‘Fire at the Beach’ encourages Catholics to evangelize

MYRTLE BEACH — Bishop Robert J. Baker urged South Carolina Catholics to rededicate themselves to evangelization because it is “the essential mission of the church.”

He spoke at “Fire at the Beach,” the Diocese of Charleston’s official conclusion of the Disciples in Mission program and the Year of the Eucharist.

More than 500 people attended the event held at the Ocean Dunes Resort. The theme was “Eucharist: Called, Nourished, Sent.” It began Friday, Sept. 16, with a Mass and an opening address by Paulist Father Bob Rivers, vice president of the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association. He spoke on “From Maintenance to Mission: Evangelization and the Revitalization of the Parish.” The Mexican dance troupe Grupo Itzmali revitalized the participants later in the evening.

Jesuit Father J-Glenn Murray, director of the Office of Pastoral Liturgy for the Diocese of Cleveland, gave a thought-provoking keynote speech Saturday morning. He talked about anger in America, referring to a 1994 article in The New York Times.

“It is not much better in the Catholic Church,” he said. He told the crowd that disagreements about doctrine, liturgy, and morality are polarizing the church. St. Paul faced similar challenges 2,000 years ago and wrote that Scripture was the unifying force, he said.

In late 1963, Father Murray said, the church was torn by the various reactions to the Second Vatican Council. On Dec. 4, more than 2,000 bishops worldwide overwhelmingly approved the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium). This document emphasizes full, active, and conscious participation in liturgy by all people of God, Father Murray said. He told the crowd that the aim of liturgy is not “great music, a brilliant homily, or a sacred space that takes your breath away. …Full, active, and conscious participation brings us unity.”

Father Murray also said that the church must always be reformed, but reform and renewal create diverging opinions, particularly when there are liturgical changes. He continued saying that some people want to keep the old ways, while others want the new ways.

“Look around your own parish,” he said. “May you never get caught up in liturgical wars. … Honoring one another helps us get past the discord.”

“The Holy Spirit was just completely alive in that room. … [Father Murray] was totally relevant and totally theological and able to penetrate your heart,” said Alison Dickensheets. She came from the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, Ga.

Breakout sessions followed the keynote address. Between sessions, Bishop Baker signed copies of his new book, “When Did We See You, Lord?” (co-authored by Franciscan Friar of the Renewal Father Benedict Groeschel) while vendors displayed books and other catechetical material.

Father Rivers led a session on outreach to inactive Catholics. People seemed stunned to learn that inactive Catholics make up the second-largest group of Christians in the United States, after practicing Catholics.

Their reasons for leaving the church are varied, he said, but many continue to identify themselves as Catholic. Sixty percent indicate that they would consider returning if invited, Father Rivers said.

The priest stressed that it should be as easy as possible for inactive Catholics to return and that the entire parish should be involved in the evangelization process.

Several programs for returning Catholics are Landings, Once Catholic, and Busted Halo.

Jane and Mike Myers led a session on small Christian communities. Mike Myers told participants that the private piety of pre-Vatican II days is evolving to collective spirituality. A small Christian community is essentially a small group of people who meet in a home to share Scripture readings and prayer, a concept not unlike the house churches of early Christianity.

Elva Horlings, from Precious Blood of Christ Church in Pawleys Island, said that all ministries in her parish practice faith sharing. Ministry activities are opened with a prayer and reading from the Sunday Scripture, and members share how the Scriptures relate to their lives.

Several other people told how prayers from their small communities worked miracles in their lives.

Kathleen Merritt, director of the Diocese of Charleston’s Office of Ethnic Ministries, led a session on welcoming Catholics from other ethnicities or cultures. She said that South Carolina is home to Catholics from all over the world, and that all newcomers should be welcomed. Parish training materials should be inclusive, she added, and parish leadership should be representative of the people in the parish.

Other breakout sessions addressed youth ministry, young adult ministry, adult catechesis, Eucharist, Hispanic ministry, and music.

The conference was concluded with a solemn Mass, Eucharistic procession, and benediction. Bishop Baker was the celebrant, and Father Murray was the homilist.