To help the faithful understand their gifts more fully and how to use them to give glory to God and to learn the tools for one-on-one evangelization, the diocesan Faith Formation Office is rolling out two new programs: Called and Gifted and Ananias Training.
Both workshops use curriculum and are conducted by teachers from the Catherine of Siena Institute, a ministry affiliated with the Western Dominican Province, which helps parishes with evangelization and formation. The workshops are inspired by books written by Sherry Weddell, a co-founder of the Institute.
Father Erik Pohlmeier, diocesan director of faith formation, said after the Little Rock Theology Institute closed in June and following conversations with parishes throughout the state, he’s been looking for programs to help adults better connect with their faith.
“I believe we need to help people before we get deeper into learning theology to discover more deeply the basic relationship with God and how do their own particular gifts cooperate with that,” he said.
Weddell’s book “Fruitful Discipleship: Living the Mission of Jesus in the Church and the World” is centered on charisms. The workshop, which will be in English and Spanish in Little Rock and Jonesboro (see sidebar), focuses on building a foundation for participants to discern their charism and how that can be used in God’s plan for their life.
“Charisms are different than just talents. We would say that talents come from God, but talents could be used selfishly as well. Like I could have a talent that I just ignore God for and use however I want. Charism is more specifically tied to the fruit of the Holy Spirit,” Father Pohlmeier said. “And so they would say a charism can’t bear fruit in a selfish way because it depends on the work of the Holy Spirit, not just on your ability.”
While charisms are about how they affect the person, it’s also about affecting those around them who benefit from it.
“If we’re humble we don’t acknowledge that people benefit from what we do, we downplay that. So part of discerning is recognizing the good that comes from it is the fruit that comes from God and not to have a false humility about it,” he said.
Kathleen Blessing, a spiritual director and parishioner at St. Joseph Church in Fayetteville, has been leading the Called and Gifted program for the past year. After hearing Weddell speak on intentional discipleship in 2017 at the Ozark Catholic Conference at St. Vincent de Paul in Rogers, “immediately my heart was set on fire,” she said.
Because there were no workshops near her and the closest outside the state would not allow non-members of their parish to participate, she contacted the institute to begin her own workshop in a small group format, meeting in classes for parts one and two of the curriculum spread over several weeks. Her first two groups during Advent attracted 19 people. The next Part 1 class drew 67 throughout the West Ozark Deanery.
“It’s a discernment process to help people come to know how the Lord speaks to them and what gifts they received at baptism and confirmation. It’s teaching you to be still, to listen, to have prayer time,” she said. “… It’s his divine plan for you. I’ve had people say, ‘Oh, my gosh for the first time in my life I’m beginning to understand how God is using me.’”
Learning her charism is what set Samantha Denefe, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Holy Souls in Little Rock, on a new path. After attending the workshop in Memphis, she realized she was not using her charisms of evangelization and pastoring in her current youth ministry position. She left that job and soon became the evangelization and faith formation director at Holy Souls.
“I prayed through that and I just feel like that was such a moment in my life that changed my direction,” she said.
The survey, which she compared to a personality test, reveals charisms that a person may have and from there, discernment begins.
“It gives you freedom to really go with the gift God gave you and turn down stuff that’s not,” she said. “… In a world that is so busy, we are being pulled in a thousand different directions, it’s hard to hear God’s voice directing you. But taking the time, just a weekend, to really tune into the gifts that God has given you, specifically for your life plan, can help direct what you do day in and day out for the rest of your life.”
While Called and Gifted is a program for any Catholic, Father Pohlmeier said Ananias Training, a new program offered by the Siena Institute, is more targeted for people who work one-on-one with individuals, from ministry leaders to active volunteers within ministries.
Based on teachings in Weddell’s book, “Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus,” the training will allow people to identify what stage someone is in their faith journey.
“The normal growth in discipleship starts at basic trust, progresses to curiosity, openness, seeking then finally intentional discipleship,” he said. “… Part of how we fail in evangelization is that we misread where somebody is already so we might mistake their questions for a real interest in the Church when that might not be really what’s going on. So the Ananias Training is about how to help you as an individual have a conversation that better identifies where somebody is, how to share your own faith story.”
Realizing where someone is at in their own faith can help hone the technique of evangelizing one-on-one, Denefe said, something she’s encountered often in her role as evangelization director.
For example, Denefe said one student in RCIA is in the “open” stage of their faith journey — interested in the Catholic Church, while also attending and exploring other Christian denominations.
“So I’ll talk more about your spiritual experiences in these different churches … and how do we know what truth is,” Denefe said.
If a person is a believer and practices their faith, the conversation turns to Church truths like the Eucharist or reading John 6, she said.
To discuss something in-depth with a person who is not ready will not be effective, she said, emphasizing, “Oh, OK that’s what you believe and not necessarily what I believe.”
Reaching out directly to individuals in the parish is what’s required to change hearts rather than trying to reach everyone at once, Father Pohlmeier added.
“So when we have our meetings with all our confirmation parents for example, the ones we’re hoping to draw in closer are the least likely to respond to that and it’s going to take shifting some of our energy toward meeting them one-on-one and having a conversation; but a conversation that’s not telling them they need to be doing X or Y, but is more listening to where are they now actually and how do we help them start taking steps,” Father Pohlmeier said.
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