Office of Evangelization reorganization to focus on service
From the Sept. 9, 2021 edition of The Lumen:
By DAWN PROSSER
Director of Communications
Noting the importance of evangelization for the life of the diocese and its parishes, Bishop Walker Nickless has been working for several months with his staff to discuss how the Diocese of Sioux City can best carry out the mission of evangelization.
“I wanted to demonstrate the importance of evangelization to the faithful with an appropriate focus from the diocese,” Bishop Nickless explained. “We know we can accomplish this by enhancing the services available to our priests and their parishes.”
The strategy to implement these enhanced services was restructuring the Office of Evangelization, Discipleship and Family Life. The retooled department will utilize staff specialization and expand by one full-time position.
As of Aug. 30, the office was renamed the Office of Evangelization with three divisions – 1) parish renewal, 2) discipleship and 3) marriage and family life.
Current staff member Fred Shellabarger will serve as director of parish renewal and staffer Kara Kardell will serve as director of discipleship. A search is in progress for a director of marriage and family life.
In a time of pastoral planning where parishes are merging due to shifting demographics, the specialization within the Office of Evangelization is essential to parishes.
“The enhanced outreach and onsite services will be available to assist staff in their ministries, especially in parishes with newly-formed structures,” the bishop explained.
Shellabarger, formerly director of the Office of Evangelization, Discipleship and Family Life, will provide leadership for parishes in the areas of evangelization, parish renewal, leadership formation and discipleship with an emphasis on mission.
The parish renewal division will be responsible for the Men’s Conference, Women’s Conference and Called and Gifted and assisting parishes with enhancing the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process.
This division will also provide training for parish leaders to develop and run local evangelization programming and form lay spiritual directors, among other tasks. Helping pastors and priests develop the lay leadership in their parishes and empowering lay leaders is a focus for the parish renewal efforts.
“It’s long been a priority – lay leadership development. That’s what’s most exciting to me,” Shellabarger said of the department restructuring.
Directly consulting with priests, parish leaders and formation staff along with providing mentoring to “help create a process” to build lay leadership in the faith communities is work he looks forward to initiating.
The Called and Gifted tool is an example of how the parish renewal office can guide newly-formed or long-standing parishes in their evangelization efforts.
“It’s helping Catholics discern what gifts the Lord has given (them) to build up and serve the church,” he explained, noting the process is designed to assist the faithful in determining their talents and charisms. “In doing so, our parishes become more vibrant.”
Once talents and skills are identified, lay leadership and clergy can help them “step out of their comfort zone” and serve the church in the ministries that fit best.
“Everyone has been given gifts through the sacraments,” the Shellabarger noted. “Recognize the sacraments are for a purpose.
Formerly serving as assistant director of youth and young adult ministry, Kara Kardell will focus on providing support and consultation to parishes regarding catechetical efforts, sacramental preparation, religious education programs and discipleship initiatives.
The discipleship division will work directly with directors of religious education and youth ministers to assist them in developing their catechesis. Ministry events such as Rekindle and Emmaus will be the responsibility of the division as well as outreach to young adults and college-age students.
The new director of discipleship said she looks forward to building on the successes of the past in delivering more focused services to the parishes.
“(We) have always believed diocesan ministry is servant leadership, not top down,” Kardell explained. “We want to go out and help serve.”
Creating an environment where priests, directors of religious education and faith formation directors feel comfortable in asking for assistance is the first step for the director. She is looking forward to consulting and aiding the parishes in developing and retooling their catechetical programming.
Kardell looks forward to meeting one-on-one with clergy to assist them in planning and executing their goals for their parish ministries.
“We want to meet the priests for coffee or for lunch and ask them what is your vision for your parish? And then give them possible paths to get there,” she explained.
Marriage and family life
The director of marriage and family life will support pastors and parishes as they prepare the faithful for the sacrament of marriage and family ministry with curriculum and training. Overseeing the FOCCUS Inventory for engaged couples, providing leadership training and promotion of Natural Family Planning will be handled by this division.
Support and training will be readily available to assist pastors and parishes in working with married couples, divorced, widowed and remarried parishioners in their vocation.
A stronger church
In spite of decreasing participation in the sacraments, church attendance and priestly vocations, Shellabarger and Kardell are hopeful for the future of the church in northwest Iowa and the universal church.
“I see a lot are discouraged by the way things look,” Shellabarger said. “I like to point to the things we are seeing that work well, especially how young adults are responding to those things, and it gives me a lot of hope … It may indeed be a smaller church going forward but a stronger church, a holier church.”
Moving towards a stronger church, the staff of the Office of Evangelization stressed they will be mobilizing out into the diocese to assist priests and parishes. Kardell said the office is emphasizing evangelization and ministry in the department restructuring.
“This is what our mission is of the church. We are going to model it and go out and evangelize,” she said. "We have to model it first before asking people to make those same shifts.”