Like Jesus’ first disciples, Fernanda Thurmond can’t wait to tell people that she has found the Messiah.
Thurmond, the coordinator of engagement at St. Joseph Parish in Manchester, had a profound encounter with the Lord shortly after moving to St. Louis from her native Brazil. After experiencing God’s love through a small prayer group, she knew she had to bring that love to others.
“The Lord gave me a missionary heart,” Thurmond said. “I told Him, I will serve you for the rest of my life — as long as I can walk and talk, I’ll be serving you.”
Thurmond participated in the annual archdiocesan pastoral assembly with other parishioners and parish leaders from around the archdiocese Oct. 15. The assembly focused this year on the theme “One heart, one mind, one mission,” and included reflections and formation on evangelization, the crux of the All Things New pastoral planning process.
Before we can be sent out as disciples, we have to let our own hearts and minds be transformed, said Tammy Chumley, assistant director of evangelization and discipleship for the archdiocese.
“When we have a heart for the Lord, it radically changes everything we do in our lives,” Chumley said. “It changes not only our attitudes and actions toward the Lord, but to everyone we encounter.”
Then, evangelization starts by reaching out to just a few people around you, said Father Chris Martin, vicar for strategic planning. He described how as a high school student, his youth minister asked everyone in the youth group to intentionally pray for and invite three other people to join them.
“It was specific. I wasn’t just praying in general for an increase of people who would just show up — it was, I want to ask George, I want to ask Rob, and I want to ask Chris,” Father Martin said.
By reaching out to others, we are following Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all nations, he said.
“Why does the Church exist? The Church exists to make disciples. And as we go through All Things New, it’s kind of difficult because we’re talking about the hospitals we run, the schools we run, the parishes we sustain — those are all good things, but they are subordinate to: We exist to make disciples,” Father Martin said. “The Church is the people. The Church is the living Body of Christ. And that’s what we’re here to rediscover and reinvigorate.”
Keynote speaker David Trotter, director of philanthropy with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, shared steps to start reaching out to others in faith: Be intentional about getting to know someone. As your friendship grows, ask questions. Share your own stories of God’s love in your life.
Vicki Wilding leads small formation groups at Ascension Parish in Chesterfield as part of Equip, an archdiocesan program designed to train and empower missionary disciples with practical skills in parishes.
“It’s about learning how to have authentic friendships and accompany people in their faith journey,” Wilding said. “Equip has helped me in the past few years to really open up and think about those stories in my life and where I am and what I’m experiencing, to be able to share it with other people and to encourage them.”
It can be easy to think that you have to know everything about the faith before reaching out to others, Wilding said, but anyone who loves God can walk with other people on their journeys. “You don’t have to know everything. You can even learn together! You just have to be willing to share your life and open up and be honest about where you are,” she said.
All Things New is working to align the archdiocese’s resources with this common mission of evangelization, said Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski.
“Our discipleship, in following Jesus Christ as the Church, is to serve God’s people. And we have to look at, what are the means available to us? What are the resources that we have? Are we using those resources wisely?” Archbishop Rozanksi said. “That really was the genesis of All Things New here in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, very early on in my term: looking at, how do we reach out to people? How do we express our faith in ways that touch the hearts of people, that move them to becomes disciples of the Lord? It doesn’t take place merely because of brick and mortar. It takes place because we are the living stones who build up the Church.”
Following the assembly, Fernanda Thurmond said she felt a renewed sense of unity with others sharing in the mission.
“(We’re called) to have this unity. Jesus is not calling anyone extraordinary to do His work. He’s asking ordinary people who live ordinary lives. We saw here how practical that can be,” Thurmond said. “Going on a mission for Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing that in some big, great way, but that you can do that in small but meaningful ways, talking to family members and friends and neighbors. This is so important because we’re in such a special moment with our strategic plan. Just saying ‘Yes, Jesus, I will go out there for you, because I know you are with me,’ it actually makes me so excited for the future.”
Thurmond is inspired by St. Therese of Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries, in knowing that each of us have a role in bringing Christ to others.
“She was a missionary without ever leaving her convent,” she said. “Imagine us, how much we can do just by living our lives for Jesus.”
>> Evangelization tips from David Trotter
“There are people who are living in your neighborhood who God wants to set on a different trajectory of their life, and it starts with you asking a question and entering into conversation with them,” Trotter said.
So, how do we start evangelizing?
•Be intentional about getting to know others. “It may be bridge club, or dinner club, or going on walks, or getting really creative. Maybe you have a non-Catholic neighbor who could benefit just from friendship with you and letting your joy radiate,” Trotter said.
•As your friendship with someone grows, ask questions about their life and their beliefs. ““Your job isn’t to slam your fist on the table and say, no, this is what you need to believe — it’s to ask a question. That’s what we’re talking about in evangelization—how do you spark that interest and curiosity, and then journey with people,” Trotter said.
•Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in conversation, and don’t be afraid to share your own witness of God’s love. “You have to live your life as an example, and you have to use your words. You have to ask questions. And when the moment comes, you have to be prepared to share the Truth with others,” he said.