Building a vibrant parish community one conversation at a time

By Ginny Revel
Staff members from Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Grand Junction returned from the diocese’s 2017 Spring Study Days filled with ideas to incrementally revitalize their parish. The theme of this year’s Study Days was “Forming Intentional Disciples” led by Sherry Weddell. Knowing that the challenge will take some time to realize, they nevertheless put small changes into motion, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead the transformation.

Prayer is always the beginning step, so IHM pastor, Fr. Don Malin, composed a prayer for parish spiritual renewal, which the clergy and people are praying at each weekend Mass. The prayer welcomes the Spirit’s movement, as parishioners ask to be instruments of God’s love. The prayer reads, “Lord, our God, our parish is thirsting for a fresh outpouring of your Holy Spirit, melt our hearts, mold our lives, use us and renew our parish for your glory.”

Coupled with this is a proposal for the renewal of prayer in small groups through a fledgling “Ministry of Prayer.” This ministry, currently in the planning stages, might even help parishioners find Jesus in the very people they didn’t expect, after all, God brings many people into our lives every day.

Being willing to trust the Spirit’s impetus, we can freely and trustfully talk with others about our personal spiritual life and our relationship with Jesus. The parish’s clergy and staff are slowly initiating these exchanges with parishioners in the hope of making Jesus a relevant topic of conversation once again.

Growing out of this trusting prayer is the idea of shared community and shared faith experiences. Jack Stuckenschneider, IHM liturgist, is exploring venues for the parishioners to share their faith stories for the building up of the Church. “My introduction to a loving Jesus during a teen retreat made an incredible difference in how I’ve come to participate in the life of the Church. I believe that by learning about someone else’s spiritual journey, I become encouraged enough to step out in faith, showing what a difference an individual can make in another’s life. Hopefully, other people will feel the same,” Stuckenschneider said.

“God helps those who help themselves” is a popular saying that has been borne out by the actions of the Spirit at work in the parish since these small changes have been implemented. Linda Stavran, an IHM parishioner, unknowingly became an “intentional disciple” as detailed in Sherry Wedddell’s book of the same name.

Inspired by the books of Matthew Kelly, particularly Rediscovering Catholicism and his website and company, “Dynamic Catholic,” Stavran has become a “parish champion,” seeking to help Catholics become the “best version of themselves,” as Matthew Kelly emphasizes in his book. Monthly, she is distributing free Dynamic Catholic resources such as books and CDs during IHM’s Catholic Marketplace weekend, as well as encouraging parish prayer and prayer intentions.

Stavran has received positive feedback with many expressing gratitude for her help in re-energizing the parish. She is thrilled with the response. “I can see the Holy Spirit intervening. I hope this mission and vision will continue to grow, and that many people will be inspired as the seeds are being planted,” she said.

Once we invite God, in a personal way, into our lives, and allow him to work in us, wonderful and exciting things begin to happen, as reflected in IHM parish’s shared sense of community and renewed relationship with Jesus. It’s just the beginning and there’s still a long way to go, but hope builds from the progress already made. Trust in God and miracles do happen.