Can you place yourself in the Scripture passage of Ascension Thursday? Standing on the windy mountaintop with Jesus. You know he died and rose from the dead, you know he is the Christ, and you will follow him anywhere because you love him. Then he says two mind-blowing things: “Go! Make disciples of all nations!” And, “I will be with you until the end of the age.” Then he promptly departs the mountain.
Now, do you think this message was just for the disciples to whom Jesus spoke back in the first century? Nope. The same holds true for us now in the 21st century.
How do we come to this mission? Through baptism. It washes away original sin and also calls us to discipleship. A disciple is a follower of Jesus – the Rabbi, the Master and the Teacher. We follow, listen, learn, love and imitate him (as best we can with his grace).
Baptism calls us to an additional action — yes, action. We are called to live as missionary disciples and this means participating in the big work of the kingdom by forming other disciples.
Whoa! Who feels qualified for this work? Alone, we cannot, but with Jesus we can and we must. Jesus spoke plainly. “Go! And make disciples of all nations”’ The Catholic leaders in the Camden Diocese are creating a movement — and the leader is the Holy Spirit.
In March, the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in South Jersey delivered the call for each of us to lead wherever we find ourselves in the Catholic Church — in our families, with friends and co-workers, in parishes and dioceses — everywhere. A holy fire has been set and it is up to everyone to fan the flames so every Catholic steps out in joyful faith and is a missionary disciple.
Just look at what is happening at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Absecon.
Eight lay leaders joined Father Perry Cherubini, pastor, at the Convocation. They placed their full trust in the Holy Spirit to guide their every step. This leadership team knows the power of deep prayer. Prayer is the bedrock of how they are approaching the mission — giving more people an encounter with Christ in order to change lives.
Prior to the Convocation, each parish team had to create an EASTeR Project for the parish and its community. EASTeR is an acronym for Entrepreneurial, Accountable, Serve, Transform and Reach out, and is fully outlined in the book, “Everyone Leads” by Chris Lowney. The Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton EASTeR Project requires many more laborers in the vineyard. So the team continued to pray and trust — and so far has delivered a team that continues to grow exponentially from its original nine.
As Father Perry says, “We are not done.” For now, the goal anchors in the Scripture passage of Luke where Jesus sends the 72 disciples.
This is the starting place for the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton team, understanding both clergy and laity are responsible for the church. Father Joshua Nevitt, parochial vicar, who held down the fort at the parish during the Convocation, is fully integrated into this growing leadership team. He is inviting others to join the effort to renew and refresh the church.
The team had a meeting last week, and it was the moment Tony Poekert, team leader, knew the parish was “on fire.”
“My heart is still soaring at the goodness of God and the strength of the Holy Spirit. We began our meeting in the sanctuary with the church’s evening prayer complete with support from our music ministry and Father Joshua in vestments. We now have 60 members.” he said.
Poekert spent 32 years working for Catholic Charities, and the point he stresses is invitation. In more than three decades of work dedicated to the mission of the church, he never heard “no” when someone was invited. People want and need invitation, so invite them to join, he said.
Poekert possesses great enthusiasm and it is likely a contributing factor to the growing missionary discipleship momentum in the parish. He gives all the credit to prayer and trust in the Holy Spirit.
Poekert is adamant that if teams are not firmly entrenched in prayer, the fruit will not come. He said the leadership team spends a sizable amount of time at the beginning of each meeting planning the path forward in deep prayer.
“You can’t just say a quick Our Father or Glory Be and think the work is coming,” Poekert says. He speaks of this growing group of leaders with great reverence. He said there is such natural ministering occurring within this team. You can see them each bringing their natural gifts to each other before the EASTeR Project work begins. This is a very good sign of things to come.