Center for Evangelical Catholicism helps adults continue faith formation

GREENVILLE – Evangelical Cath-olicism can pique curiosity, inspire, or get Catholics in touch with their faith.

David Tiede Hottinger hopes it does all three.

As director of the Center for Evangelical Catholicism at St. Mary Church in Greenville, Hottinger has embarked on a venture designed to get Catholics on a path toward maturity and holiness as disciples of Jesus Christ. Changing the way the parish thinks about its ministries and formation has not been an easy task.

The center, which is an umbrella structure, encompasses all kinds of adult faith formation, spiritual formation and other tools designed to help Catholics.

“It’s not just a marketing ploy. It’s what we really see as covering the evangelical foundation of what it means to be Catholic – to know the Gospel, to live the Gospel and to share the Gospel with others,” Hottinger said.

Getting people to understand the concept of evangelical Catholicism can be a challenge because “evangelical” is a word more familiar to Protestants.

“This is a tremendous cultural shift for many Catholics to make,” said Hottinger, assistant to the pastor for discipleship and evangelization.

The center is designed to get people to see the parish as a house of formation, an opportunity to educate lay people in the teachings of the church and in the spirituality of Catholicism, he said. Because it is evangelical, the focus is outward rather than inward, he said.

“We have several hundred parishioners who get the vision and are excited,” he said. “The center directs all these different apostolates within the parish … It is aimed at candidates and catechumens and adult Catholics who want to be better formed within their Catholic faith.”

Chris Stansberry, a St. Mary parishioner, said he is excited about all the opportunities the parish offers under the umbrella of the Center for Evangelical Catholicism. He credits Hottinger and Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary, for having the creative vision to bring people closer to their faith.

Stansberry said he has given some faith-sharing witnesses at a few of the formation classes offered at St. Mary. He also is involved in a Friday morning group, called Pillars of Christ, in which about 25 men meet weekly to share their faith and encourage each other in their path to holiness.

Stansberry said the Center for Evangelical Catholicism has been a good idea for the parish.

“More than anything else, it will instill curiosity, and the next part for people would be, ‘What is that?’ ” he said. “The thrust there is to get people at St. Mary’s to feel so comfortable with living their faith that they openly talk about the tenets and traditions of Catholicism.”

Hottinger said St. Mary’s leadership decided to begin the center about three years ago after investigating many other models and ways that parishes have to get lay people involved in their faith. Bishop Robert J. Baker has been very supportive of evangelical Cath-olicism, he said.

The concept of the center has been customized to meet St. Mary’s needs, he said, which means it is always evolving and not necessarily based on a particular program.

For example, at St. Mary, parishioners are invited to attend the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) classes with candidates and catechumens to continue their own adult faith formation.

St. Mary has held weekend discernment retreats within the parish so that people can reflect on their individual gifts and charisms, Hottinger said.

“Beyond that, there’s a process to help the laypeople discern their vocation. That’s become really key for us. It’s not enough to recruit warm bodies to help our ministries,” Hottinger said.

Recently, Hottinger was invited to speak about his parish’s work on evangelical Catholicism at a conference hosted by the Evangelical Catholic Institute at St. Paul’s University Catholic Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

Hottinger said that because the center is an evolving concept, he plans to add things along the way.

“Where I’d like to move things in the very near future is doing more in the way of spiritual formation, offering courses on spiritual disciplines and spiritual friendship,” Hottinger said. “There are resources within the Catholic Church to help people grow spiritually.”

He said the parish is training evangelical Catholicism leaders through the creation of the St. Barnabas Society. The purpose of the society is to have a network of trained spiritual leaders at St. Mary who will partner with other parishioners on their own paths toward Christian discipleship.

As the center moves forward, Hottinger hopes that people focus on the importance of evangelizing, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

Catholics, he said, need to be constantly asking: “How do I live as a disciple of Jesus Christ, in my workplace, in my community, in my state of South Carolina, in my world?”