By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DEWITT — Several parishioners entered St. Joseph Parish Hall carrying steaming crockpots for an intimate potluck inspired by this past summer’s Vision 20/20 Convocation at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
Before eating, the Oct. 9 gathering of parish council members, Vision 20/20 committee members and some invited guests watched a video excerpt from a Vision 20/20 keynote presentation. Mike Patin, a motivational speaker and author from Louisiana, talked animatedly about evangelization during that video. “A good mindset to have when encountering others is ‘I want to know your story because you matter.’” Accompanying others requires an attitude of “we’re in this together; God is with us.”
After watching the video, the potluck participants began conversation over pulled pork, potato hot dishes, black bean soup, fruit salad, rolls and dessert. Then participants separated into pairs to listen to and share their life’s story.
“The message our Vision 20/20 committee came away with from the ‘Joy of the Gospel’ study and the convocation is the importance of relationship in regards to evangelization,” said Deacon Mark Comer of St. Joseph Parish.
“If we simplify the mission, we can relate it to Jesus’ Great Commandment, to love one another as he has loved us. God’s love for us is one that draws us into relationship; we are called to love others into relationship.”
Deacon Comer added, “We know many people in our parish and may have known them for years and yet know very little about one another. It is common for people to stop attending a church, or hop from one to another, for many reasons — the pastor, the homilies, the music — but we believe that it is much more difficult to leave relationships.”
The parish’s Vision 20/20 committee, led by Greg Tigges and Karen McWilliams, came up with the idea of a community meal and listening sessions, Deacon Comer said. “In general, our hope is to continue to offer community meals and listening sessions first to leadership groups and then to spread out into the parish. There is also a desire to be more visible in the community with a message of simply being a loving and inviting parish.”
“All of us on the committee agreed that we always say we know someone but do we really know them or just acknowledge that we have seen them frequently and exchanged a quick few words,” McWilliams said. “To get to know someone you have to give of yourself and time to listen to them.”
“Good friends and family know a lot about us that we would never just openly tell someone unless we are asked. Family and friends stay together and notice if someone is missing. They show and feel true concern for our reasons for missing something. My hope is that our family-type meal and one-on-one conversations — that we have now had with three groups in our parish — are bringing people closer as we get to know each one personally. We would then be considered part of a family. The saying is ‘a family that prays together stays together.’” She envisions a parish family where everyone feels welcome and their presence matters.
“Our future path for our Vision 20/20 committee at St. Joseph is not fully paved but we are taking baby steps to get where we are going as to not lose anyone along the way,” McWilliams said.
Father Stephen Page, St. Joseph’s pastor, summed up the sentiments he heard at the Oct. 9 potluck. “People change or quit the church because of the priest (or the clergy) or his preaching; people grumble or find another place because of the music and hymn selections; people rarely leave their parish because of the community of faithful.”