Archbishop Alexander Sample speaks to the Archdiocesan Pastoral Assembly Nov. 23 in Salem. “We hear a lot about evangelization, and the problem is we can get tired of hearing about it,” Archbishop Alexander Sample said. “Now is time to do something about it.” (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Archbishop Alexander Sample speaks to the Archdiocesan Pastoral Assembly Nov. 23 in Salem. “We hear a lot about evangelization, and the problem is we can get tired of hearing about it,” Archbishop Alexander Sample said. “Now is time to do something about it.” (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)

SALEM — Clint Bentz, chairman of the Archdiocese of Portland Pastoral Council, shared a quote from his father, the late Deacon Ron Bentz: “Evangelization is one beggar showing another beggar where to find the bread.”

About 350 western Oregon parish leaders spent Nov. 22-23 at St. Joseph Parish here exploring how the faith gets spread. The Archdiocesan Pastoral Assembly, held every three years, focuses on pastoral urgencies.

Though the number of Catholics in western Oregon has remained steady, that is largely because people who are already Catholic are moving to the booming area. A 2014 Pew survey found that across the nation for every person who becomes Catholic, six leave the church.

With those alarming numbers in the background, parish leaders shared ideas for attracting people to the faith they consider true, beautiful and good.

‘Out of your comfort zone’

It has not been Catholic custom to “step out of your comfort zone” and invite others into parish life, admitted Paula Monroe, a delegate from St. Frederic Parish in St. Helens. “People will need help learning how to do that.”

Mitch Nussbaumer, from the pastoral council at St. Edward Parish in North Plains, said the mindset of anyone who is evangelizing should be: “I want to share this because I love you.”

Anna Pham of Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie said parishes must find a way to get back to fundamentals, but also express that in a way that is adaptive and relevant.

Bill Crowley of St. Philip Benizi Parish in Oregon City said parishes must be open and welcoming enough that new or non-conforming people will not get “looked at funny.”

Many parish leaders advocated for a personal touch when inviting people to community or faith. “Used a phone tree or face to face, not email,” said Dian Duyck of St. Edward Parish in North Plains.

Susan Pinto, a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Scappoose, said different people have different gifts. Her husband, for example, had a way of talking about faith with former gang members in their old North Portland neighborhood. He spoke directly and with humor. “They called him the preacher man,” Pinto said. Other people, she said, might be the kind to organize a book club that would draw people to the parish via literature.

Jessica Robinson, a member of St. Birgitta Parish in Northwest Portland, said the point should not be just to increase numbers but to form genuine relationships with people not already in the parish. She thinks of her kindly neighbors who loan her eggs and baking power. Her husband, Stephen, said it’s good to form the relationship before inviting someone to the parish.

‘Now is the time’

“We hear a lot about evangelization, and the problem is we can get tired of hearing about it,” Archbishop Alexander Sample told parish leaders during an opening address Nov. 22. “Now is time to do something about it.” He called evangelization the archdiocese’s “super priority” and urged a search for fresh ways to attract people to Jesus Christ.

“In this archdiocese moving forward from here, we are going to be all about evangelization,” the archbishop said.

Councils of priests and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council — made up of laity, religious and clergy — have been reflecting on evangelization for more than a year. Archdiocesan staff will add input from the assembly and draft a pastoral plan to guide ministry for the future.

“Jesus Christ our Lord and Savor is asking us to do great things for him and for his bride, the church. And we have to respond to his call, but we have to do so united in faith, hope and love. We have to do this as one body in Christ, united, united in mission.”

The archbishop frequently quoted a 2001 pastoral letter in which St. John Paul II urged the church to “put out into the deep,” living faith openly and joyfully so others will be drawn to it. He also echoed Pope Francis, who often calls on Catholics to become “missionary disciples” who leave their comfort zones.

“There is no magic program. It’s just work,” Archbishop Sample said. “We have a future full of hope.”

‘New ownership’

The assembly, made up of priests, parish staff and parish pastoral council members, heard from Chris Stefanick, a lay evangelist and a consultant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Today we have to convince people from worshipping nothing to worshipping something at all,” said Stefanick, who said that today’s youth largely have lost a sense of obligation to ancient faith and wisdom.

“We used to have a world when people would go astray a little while and then come back,” Stefanick said. “They’re not even coming back anymore . ... We’ve demolished all things except the absoluteness of the human will.”

Believers can get angry or blend in with the naysayers. But Stefanick suggested looking to ancient monasticism as a model. Early monks refused to go along with civilization’s trends but became the world’s heroes of hospitality.

“As barbarian hordes just swept through Europe, they still were living out the beautiful Catholic life, preserving western civilization,” Stefanick said. He added that all Catholics also should model themselves on the apostles, proclaiming Christ boldly and joyfully.

“If every Catholic doesn’t catch the spark and take a new ownership of their faith and the mission to evangelize, I think our days are numbered,” Stefanick said.

He told the group that modern disciples keep the Gospel and its message of love as their first focus, make time to build friendships with people, work in concert with other Catholics on evangelizing, overcome fear, present faith as a wonderful part of life, live with joy and pray often.

Ideas from the parishes

In regional groupings, church workers discussed ideas that might work in the nitty gritty of daily life at parishes.

Father Joshua Clifton, administrator of St. Birgitta Parish in Portland and St. Mary Parish in Vernonia, said that many people leave parish life not because of a bad experience or disagreement but because they got busy with kids’ sports and other activities. It would be good to invite that group first, he said.

For non-Catholics, Father Clifton suggests attending civic events and simply handing out free rosaries and holy medals as a way to start conversations about higher matters.

Father Chuck Wood, pastor of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Scappoose, admitted that Catholics evangelizing non-Catholics face a challenge: those who get invited to Mass need to know that they cannot yet share in Communion. He suggests that parishes also hold other events for such people, like evening prayer or praise and worship hours.

Arsenica Perez of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Aloha praised small faith sharing groups as a place to welcome newcomers. The danger is that the groups get too set and closed, Perez warned.

Christine Talkington, also of the Aloha parish, said small groups that are welcoming “evangelize the heart” and allow for intimate sharing.

Jeff Grundon of St. Anthony Parish in Forest Grove said he keeps a crucifix, a picture of Pope Francis and an image of Jesus on his desk at work. That leads to a lot of questions and opportunity to evangelize.

Edwin Schneider of St. Philip Benizi Parish in Oregon City does something similar and has become known as the “Catholic guy” at the office. People come to him with questions.

Family life got a lot of attention in discussions on evangelization.

John Johnson of St. John the Baptist Parish in Milwaukie said one key is finding ways to integrate family life and parish life. William Becker of Christ the King in Milwaukie carried that idea, suggesting that “We need to help them bring Christ into the family.”

Tom Fielo of St. John the Apostle Parish in Oregon City said parents need to be able to explain what is so attractive about the Catholic way of life.

Matthew Ferry of St. Pius X Parish said, as a father, he plans to evangelize by taking his children out to do Christian service.

Several parish leaders insisted that the best evangelization is living kindly and honestly. “The worst thing you can do,” Fielo said, “is be a Catholic and do questionable things.”

See video from the assembly at the Archdiocese of Portland Facebook page