Disciples in Mission leaders prepare for Lenten introduction

COLUMBIA — Lent is drawing near and the hundreds of parish leaders who will implement the Disciples in Mission process have been trained. Trainers and trainees are ready to kick it off.

“I’m jazzed about it,” said Carl Mayers, diocesan coordinator of liturgy for Disciples in Mission. “It’s a great process and will make a difference in our communities and in our lives. First, the people were wondering what was going on, and now they realize that it must be important stuff.”

What has been going on is a massive training program involving volunteer leaders from 47 of the parishes in the Diocese of Charleston. With the onset of the Lenten season, they will see their leadership grow to fruition as parishioners meet in small groups or as families to share their faith; they will read bulletin inserts and hear homilies based on the overarching theme of a document published by the bishops of the United States in 1992: Go and Make Disciples; A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization.

Participating parishes have also been praying a thematic prayer as part of a prayer campaign that began months ago. All have been asked to try praying the Disciples in Mission prayer every day. Early signs of success are one reason diocesan and parish leaders are excited.

“I have seen people changing and growing already, just from being asked to participate,” Bill Dietz told a large crowd at St. Joseph Church during the final training session for parish leaders on Feb. 15.

Dietz and his wife, Karen, are the Diocese of Charleston coordinators for Disciples in Mission. They have been traveling the state teaching pastors and other parish leaders how to get the five-year process up and running. One of their early converts to the Paulist Fathers’ creation was Mark Dickson, pastoral associate at Christ Our King Church in Mt. Pleasant.

“One obvious benefit is that everyone will be well-versed in the bishops’ document,” Dickson said. “The materials are packaged well from the Paulists, and other dioceses have had good experiences with it, so this is a proven thing for the Diocese of Charleston.”

The small groups will meet during Lent to discuss the Scripture readings of the following Sunday mass. Priests or deacons will preach on the lectionary-based homiletics prepared by the Disciples in Mission, and parish bulletins will carry coordinated essays. All this to promote the three goals of Go and Make Disciples: to live our faith fully, to invite others to do the same and to transform society in Christ.

“It’s exciting to see something like this covering the whole diocese, with everybody on the same page,” Dietz said.

Evangelization has been a historical weakness of the modern Catholic Church, according to Karen Dietz. Other faith traditions proselytize vigorously, she said, but the Holy Spirit moves Catholics as well.

“This is not about banging on doors,” she said. “It’s about getting together and sharing your faith. Look at this meeting, for instance: The baptized are enthusiastic about their call and willing to share it. It’s great watching the Spirit; it’s exciting to see the church alive.”

The process began for the Dietz couple, Mayers and other diocesan leaders in the summer of 2002. After they were trained in Washington, D.C., they began recruiting parish leadership teams and training them. Following the Lenten process, parishes will undergo a Parish Reflection Day to involve even more parishioners in the evangelizing process and to create a profile of strengths and weaknesses with regard to sharing the faith and to develop a common vision.

The process will continue the next year with a new prayer campaign. Other dioceses’ experiences show that parishes tend to continue the process long after its total five-year life, said Paul Schroeder, diocesan director of Evangelization, Catechesis and Christian Initiation.

“The process ends each year at Pentecost, but our research shows that a lot of energy will have been created by then. Based on what has happened in other dioceses, parishes will have had a tremendous experience. Pastors will talk; people will talk, and it will continue. There has been a real conversion factor in play already,” Schroeder said.

Parishes not electing to start Disciples in Mission this year will have a chance to do so in the future, he said.