By Katrina Genereux/Associate Editor, OND
Deacon Mark Krejci, Director of the Office of Formation in Discipleship said the most common lamentation he hears from people is that their loved ones have left the Church.
In his experience people either don’t know where to start when reaching out to a lapsed family member, or they become discouraged when discussions lead to arguments or they are unable to answer family members’ questions.
Considering how to assist people with bringing loved ones back to the Church led him to a book by Brandon Vogt of Word on Fire Ministries entitled “Return.” Realizing that people needed more than a book study, or a “one-and-done” program, Deacon Krejci developed Shepherding Them Home.
He tested the program at St. Joseph, Moorhead, in the fall of 2017 with 32 participants. He presented a four-hour program incorporating prayer, videos and discussion aimed at preparing people to accompany someone back to the Church.
Afterward, a handful of participants contacted him seeking guidance and he wondered how many others would benefit from post-session support.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have people around the diocese who would be prepared to be companions with these folks as they accompany people back to the Church?,” he said.
With the assistance of the Office of Stewardship and Development, Deacon Krejci applied for a grant through Our Sunday Visitor Institute. The Diocese of Crookston was granted just over $35,000 for Shepherding Them Home.
“The main part of the grant is to prepare people to be Shepherding Companions who will work with the Family Missionaries,” Deacon Krejci said. “The idea is to create this cadre of 20 people who will specialize in their missionary work to help other people accompany family members back to the Church.”
Deacon Krejci hopes to train four or five Shepherding Companions from each of the diocese’s five deaneries.
“They will be people whose names are out in their parish or deanery so folks can call when their loved one is leaving the Church or has left the Church,” Deacon Krejci said. “This person will be prepared to listen, to pray with them, to pray for them – they are going to be praying a lot in this ministry – and to help Catholics who are missionaries to their own family members.”
Shepherding Companions will also follow up with Shepherding Them Home participants to offer ongoing support.
After the pilot program in Moorhead, Deacon Krejci encouraged participants to reach out with questions. Of the 32 participants, some connected with him once, a couple of people contacted him a few times and one person needed ongoing support. He hopes establishing Shepherding Companions throughout the diocese will support people accompanying loved ones back to the Church.
Shepherding Companions will receive training and ongoing support. Through the grant from Our Sunday Visitor Institute, Deacon Krejci will enroll them in the Word on Fire Institute.
“This is the latest ministry from Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire program,” Deacon Krejci said. “The whole idea of the institute is to prepare people to reach out to former Catholics and the ‘nones’.”
“Nones” is a term used to refer to those with no formal religious affiliation.
They will also receive Vogt’s book, “Return” and other resources.
BRINGING THEM BACK
Shepherding Them Home “Prayershops” will be held throughout the diocese for anyone interested in learning how to bring people back to the Church. The format is either four one-hour sessions or one half-day presentation. Participants cover four areas: prayer, prepare, practice and plan. They learn how to start with prayer, understand why a person has left the faith, practice having difficult conversations and create a plan to outline the first step of approaching a loved one.
“That’s the idea of the Shepherding Them Home series – they leave there with their first plan on how to connect with that person in their family who has left the Church,” said Deacon Krejci.
He said the goal is not catechesis, or apologetics, although those may be needed. The goal – taken from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Joy of the Gospel” – is accompaniment. Listening and not taking it personally are key to the ministry of accompaniment Deacon Krejci said. He added that experts recommend if the first conversation is 60 minutes, 10 should be talking and 50 should be listening.
REACHING THE 'NONES'
The second aspect of Shepherding Them Home will minister to people who are not connected with religion.
“There are a lot of people in our diocese who don’t know God, don’t have a relationship with Jesus, aren’t connected with the Church and don’t have a family member to reach out to them,” Deacon Krejci said.
Sessions will be held at various “neutral” locations throughout the diocese, such as hotel meeting rooms or other public spaces. They will address broad questions such as “Who is God?” and will be advertised in various ways, including through ads on social media platforms.
“We won’t hide the fact that we’re from the Catholic Church, but we won’t say the whole point is to get you to the Catholic Church,” said Deacon Krejci. “The point is to help you form a relationship – a deeper relationship – with Jesus.”
He hopes the Shepherding Companions will serve as resources for people seeking to build relationships with Jesus through these sessions. He said helping people build a relationship with Jesus and open their hearts to the Holy Spirit should eventually lead them to the Catholic Church.
“That’s how we are going to bring people back to Christ,” he said. “It’s going to be one former Catholic at a time, one ‘none’ at a time … one person going out to connect with one person.”