Witness

St. Gerald Parish evangelists are changing lives

Faith mentors grateful for archdiocese training

Joe Buck, 23, had been watching his friends leave the church “with reckless abandon” and decided to do something about it.

He took training on how to evangelize, which began with ratcheting up his own prayer life. That increased fervor made his friends curious about why he was so determined to live out his faith.

Buck eagerly took his friends’ questions: “Why do you go to church on Sundays?” – “Why do Catholics believe that?” – “Why can’t anyone go up to Communion?” – “Why is that so important to Catholics?” – “Why are you so committed to Alpha?”

The last question in particular elicits a ready response. “That’s when I tell them to go to an Alpha meeting” and find out, said Buck, who co-coordinates Alpha sessions at an Omaha brewery taproom. Those interested in deepening their Christian faith or learning more about it can get together there in a no-pressure environment.

Buck has set out to not just follow Jesus, but to become a disciple sent out on mission. And his parish, St. Gerald in Ralston, is teaming up with the archdiocese Office of Evangelization and Catechesis to equip him to be that disciple.

He is one of about 30 people from St. Gerald who are being formed as faith mentors, and the parish is gearing up to train an even larger group beginning early next year, said Mark Nelson, director of evangelization and discipleship at St. Gerald.

‘Feeling equipped’

The discipleship training, called School of Mission, is one of the many endeavors that the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal helps fund. The appeal provides 27 percent of the archdiocese’s annual operating budget and helps support parishes, schools and a variety of ministries, according the archdiocese Office of Stewardship and Development.

For St. Gerald Parish, the help from the archdiocese’s Office of Evangelization and Catechesis has been fruitful.

“Each of the leaders who went through the training walked away feeling equipped,” Nelson has said in promoting the appeal. People who “never saw themselves as leaders” are now helping others journey toward Christ.

Through the training, they are “learning how to pray in advance, then reach out and share their witness,” he said in a recent interview with the Catholic Voice.

St. Gerald’s priests and lay leaders held listening sessions at the end of the summer to talk with parishioners about their concerns and hopes for the parish. And several people expressed a desire to learn how to evangelize, Nelson said.

“It wasn’t always the way they put it,” he said. But they wanted to know, “How do I lead family and friends closer to God?”

Faith life ‘exploding’

LuAnn Anglo is another trained disciple at St. Gerald. Two-and-ahalf years ago, she seemed to be just another person in the church pews on Sundays, consistently attending Mass but unable to actually explain why she was there, Anglo said.

The 60-year-old grew up as a Catholic and had been a member of St. Gerald for 25 years, but her faith was lacking, she said, until her pastor, Father Mark Nolte, put out a challenge.

Try praying just 10 minutes a day, Father Nolte said, which seemed easy enough to Anglo. And the pastor added a prediction – that soon “you’ll want more.”

That was an understatement for Anglo, who dove in. She began attending daily Masses and now finds herself spending hours in prayer and going to Bible studies and faith formation groups four evenings a week.

“My faith life is exploding,” Anglo said. “It just has me excited and wanting more and more and more.”

The wife, mother and grand mother, who quit her full-time job three years ago, also serves on the parish’s pastoral council, where, she said, she represents “pew sitters,” who, like she was, are not fully committed in their relationship with God.

The discipleship training has allowed her to help people go deeper, as she leads them at parish Alpha meetings and in Encounter groups, where people are introduced to Lectio Divina, a prayerful reading of Scripture. Anglo also has sponsored a candidate in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.

Uncovering needs

The Encounter groups have uncovered the needs of its members, Anglo said, and she and others have been able to help, especially in times of crisis.

She said she has witnessed lives being transformed through the Encounter meetings, as Scripture readings become “God’s Living Word” for participants.

Elderly women who were educated in parochial schools and have attended Mass all their lives have asked Anglo: “How can I have never known this?” after learning Lectio Divina.

The archdiocese discipleship training begins with participants delving deeper into their own prayer, which includes Lectio Divina.Anglo said she’s also learned to better understand intercessory prayer. She said she now puts out her hands in prayer, mentally placing people there, and raises her hands up to God as she prays for them daily.

“I remember more than a little about that,” Anglo said of the training on intercession, which is a vital part of evangelization. “God wants a greater good” for each person, “and we can lift them up and put them in alignment” with his plans.

Anglo said she’s had a deep desire to pass on what she learned about intercessory prayer, and she’s even taught others through a Toastmasters speech on the subject.

‘Lasting impact’

Buck said Andrew Dejka, coordinator of parish evangelization in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, has been a mentor for him.

“That office is just amazing,” Buck said, and has helped him “in a huge way.”

“I don’t know how involved I would be without the (discipleship) training.”

“The office has helped the parish a lot, too,” Buck said, by strengthening its evangelization efforts with structure and goals, “setting us up so we can have a lasting impact.”

Buck, who works at River City Recycling in Omaha, said the archdiocese’s discipleship training has helped him grow in confidence and evangelization know-how. In August he began his second year of the formation.

He said it’s helped him identify others’ gifts and recognize where to put those gifts to best use, especially at the Alpha gatherings. Someone might be good at organizing the food, while others are more qualified to lead a small group.

He said the training also has helped him identify “where people are in the faith journey and help coach them along.”

“They might not be confident at being a disciple, but they’ve had a good experience in their relationship with Jesus,” said Buck, who’s helped lead six of the 12-week Alpha sessions, which are held once a week on Monday evenings and conclude with a weekend retreat.

Others might not be part of the church but want Jesus to be part of their lives. And that’s “an important first step,” Buck said.

The next Alpha session at the brewery will begin next spring, he said. Anyone is welcome, he said, but the meetings are aimed at young adults.

Alpha, which has a Christian orientation but is not specifically Catholic, allows faith development in “a very personable” setting that isn’t pushy, Buck said.

“You look forward to seeing your small group every week,” he said. “You grow close when you’re talking about your faith. They become your family during your Alpha session.”