When tickets for the SEEK24 conference became available, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in New Melle bought two dozen and said “let’s see where the Spirit leads,” said Shawn Mueller, director of religious education and PSR. Mueller and Father Andrew Burkemper, who arrived as the new pastor in August, identified and personally invited parishioners whom they felt had the potential to grow their leadership role at the parish.
There was no agenda, other than letting the events of the week empower and motivate the attendees. “When you’re around such a large number of people who are faithful and praying, it’s a beautiful gift to be encouraged, and to know that we’re not lone rangers on our own, but we’re part of something greater here,” Mueller said.
Hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), the Jan. 1-5 conference drew college students and adults from across the country and internationally for talks, prayer and fellowship to equip them with the tools to become effective witnesses to the Gospel. The conference also was held in St. Louis last year.
Peak attendance at SEEK24 was 24,000, which included about 5,000 additional people from the Archdiocese of St. Louis who registered to attend the evening keynote speakers and eucharistic adoration on Jan. 3 at The Dome.
Becky Wilson attended sessions in the Making Missionary Disciples track, which focused on practical ways for adults to evangelize in their parishes, homes and the greater community.
At Immaculate Heart of Mary, Wilson serves her parish as president of the Marian Council, an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, a lector and leading the Rosary. She’s also involved in other parish activities, including Advent by Candlelight and the rummage sale.
“I’m going to call it ‘God pokes,’ because God pokes me all the time,” she said. “For about two years now, He’s been poking me with stuff, and He started with leading the Rosary, and then it was president of the Marian Council. I’m like, oh my gosh, what are you asking of me and what do you want from all of this?”
Attending the events of SEEK has motivated her to consider “to invite more people into the parish, or for parishioners that are currently here that maybe aren’t involved to invite them and get them more involved. I want to reach more people.”
Describing the experience as “overwhelming,” Grant Smith said he was impressed by the tens of thousands of people present in one place for Mass at the Dome. “I’ve never been to that large of a Mass in my life,” he said.
Witnessing extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist being sent out into the crowd at Communion proved to be an “a-ha” moment, said Smith, who leads a Bible study at the parish and serves as a lector and volunteer at social activities. “I thought, ah, that’s the being sent, and that’s them coming to us,” he said. “What we’re trying to be informed with is now it’s our turn to some degree to take it even further.”
During the Monday evening keynotes, Father Josh Johnson told conferencegoers that “you don’t have to fit in, you don’t have to be perfect. Everyone here’s a sinner,” Smith said. “That message — you don’t have to be perfect — reminded me of the original disciples and apostles — they were a mess, too, just like us. That made me think maybe I don’t have to wait until I have the perfect thing to say” about the faith.