St. Petersburg, Fla., May 21, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).
Parish and Pastoral Center leaders from across the Diocese of St. Petersburg gathered April 25-27, 2022, for one purpose: growing the Church. The Parish Growth Summit at the Bethany Center provided 32 hours of praying, learning, dreaming and envisioning plans for filling our churches. The theme for the Summit was from Luke 14:23, the Parable of the Great Feast. In this Parable, Jesus speaks of a dinner that was prepared, but those who were invited never showed. The Master then orders the servant to find new people to invite so that "My house may be filled."
"This event was transformational for me personally. Day-to-day we can fall into the mundane of ministry. But this workshop has reinvigorated my heart, my mind, and my passion for doing ministry and doing it the way Christ has called me," said Charmaine Carter, Director of Adult Faith Formation, Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle.
Carter felt the call to be more courageous in her ministry and to invite more people to follow Christ. "The Lord spoke to me and said you need to grow in courage and trust that I am going to be with you to accomplish that which I have called you to do," added Carter.
The Parish Growth Summit was an initiative of Courageously Living the Gospel, the diocesan vision that calls us to proclaim the Gospel, and invite all to encounter the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
National speakers from Casting Nets Ministries spoke passionately about the seven pillars of effective evangelization: Prayerful, Invitational, Hospitable, Inspirational, Sacramental, Formational and Missionful.
"We have to go outside our comfort zone. Greatness comes from pushing the limit. Our culture is no longer a Christian culture. It's a hostile culture," said Chris Stewart, Casting Nets Ministries, when speaking about pillar number four, Inspirational.
"We need more inspirational people to inspire other people, and to love others no matter who they are," added Stewart.
The speakers also reminded the participants that our greatest Christian vocation is to be disciples who make disciples. Inviting others with a personal invitation, like Jesus did, is essential to this vocation.
"We have lost the art of personal invitation. We need to look another person in the eye. It's hard to do that because it makes us vulnerable. But our personal invitation means something to someone," said Stewart.
Chris McBride, Parish Manager of St. Jerome Parish in Largo, led parish representatives through highly detailed, parish-specific reports with demographic information about people living in their mission field, which covers a 20-minute radius from the church. The reports also provided ministry preferences, religious beliefs, communication styles, and other helpful information about those living in the neighborhoods around each parish.
Father Mike Smith, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in Temple Terrace and certified Dream Manager coach, led the parishes in a visioning session of their Dream Parish — what would the parish look like if God's "house was filled."
Bishop Gregory Parkes heard this and shares the same concerns.
"Instead of just lamenting, we, as a united diocese, are taking action. The Summit was an opportunity for parishes to partner with other parishes and diocesan ministries to grow forward the church in concrete ways. We are inspired by the US Bishops' pastoral letter on stewardship which said, 'Jesus' call is urgent. He does not tell people to follow him at some time in the future but here and now—at this moment, in these circumstances. There can be no delay. Go and proclaim the kingdom of God.' For the parishes and Diocese of St. Petersburg, there will be no delay. We are going to go and proclaim the Kingdom of God and invite others into a deeper relationship with God and others," added Dr. Locey, who is also an Adjunct Professor at the Center for Church Management at Villanova University.
The Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of St. Petersburg proudly served as Presenting Partner for the Parish Growth Summit. "Thanks to our donors who supported the 2021 Giving Challenge, the Foundation is excited to partner and support this essential work," shared Meegan Wright, Executive Director of the Catholic Foundation and emcee for the summit. "Based on the enthusiasm and energy created through this summit, we know this is just the beginning of amazing growth for these parishes."
"This was one of the best diocesan events I have been to. It was educational and it touched my heart. This experience moves me to do more than what I've been doing and to overcome my fears. It starts with me. I have to be more prayerful and more formational to be an example to others," said Kathy Brasseur, Office Manager, St. Scholastica Parish, Lecanto.
Twenty-nine parishes participated in the Parish Growth Summit and most of them brought a pastor and a team of parish leaders that included a combination of staff and volunteers.
"It's good to be reminded and to get fired back up about evangelization. It reaffirmed my views that evangelization needs to be relational, and it involves walking with small groups of people," said Father Jonathan Emery, Pastor, St. Matthew Parish, Largo. He attended the Summit with three parishioners.
In addition to the Catholic Foundation of St. Petersburg, the following Catholic organizations supported the Transformational Parish Growth Summit: Rebuilt Parish, Prenger Solutions Group, Catholic Social Media, Diocesan, Mission Pathways, OSV, Flocknote, Faith Catholic, Dynamic Catholic, and Made2Thrive. Music was provided by St. Mary Magdalen Music Ministries in Altamonte Springs.
This article was first published by Gulf Coast Catholic, the publication of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, and is reprinted at Catholic News Agency with permission.