them to come back into the parish to share their experiences, reigniting the desire to meet those needs within your community.

Live a life of stewardship

“Living a life of stewardship walks hand-in-hand with carrying out the Works of Charity and Mercy,” Paul reflected.

When we live as good stewards of our time, talents and resources, we can more easily and more deeply live a life of service and generosity.

Support your own parish’s ability to serve as a Center of Charity and Mercy by getting actively involved in parish life.

Sign up for your parish’s social commission, benevolence committee or outreach ministry.

Offer to be the parishioner who applies for a Charity and Mercy Grant from Catholic Charities to start up a new ministry or grow an existing one.

Take the opportunity to learn more about Catholic Charities so that you can confidently refer folks who need help to our agency where we can accompany them with case management, educational classes, advocacy and accountability.

Of course, we have a variety of practical ways to get “plugged in” to Catholic Charities any time.

From signing up for our eNewsletters, to downloading this month’s Menu of Engagement — from registering for our Catholic Social Teaching webinars kicking off in May to signing up for a volunteer opportunity in one of our offices.

You can find links to these opportunities online, or give us a call anytime at 573-635-7719 to learn more.

I would love to help you get plugged in to the work of Catholic Charities; and I would love to know that this week’s Encounter at Catholic Charities was the little spark you needed to say “yes” to the next opportunity you have to serve those in need in your own neighborhood, through your own parish.

Ashley Wiskirchen is the Sr. Director of Communications at Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri. With a desire to see parish communications and ministries thrive, Ashley helps to oversee the Parish Ambassador program, a project outlined by Bishop McKnight’s three-year diocesan pastoral plan. To learn more about becoming a Parish Ambassador, visit cccnmo.diojeffcity.org/parish-ambassadors.