A group of women meet at Cedar Catholic Junior/Senior High School in Hartington on a recent Wednesday evening to study the Book of Ruth. Leading them are Audrey Freeman, second from left, and Lori Christensen, wearing white. That faith-sharing group is one of several developed under School of Mission at Holy Trinity Parish in Hartington and St. Michael Parish in Coleridge. KALY RUTAR

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Parishes’ School of Mission brings people to Christ

Father Owen Korte sees new signs of hope at the two parishes where he is pastor, Holy Trinity in Hartington and St. Michael in Coleridge.

Fallen away Catholics are coming back to the church. The parishes are becoming more welcoming, positive and focused on what’s most important: “the sacraments, worship, Jesus and Mary.”

It’s all part of a new cycle of evangelization at the parishes.

Parishioners step forward to be formed as disciples, getting to know Jesus more deeply, praying to the Holy Spirit for guidance, and forming new disciples in small intimate gatherings.

That formation process then repeats – and multiplies – as the new disciples get to know Jesus better through the small faith-sharing groups, pray and lead others to him by creating new small groups.

That cycle is what Archbishop George J. Lucas has been calling for in the archdiocese’s pastoral vision of “One church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, living mercy.”

At the two parishes, that cycle is called “School of Mission.”

The archbishop visited the parishes last fall, talked to participants and saw what the groups were doing.

“It was a beautiful song in my ear as I drove back to Omaha,” he said.

Father Korte said he, too, is impressed with the formation – provided by Calvin Mueller, coordinator of rural parish evangelization for the archdiocese’s Office of Evangelization and Catechesis – and its results.

“There’s an excitement on my part to keep it going,” Father Korte said. The faith isn’t meant to be maintained, but built, he said. And parishioners are out doing that.

Participants are reaching out to people they know, including those going through rough times or who have fallen away from the church, evangelizing “slowly and deliberately,” he said, “a little at a time, very naturally.”

People don’t stay in one particular small group for long, because they are then encouraged to reach out and form more groups, drawing others more deeply into a relationship with Christ.

The evangelization initiative started about a year ago with about 35 people participating in the training Mueller offered.

Those leaders were encouraged to form small groups that would gather to learn, pray and share. They created about 18 groups, drawing in a total of about 100 people.

The group leaders get together in “Upper Room” meetings, where they discern and plan what’s next on their mission, inspired by each others’ experiences.

The small groups they’ve formed have been diverse, including those for couples, men, women, young mothers, fathers and sons, and parents who have suffered the death of a child.

One was designed with a farmer’s schedule in mind, which would meet between the busy harvest and planting seasons.

“The variety is out there,” Father Korte said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all.”

The disciples pray to the Holy Spirit about what type of group to form, whom to invite and how to invite them. Group sizes have ranged from 3 to 10 people.

Lorraine Pinkelman, a group leader, said she might have a certain person in mind to invite, but as she’s praying, she might sense that “God is steering me to someone else.”

Pinkelman has helped lead the group that is mostly farmers, but she’s considering forming a group for people who have suffered through the death of a spouse, like her.

She is also part of a group of five women who are studying several Old Testament heroines.

Some teachers who went through the training formed a group for women, who range in age from 20 to 50-something. They’re participating in a Wednesday evening Bible study on the Book of Ruth.

The women pray in intercession for the people in their lives, said Lori Christensen, one of the group leaders and a theology teacher for freshmen and juniors at Cedar Catholic Junior/Senior High School in Hartington.

Women often feel so busy, Christensen said, and think “Oh, no. Another thing. Do I want to do another thing?”

But her small group uses its time wisely and uses good resources, she said. “I never felt like I was wasting my time.”

It was good for the teachers to reach out to women from other walks of life, Christensen said. “We’ve developed relationships that never would have happened with the Bible study.”

Christensen said she occasionally takes what she learns to her students, including a method of Lectio Divina, a way of reading and praying with Scripture.

For Lent, Father Korte has asked his parishioners, including the small groups, to read, pray and have discussions based on the book “Called: Becoming an Everyday Disciple in a Post-Christian World – A Five-Week Guide” by Kevin Cotter.

The book uses examples from Scripture and saints on sharing the faith.

Pinkelman said she and many others at Holy Trinity had been waiting for something like School of Mission. “I had been looking for more of a role in the church, something to get me back in and involved,” she said.

Pinkelman said she would encourage others to go through the archdiocesan training or become a member of one of the small groups.

“God has guided people in many directions,” she said. “It’s been quite a ride.”