Thursday, October 23, 2014

Year 3 - Evangelization

Prayer at Union County Court House
In Union County, TN over 60 percent of the folks are labeled "unchurched".   That is a lot of folks you do not claim any church home or attend any church on a regular bases.   One aspect of our mission focus is the evangelization of the unchurched.

The first few years, this was fairly easy.   Many inactive Catholics found their way home.  Others who were deeply searching found us quickly.  Now, however, we are three years old and no longer the newest thing on the block.   We do suspect that once we are able to move out of the store front into a church building on the property then another movement of growth will occur.
2012 Games at Grainger Co. Tomato Festival

Our efforts over the first three years was a true team accomplishment.  The  missionary team wrote letters to any known Catholics, announced events in the paper, and were visible at various festivals.   The most intentional activity of mine has been the column "Come to the Water" which Fr. Aaron shared with me for two years.  Now I am the solo writer.  This is currently published monthly in Grainger Today and the Union Shopper.

2013 Art on Main
2011 Union County Heritage Festival

Trunk and Treat 2012
Fr. Aaron for two years engaged in evangelization efforts by having lunch with the students at the Grainger County High School his first year and  last year by having lunch with the students at Union County Middle School.   Br. Craig has visited every person on the original list of Catholics receiving the East Tennessee Catholic Newspaper based on the zip codes. 
Fr. Aaron with Youth

Br. Joe's evangelization efforts are more indirect.  When he is doing home repair they know that he is a Catholic minister.  Opportunities to share faith emerge from this.

A home Br. Joe has worked on
Both counties have sponsored "Curious about Catholic" courses.   These allow any one regardless of faith or denomination to come and ask questions.
Fr. Aaron giving instruction

I did attempt to form an evangelization committee but did not have much luck.   They meet once, but there was no follow up.  I am thinking of renaming it since the word "evangelization" is sometimes intimidating to folks.
Blue Grass Festival, Luttrell 2014

 Often times when people here this word they think door knockers and flyers.   Yet, really it is relationship building and service in areas where few folks are active in church.   The Catholic way might include some of the traditional ways, like Br. Craig's home visits.  Yet, it really is just simply being a witness to Jesus Christ in all circumstances.  It is finding places and ways to serve those who are not active in any church.  It is seeking out those who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in any meaningful way.  It is sharing your faith story humbling with others.

One idea that I hope to implement next year is to go to several trailer parks in our area and sponsor an ice cream social.   Just serving the cool connection of Christ y meeting people where they are.

A little ice cream in Blaine, TN
A church is not a country club with exclusive membership and inviting others who are like them.  Rather are church is more like a street or block party where all are welcome to enjoy the abundance of God's soothing love.  The greater the variety of folks to more true to the gospel it is.

You do not need to be in Maynardville or Rutledge to engage in evangelization of the unchurched.  Every reader can do this wherever you be.  Pray for our efforts here, but also join us in spreading hope, faith and joy through the good news of Jesus Christ right where you are.
Surprise Lillies

Friday, October 3, 2014

Year 3 -- Ecumenism

Beauty rises from the Mountains

As I continue to celebrate three years of mission development in Union and Grainger County, the blessings of our relationship with other Christians is deeply appreciated.   Glenmary considers ecumenism ... building bridges with other Christian denominations... as an important missionary principle.

Pastor Frank visiting with Br. Craig
In Union and Grainger county, not only have bridges been built, but also friendships.  Within one month from our arrival, we began praying with the men of Revival Vision Church of God.  The pastor has changed, two members have died, another has moved away, but the group continues. Our prayer together is one of the highlights of my week.  Currently, we are doing more scripture sharing and personal sharing.  These are men I trust as much as my blood brothers.

Pastor Ken receiving a plague of appreciation from Fr. Steve
In October of 2011 we celebrated the first Sunday Mass ever in Union County at Miller's Chapel Methodist Church.   This one month of services led to many levels of fellowship.  For three years we have held a joint Bible School.  Their choir has sung in our church and we in theirs.   They even have formed a joint choir and have sung Christmas carols together and have sung together at the Nursing Home.
Joint Bible School in Maynardville

Both of these churches with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta have formed a Community Thanksgiving Service which will be in its fourth year.  We have prayed in all three churches together and have shared preaching responsibilities.  Our hope this year is to expand this with more churches joining in.

Pastor Brian to offer prayer at Fr. Steve 25th anniversary
Br. Craig and Br. Joe also have attended regularly once a month Saturday prayer services for the reduction of drug and alcohol abuse in our community.  We have hosted this event twice.

The relationships between members of our various churches are a beautiful reflection of the Body of Christ becoming more and more unified.

Pastor Ryan praying at Catholic Church with Pastor Chan about to preach

In Grainger County a strong relationship has been built between Rutledge Baptist Church, Rutledge Methodist Church and St. John Paul II Catholic Mission.  The two pastors and myself, or my two close friends, (it is the same thing) meet once a month for conversation, shared reflection, prayer and lunch.  We currently have formed a Community Food Pantry.   We have done charitable acts distributing with food, cloth and toys as opportunities have arisen.   We aim to support one another both personally and in our ministry.

Baptist Choir singing at Methodist Church with the Catholic Priest about to  preach
 Last Spring we held a joint revival rotating each night between preachers, choirs and host churches.  It was a bonding experience for our congregations and has lead to us planning a second one next spring.  This summer we held our first joint bible school which was a huge success.  Currently four members of Rutledge Methodist attend our adult bible study.  What a blessing this is.

Joint Bible School in Rutledge

Friends at the Methodist Church now attending Bible Study at JP II

Also,   Br. Craig has taken on a special ministry.  Every Sunday after the nine o'clock English Mass, he visits another Christian Church.   He has been invited to about 92 of them and has visited 30 or more so far.  Often times he is the first Catholic every to attend these churches and in some cases, is the first Catholic the folks have meet.  These build deep relationships.

Br. Craig and Pastor Ryan representing the joint food pantry
In this summary, I have not mentioned everything that might be called "ecumenical" that is happening with us.   Yet, this aspect of our missionary activity has born great fruit.  Who knows what the Lord will do with these friendships in the future.  Certainly, this is a light of what can happen in the world.  We can live together and be One Body of Christ.
Christians United reflects the colors of God's love!