By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
JAMES ISLAND — Since the beginning of this year, one Lowcountry parish has been working in a quiet way to welcome inactive Catholics back to the church. And, just last month, Nativity Parish celebrated the conclusion of its first Landings session by welcoming home to the faith two young women.
Landings is a national evangelization process that helps parishes welcome inactive Catholics who want to take another look at the church. It is designed to enable small groups of practicing Catholics to encourage inactive Catholics to return to the church.
In 1986, Paulist Father Jac Campbell of Boston began to teach lay people how to welcome back alienated Catholics.
On Feb. 18 and 19 of this year, a large gathering of parishioners from Nativity Church took part in a weekend workshop led by Father Campbell for core group members at the Cathedral Center in Charleston.
Landings is not an RCIA program with candidates for conversion nor does it duplicate other parish efforts. It is an opportunity to share faith journeys, pray, and discuss spirituality with ordinary Catholics.
Both content and process are offered with the program so that it can be conducted with minimal supervision by trained lay leaders.
A group of six to eight Catholics joins together once a week for 10 weeks to welcome two or three alienated Catholics considering a return to the church and the sacraments.
The program follows an agenda concentrated on church teachings as stated in the Apostles Creed, prayer, Scripture, and the sharing of personal faith of those in the group. The meetings offer an opportunity for returning Catholics to tell why they left the active practice of their faith and why they wish to return.
The effort is designed for inactive Catholics that have worked out a lot of their anger and trouble with the church and are ready to take the next step.
“Landings is for people who want to come back to the church but don’t know how. They need support,” said Franciscan Sister Noreen Buttimer, pastoral associate at Nativity who has directed the effort there. “I sit back and marvel that the process has done as well as it has here.”
She added, “There is something special about Landings. It is a ministry that is truly responding. It is really exciting.”
Sister Buttimer also said that she was grateful to all in her parish group for their time commitment to the effort.
“I’ve gotten much more than I’ve given. The Lord has done so much for me,” said group member Joe Lucie. “We’re responding by evangelizing. I look around after awhile to see who can I bring in.”
He said that while residing in Maryland, parishioners at his church there did much for him, and he wanted to give back.
His wife, Bea Lucie, said the couple has been at Nativity Church for two years. “It’s a welcoming place,” she said. As for Landings, Bea confessed that she was almost reluctant to join the group, “but I’ve gotten far more out of it than I ever imagined.”
Fellow group member Carolyn Martel echoed that sentiment. “I’ve gotten more out of the program than I could give.”
Her husband, Normand Martel, said the two have been Nativity parishioners for 10-plus years. He called taking part in Landings “a way to be more active in the parish. The program is great. I’ve enjoyed it very much.”
Laurie Charles, a 20-year parishioner at Nativity, told of wanting in some way to welcome Catholics back to the faith, and the Landings program fit the bill.
Said Lisa Machowski, “It’s a wonderful program to help others.”
Terry Harris, Nativity Parish secretary, was in on the Landings process at the beginning, attending the initial training workshop in Charleston in February. And now, she is so committed to the effort that she chose to attend the final Landings group meeting the evening of Nov. 16 even though that date was both her birthday as well as wedding anniversary.
That type of enthusiasm for the program definitely had an effect on the two returning Catholics taking part in the process.
“What a wonderful way to be welcomed back,” said Maggie McCarter. “I’ve found my niche again. I’m here to stay.”
“It’s terrific,” was the succinct reply of Christin Nicole. “I’d recommend it to anybody.”
Group members told of how they might be having a hard week at work or home, but that they looked forward to coming to the Landings meetings each Thursday night. “I look at each week now as being from Friday to Friday,” said one. Another person said the program “made me learn more about myself.”
In a departure from the usual routine for the last session of the Landings program on Nov. 16, Sister Buttimer presented a talk on welcoming and reconciliation. She also recognized the contributions of Irene Bennett and Rose Mary Bouvette to the group, both of whom were unable to attend the final gathering.
The one familiar element present at the concluding meeting, however, was the personal faith story given by one of the attendees.