“Incarnational evangelization” is kind of a mouthful.
Incarnation: “embodied in flesh.” Evangelize: “bring good news.”
Put it together, and incarnational evangelization equals: you. You, bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ through your very person.
“Incarnational evangelization means getting involved in people’s lives — getting on their level, entering into their lives and inviting them into ours. Then, through the context of friendship, sharing with them the Good News of the Gospel,” said John Zimmer, vice president of apostolic development for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
Zimmer’s talk “The Art of Accompaniment: Evangelization and Discipleship in the Parish and Everyday Life” was one of several sessions on evangelization offered during FOCUS’ SEEK Conference Feb. 4-6. The national SEEK Conference, held virtually for the second year in a row due to the pandemic, included a wide range of talks not just for college students and young adults, but for entire parish communities.
Undeterred by lingering snow, more than 130 parishioners and visitors gathered at Assumption Church in south St. Louis County for the conference, where in addition to viewing the livestreamed national talks, they participated in eucharistic adoration, confession, Mass, small group discussions and community fellowship.
SEEK’s focus on evangelization seemed a natural fit for the parish, said Assumption pastor Father Thomas Keller.
“Even before I arrived at Assumption, it’s had a great tradition of parish retreats, outreach and charity, and this missionary discipleship component is just a natural outgrowth of it,” Father Keller said.
Associate pastor Father Raymond Buehler had attended previous SEEK Conferences and was excited to see the fruits in the parish.
“We’re excited to see what this will do to help empower our parishioners as missionary disciples with the tools to evangelize,” said Father Buehler. “I think a lot of us, we hear that word ‘evangelize,’ and we want to share our faith, but we just don’t know how, or we don’t feel like we’re confident.”
In his talk, “Made for Mission: Renewing Your Parish Culture,” Tim Glemkowski, director of strategy in the Archbishop’s Office for the Archdiocese of Denver, emphasized the idea that we, the Church, are now living in an apostolic age instead of a culture of Christendom. We can’t count on people naturally being drawn to the institutional Church or parishes; rather, we must go out and share the Good News ourselves.
The best way to do that? Forming connections with other people and letting our love for Jesus Christ flow into those relationships, Glemkowski said.
Our model comes from Jesus Himself, who spent His public ministry investing primarily in His 12 apostles, who in turn were sent out to make disciples of all nations.
“In every age, the Church has been renewed by people who are living holiness, community and mission in new and dynamic ways,” Glemkowski said.
After listening to talks, small groups of young adults, school parents, retired parishioners and more had the chance to discuss how these principles of evangelization and discipleship might be able to take shape in their own lives.
“This has been a perfect segway into All Things New,” parishioner Joanna May said, referring to the archdiocese’s strategic pastoral planning initiative. “The talks we heard were about revitalizing your parish, which is a perfect way to be thinking about our own parish — what we’re already doing and what we need to be doing.”
The conference itself served as a vehicle for new friendships and connections to form. “This brings people together and you get to know each other, and that enhances parish life. I’m active in the St. Vincent de Paul Society, but then I’ll talk to someone else who’s active in other organizations and get to know them,” said Bob Keller, a parishioner since 1983.
Maria Vlastelin recently moved to St. Louis from New Hampshire and signed up for the SEEK Conference to meet people at her new parish. “I’m going to leave the conference all fired up to meet more people and share what I’ve learned,” she said.
Bernadette Lamb, a graduate student at Washington University, has attended in-person SEEK Conferences and knows that the hardest work starts after the conference is over. “This might be one of those ‘mountaintop experiences,’ but the graces we receive are going to carry us through the ‘drier’ days,” she said.
And, despite the number of syllables involved, incarnational evangelization doesn’t have to be intimidating.
“Evangelization is basically connecting with your friends and helping them achieve the highest good — a life that mimics Christ,” said Dennis Daniels, a visiting parishioner from St. Catherine Laboure. “It might be inviting a friend for lunch to talk about faith; it might be inviting a family member who’s been away from the faith to go to Mass. It’s person to person, friend to friend — it’s not anything too complicated.”
>> Local speakers on the national stage
The SEEK Conference’s impact session talks included one by Paul and Kay Halfmann, founders of D:6 Ministries and parishioners at St. Joseph Parish in Imperial. The Halfmanns’ talk, “Raising Faith-Filled Children in a Secular World,” drew from their experience as parents of seven working to give their children a firm moral foundation and form their consciences well through practices like praying consistently together as a family and modeling real forgiveness.
“We talk about forming your kids so they have deep roots in the faith,” Paul Halfmann said. “And as they grow and go off to high school and college and beyond, those roots will keep them rooted in Catholicism.”
The Halfmanns attended SEEK 2019 and had the chance to meet Curtis Martin, the founder of FOCUS, and several other national speakers. They founded D:6 Ministries in 2021 and were surprised to get a call asking them to record a talk for SEEK 2022.
“We’re just amazed at what God’s doing, to be honest,” Paul said.
Read more about the Halfmanns and D:6 Ministries: www.archstl.org/the-grace-of-faith-6521