Finding, sharing ‘Joy’ in the parish


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

“Are you ready to be messy?”

Pastoral planner and theologian Bill Huebsch posed this question Sept. 25 to a group of 30 diocesan faith formation leaders at a workshop at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. Drawing inspiration from Pope Francis’ “Joy of the Gospel,” he said, “We need a Church that is bruised and dirty from being out in the street instead of being self-preserving … make a mess if you have to!”

Lindsay Steele
Pastoral planning expert and theologian Bill Huebsch discusses Pope Francis’ “Joy of the Gospel” document at a workshop Sept. 25 at St. Patrick Church in Iowa City.

Huebsch’s daylong workshop focused on the interpretation and implementation of “Joy of the Gospel,” which calls for the Church to be more evangelical and its members more spirit-filled.


Huebsch, the past-president of Twenty Third Publications and director of, is the author of a “Joy of the Gospel” reading guide, as well as a series of pastoral planning worksheets on the subject. Sharing his expertise at the workshop, he explained that the document is challenging in part because it asks Catholics to break away from the commonly held notion that the Church is an institution more interested in self-preservation than evangelization. “When you think about what he’s asking, he is asking a lot. … We can’t just be those chosen few. We have to be wider than that.”

Focusing on a few of the themes of the 47,000-word document, Huebsch first explained the importance of having a personal relationship with Christ as a first step to evangelization. “It’s one thing to know Jesus, it’s another to encounter him,” he said.

Participants expressed that sharing faith can be uncomfortable for Catholics who have been raised to believe that faith should be a private matter, but having an emotional connection to God can make the sharing of faith easier and more impactful. “If you are going to evangelize, you need to know your own story,” shared a participant from St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport.

Huebsch encouraged participants to be encouraging as opposed to condescending in their witness, and to share personal experiences as opposed to strictly quoting Scripture. “Sometimes you have to put the textbook down, or put down Scripture in the homily and speak from the heart … your witness is going to draw in someone.”

Next, Huebsch sparked a discussion about “Joy of the Gospel’s” call to live a simpler life, much as Pope Francis himself has done. While workshop attendees had many questions about the specifics of the pope’s request, Huebsch said the message is to simply be conscious of what you have, take it to prayer, and see what God is asking you to do. “We love our money, and it is an idol for us. … It’s a challenge for us (to let go),” he said.

Father Paul Connolly, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt, offered fellow attendees a perspective on the request. “When we have everything, where is our need for God?” he asked rhetorically.

Father David Hitch shared that donating items to the poor can offer evangelization opportunities. “You can do some ministry while (donating),” he said.

For a majority of the afternoon, Huebsch and the parish leaders discussed the challenges of inviting people to Mass when not all people are able to receive Communion for reasons including divorce without annulment. He emphasized that while there are “no easy answers” for this issue, one thing parish leaders and parishioners can do is make sure that all visitors are made to feel welcome. “What we want to do is feed people, not turn them away … We’re not welcoming everyone to the Eucharist. This is going to be imperfect. Let’s get them in the door first, and then figure the rest out later.”

During his stay in the Davenport Diocese, the Minnesota-native also spoke at a catechism workshop and religious education/youth ministry retreat at Our Lady of the River Parish Sept. 24, and gave a presentation at St. Anne Parish in Long Grove after the Iowa City workshop Sept. 25.

The attendees of the Iowa City workshop hoped to inspire their parishes to embody Pope Francis’ vision.

Father Tim Sheedy, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Solon, added, “We want to be that Church of generosity and joy … they have to see it in us.”

Sharon Crall of St. Mary Parish in Albia added, “This could really transform the Church. Will we let it?”

For flyers and other materials to help spread the “Joy of the Gospel” in the parish, visit and

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