Workshop focuses on God’s spiritual gifts

GREENVILLE — For one lay Catholic, a workshop on the called and gifted has opened new avenues, while for another it has served as a foundation upon which to build.

More than 100 people from St. Mary Church in Greenville and other Upstate churches participated in a two-day examination of the gifts God offers to lay Christians and how to uncover them in their individual lives.

“It has gotten me to think about avenues I haven’t really looked at before,” said Elizabeth Whitaker, a parishioner at St. Mary. The church hosted the workshop presented by the Colorado-based Catherine of Siena Institute.

Sherry Anne Weddell and Dominican Father Michael Sweeny founded the institute six years ago to aid lay Catholics in carrying out the church’s apostolic mission.

Weddell and Sweeny delivered a fast-paced workshop on both the lay Catholic’s role in fulfilling the church’s mission and God’s spiritual gifts or “charisms” given through the Holy Spirit.

Workshop participants took a spiritual gifts inventory to help them better identify those gifts, followed by a review of the two dozen charisms that together touch on every facet of the church’s mission.

“It’s something that’s very much foundational for me,” St. Mary’s parishioner John Heuser said. “I have an idea of where God is calling me in life, and I’m looking for confirmation of that, or perhaps to get clarification of where God wants me to go in life.”

David Hottinger, assistant to Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor at St. Mary Church, said he and Father Newman have been talking about ways to form the lay people of St. Mary for their mission in the world.

“Every baptized Christian is given a mission by God to share in the church’s saving mission in the world,” Hottinger said.

“The thing that is unique about St. Catherine of Siena (Institute) is that they talk not only about the spiritual gifts that God gives us, but also about the mission of the laity and how we are apostles to the secular world,” he said.

The charisms identified at the workshop are as basic as mercy and giving, or more demanding, such as leadership and administration.

“The charism of mercy brings us into Mother Teresa territory,” said Weddell, who was raised as an evangelical Protestant and converted to Catholicism in 1987. This spiritual gift responds to the “practical deeds of compassion that reach out and give hope and comfort to those who suffer,” she said. “People with the charism of mercy are drawn to people that the rest of us would rather avoid. They see the spiritual and personal greatness of those who suffer, and they feel privileged to be allowed to be with them and to serve them.”

Weddell cited hospice nurses, prison chaplains and anyone who works with the poor and the homeless as good examples of people blessed with this charism.

“It’s always practical — they want to take hands-on action,” she said.

Catholics with the charism of pastoring “are passionate about what happens when you bring Christians together to pray together, share together and grow spiritually together,” Weddell said.

She said this gift is distinct from that of the parish pastor.

“The office of pastor needs to be held by someone who is ordained,” Weddell said, “but the charism is given very widely to the ordained and not ordained, to men and women.”

People with this spiritual gift make good leaders in small Christian communities, such as Bible study, faith sharing and prayer groups, Weddell said.

Father Sweeny describes those blessed with the communications charism as Christians who “want to see that we take our relationship with God seriously.”

It’s sparked by the desire to help those who may be incapable of developing a relationship with the church because they don’t know enough about it, Sweeny said.

Hottinger said the next step for the parish is to help parishioners discern those spiritual gifts.

“It’s going to be up to the lay people here to discover how God is calling them to use those gifts,” he said. “I see our role as a parish staff to help empower people to use those gifts: and to match the church’s needs with those gifts, he said.