Program opens parish doors just a little wider

Leaven photo by Joe Bollig ChristLife members (from left) Charlotte Doyle, Linda Beck, Bob Cordry and Mike Grothof dine together at the final session of the first Discovering Christ module at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe.
ChristLife members (from left) Charlotte Doyle, Linda Beck, Bob Cordry and Mike Grothof dine together at the final session of the first Discovering Christ module at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe. Leaven photo by Joe Bollig.

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When it comes to evangelization, the best way may be the Goldilocks approach.

Not too much. Not too little. Instead, pick “just right.”

Four parishes in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas are taking this “just right” approach with ChristLife, a Catholic ministry of evangelization founded in 1995 by Dave Nodar in Baltimore.

The ChristLife ministry is being used at Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka, Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe and Sacred Heart Parish in Sabetha.

Last year, the archdiocesan office of evangelization met with more than 30 pastors across the archdiocese to discuss different evangelization programs for their parishes.

“It’s the fruit of those encounters that these parishes are doing ChristLife,” said Father Andrew Strobl, archdiocesan director of evangelization.

A personal relationship with Christ

ChristLife grew out of Nodar’s response to Pope John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization.

The new evangelization calls not only for reaching out to those without the Catholic faith, but also to those in the church who have not been transformed by a profound and personal relationship with Christ. It calls for new ardor, new methods and new expressions in evangelization.

“There are always new circumstances we find ourselves in with the culture and our neighbors that require a different approach to how we share the Gospel,” said Father Strobl.

This ministry is a way of reaching those who are lukewarm, don’t have a faith background or are interested in the Catholic faith but aren’t ready for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program. Inviting them to Mass might be “too much.”

“[ChristLife] is designed for seekers,” said Father Strobl, “people who are really seeking out deeper meaning in life and are wrestling with the faith question.”

ChristLife offers 21 sessions divided into three seven-week modules. The first is Discovering Christ, the second is Following Christ, and the third is Sharing Christ.

The first module — Discovering Christ — is done a little bit differently than the latter two because it has an added component: a meal. Participants are organized into small groups, which gather and have a meal prepared for them by volunteers.

“I think an important part of evangelization is developing friendships, and through those friendships foster encounters with Christ,” said Father Barry Clayton, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Sabetha.

“A nice component is the meal,” he continued. “There’s no pressure and no religious talk during the meal.

“The participants talk about themselves and their lives. They grow closer to Christ through their friendships.”

In order to help out parents, Sacred Heart made its own child-sized version of the program. While the parents were taking part in ChristLife, the parish provided child care, a meal and lessons for their children.

A typical schedule for a ChristLife session is dinner at 6:45 p.m., welcome and prayer at 7:30 p.m., a video or live-based teaching at 7:45 p.m., small group discussion at 8:30 p.m., and conclusion at 9:15 p.m.

Also, there’s a retreat after the first five sessions, which includes an opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation.

Separated, seeking and questioning

Not all those who attended the first module of ChristLife at Sacred Heart Parish in Sabetha were parishioners.

“We had 78 participants,” said Gina Sallman, director of faith formation for Sacred Heart Parish, St. Augustine Parish in Fidelity and St. James Parish in Wetmore.

“We had family members of parishioners who aren’t Catholic,” she continued, “parishioners who haven’t been involved with the parish in quite awhile and parishioners who are going through the RCIA process.”

Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe has used a very effective renewal program called Christ Renews His Parish, but  pastor Father Jerry Volz recognized the need for something else.

“[Father Volz] was looking for something to ‘get people on fire,’ more of an easy entry into renewing their Catholic faith,” said Mike Walberg, Prince of Peace director of ChristLife. “He wanted to engage people who had become disconnected. This is a very easy entry point — almost pre-RCIA.”

Prince of Peace held two Discovering Christ modules, which attracted a total of 200 people.

“I think it’s a great evangelization tool that speaks to and touches people at different levels of faith,” said Father Volz. “It’s a great starting point for them to get to know Jesus.

“It forms community and it develops a level of trust with an open approach that embraces [the idea] that first a person should belong, then believe and then learn how to put that faith into practice.”

Building friendship and trust

Despite mixing people who have different levels and experiences of faith, the small groups can develop close bonds, said Allan Holthaus, who, with his wife Vickie, is co-coordinator of the ChristLife program at Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka.

“I think it’s going great,” said Allan Holthaus. “The last session we had some personal testimony of people at individual tables. Each table becomes a group that becomes better acquainted, so they feel free to share. We had some really good sharing, and people were really touched.”

One lady came as a favor to a friend and wasn’t planning to go further, but she decided to continue because she felt tremendously blessed, said Allan Holthaus.

“One person told me she never had any idea about a lot of the stuff in the teachings,” he said. “This person was a convert and had been a Catholic for 30 years, and she had no idea about so many of the teachings about the church.”

ChristLife makes no assumptions about people’s knowledge of Christ and the church,” said Vickie Holthaus. “Someone can come in with a knowledge base of zero.

“It doesn’t pull any punches, though,” she said. “You’ve got to make a decision, and it’s not shy about saying that this is the truth. You can accept it or not, but you can’t deny it.”

Another advantage of ChristLife is its “scalability.”

“Christ Renews His Parish is a wonderful opportunity for larger parishes, but it requires a certain number of people to make it work,” said Father Clayton.

“A small parish like ours can’t do that,” he continued. “We were looking for something on a smaller scale, and ChristLife meets what we were looking for. It’s an evangelization tool to reach out to the community and an opportunity for our own parishioners to renew their faith. I’ve really been happy to have this as a part of our parish.”

For information about how to bring ChristLife to your parish, call Father Strobl at (913) 647-0323 or send an email to: evangelization@archkck.org; or call Kimberly Rode at (913) 310-0014 or send an email to: maryvale@archkck.org.

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