Manageable Evangelization

Credit: Sam Vosters
Credit: Sam Vosters

By Sara Knutson

Muffled block party music wafted into the sanctuary of Our Lady of Czechochowa, permeating the space with low-level beats. The few dozen people in the pews were unfazed, however, as they prayed, sat, and occasionally came forward to light one of the scattered votive candles on the altar steps.

Outside was the raucously fun Riverwest 24. Inside was the second iteration of OremusMKE, an evangelization event that invited the neighborhood to stop by and pray while out enjoying the evening.

The concept was simple: open a church on a night when the neighborhood is busy. Invite people in to light a candle for peace. Expose the Blessed Sacrament. Supply a few priests for conversation or reconciliation. Let God do the rest.

Credit: Sam  Vosters
Credit: Sam Vosters

To get people in the door, a few parishioners took to the streets nearby, passed out candles, and invited people to stop in. A second team flipped pancakes just outside the church doors for hungry passersby. A final crew welcomed visitors as they entered and remained available for questions and conversation.

And that was it. Relaxed and uncomplicated.

On a list of the most fraught words in the Catholic world, “evangelization” has to make the top five.

We cringe at the thought of door-to-door campaigns and pushy conversations, yet the old expression preach the Gospel and when necessary use words is too often wielded as a tidy excuse to never use words.

Pope Francis reflected on that tension in Evangelii Gaudium, insisting that all people “have a right to receive the Gospel” while cautioning that “it is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction.’”

So how do we attract without proselytizing? How do we respect people’s right to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ while respecting their freedom to seek at their own pace?

Here’s where OremusMKE comes in.

For most cradle Catholics, walking into a church is something we have done since before we could even walk. We forget that being in a Catholic church—especially during a Catholic liturgy—is intimidating to most people.

OremusMKE lowered the intimidation factor by making things as simple as possible. All a visitor had to do was sit, light a candle, and pray, in whatever order he or she wanted. Anyone can do that, and I saw many people who were not Catholic take advantage of the opportunity.

Using Exposition of the Eucharist as a first experience of Catholicism may strike some Catholics as a throwback at best, and repugnant at worst, given the polarizing nature of Adoration for many in the Church. And certainly it won’t appeal to everyone.

I would argue, however, that silence is often God’s most effective arena, and Adoration achieves this silence in a simple, unscripted, and uniquely Catholic way. We need to offer opportunities for people to encounter God on terms they can manage, and sitting in a quiet and comfortably sparse church is a powerful way to do so for many who wouldn’t enter on other terms.


 

When I left the church, dozens of little flames were flickering merrily. The street party outside was raging on, but the semi-silence inside the church was pervaded with a sense of holy peace, and I had reason to hope that a few hungering souls had noticed and absorbed that peace during their visit.

If that was the case, and I think it was, OremusMKE was a smashing success.

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