The year just keeps on moving! After yet another year of studies, I find myself done with exams, finishing up my self-evaluations, and heading to retreat with a simple question: Now What?
For eight weeks this summer, I have been assigned to St. Francis Parish in Triangle, VA. Walking distance from the Quantico Marine Corps base and just off of I-95, St. Francis mixes a large amount of military and government workers with people from far out of town, easily traveling a great distance to be with the friars. These two factors mean that its 2,000 families are diverse in culture and background, coming from all over the country and constantly changing.
Don’t think that the transient nature of the parish means that it is anything less than lively; quite the opposite, actually. As one parishioner said, “We don’t know how long we’ll be stationed here so we can’t afford to take our time. We need to jump right in and take part in our community.” As a result, there is always something going on at either the church or school with new people, ranging from award-winning justice and peace advocacy to a growing youth ministry to innovative pastoral training programs like Stephen Ministry, a program that “equips and empowers lay caregivers to provide high-quality, confidential, Christ-centered care to people who are hurting.”
If that’s not enough, the parish is young and energetic, absolutely teeming with families. When I arrived Saturday for a visit, they had already had two First Holy Communion masses and had one more to go to fit the 150 children in the program. Yeah, that that’s a lot of kids and a lot of young families. Everywhere I looked in its seven, packed Sunday masses were growing families, and they seemed excited to be there.
Needless to say, I’m excited to be there as well, and couldn’t be coming at a better time. After completing a comprehensive parish-wide survey to assess the needs and strengths of the parish, they recently launched a “Now What?” campaign to reengergize the faithful out of complacency and into the world. The first phase, Seek, challenged parishioners to identify their gifts, to articulate their understanding of God, and to determine what was holding them back from taking the next step in their faith journey. The second phase, started during Lent and continuing throughout the time I will be there, is called Discover: “we will ‘Discover’ ways to respond to our NOW WHAT? question through homilies, a parish mission, ministry showcases, a bulletin column, our website, and social media, among other things.” New initiatives are being started, old habits are being questioned, and everyone is being challenged to discover something new about the Church.
So what does that mean for me? Well, after meeting with the pastor and lay pastoral associate, it looks like I’ll be pretty busy! Teaching will be a strong component, as last summer, but I’ll be adding a new course to the “How Do Catholics Read the Bible?” course I taught in Camden. Entitled, “Catholic Bootcamp,” my goal is to teach an “everything you always should have known about Catholicism but were afraid to ask” class, covering the basics of the Bible, Catholic theology, liturgy and sacraments, spirituality and prayer, history, and social teaching in six weeks. Ambitious? You bet! But our tradition has really failed over the years to evangelize and catechize our own people, and many adults honestly don’t know their faith. I see it as a major calling of mine to make the Catholic faith an interesting, engaging experience for everyone. The message is great, but the delivery needs some work for sure!
So that accounts for about three hours of my week plus preparation… what about the rest of the summer? Add to that visiting the students at the elementary school, helping run a vacation Bible school after that, volunteering at the food pantry, setting up a college/young adult ministry, helping to build the already thriving youth ministry (and hopefully going to Kings Dominion!), lectoring, preaching and celebrating communion services when the priests are called away, and working with a creative and hard-working Coordinator of Franciscan Action and Advocacy. And that’s just what we discussed in an thirty minute meeting this morning! I also hope to get a Spanish tutor a few days a week, meet with the marriage preparation team (and maybe even set up some post-Cana formation activities), visit our shut-ins on a regular basis, and if there is any spare time, to sit and just read a book for leisure! Not sure about that last one…
Overall, I couldn’t have had a better weekend in Triangle and couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of things to come. Besides the incredible ministry all around me, the two friars I’ll be living with are great guys, the house is comfortable, and there is a gym and cheap golf course just around the corner of the parish. I guess all I can say is that the answer to “What Now?” is “an awesome summer that I can’t wait to begin.”
And while here would have been a great place to end this post, having given a summary statement and used the title of the blog in a way to bring everything full circle, I continue to type. That’s because the answer to the question at hand has actually nothing to do with parish ministry and everything to do with what I’ll be doing before I head out. You see, what I’m going to do in eleven days is so interesting and exciting that you’ll be asking yourself, with envy and maybe confusion, the entire time I’m doing it, “What Now?!” But not right now. No, what is bound to be the biggest announcement yet on this blog, an opportunity that was inspired by Life From a Suitcase and was hinted at in Spring Break!, will be revealed Friday. It will be unlike anything I’ve done so far as a friar, and yet just a small-scale practice for what I have planned for six years from now. Interested? Excited? Scared? All will be revealed soon enough. You won’t want to miss this one, and you’ll definitely want to be around for all posts (and videos) that follow that week. See you Friday…!