By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 14, 2013
SMYRNA—Church ministry is not for the faint of heart as leaders are called to be the parish “vision keepers.”
Religion teachers, office managers, administrative assistants must “stand in the in-between,” with a foot in the world “as it is and what it should be.”
Jo Ann Paradise told the crowd of 100 at the second annual Leadership Conference that parish service often means “holding a tension” between the two visions.
“It’s a scary place to walk,” she said.
But there are lessons to be learned from the Gospel story of the journey to Emmaus where Jesus walked with the two confused and dispirited disciples.
“The man with all the answers asks a question,” she said.
Jesus shared with the people in the midst of their confusion, she said.
Paradise is the national catechetical consultant for Our Sunday Visitor’s curriculum division. She was brought to the Atlanta Archdiocese by the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship for one of its three annual workshops organized for church workers.
Amy Daniels, the director of the Office of Formation and Discipleship, said the leadership day isn’t just about giving people new tools but allowing them to network so they can stay in touch and share with each other afterward.
The office has identified three areas of requests from parish workers, ranging from the spiritual and new skills to leadership resources, Daniels said. These people carry a lot of responsibility, so it is important to help them by providing these resources, she said. In April, the Formation and Discipleship Office will start a new initiative, a workshop specifically for rural parishes in the archdiocese, she said.
Paradise has been a Catholic educator for 33 years, from catechetical administrator in the Diocese of Pittsburgh to work at Catholic schools and colleges. She said the environment for church workers has changed greatly since she started and now parish leaders work in a culture that is “devoid of the transcendent.” Busy family calendars can easily bump times that once had been reserved for a faith life, she said.
To deal with the current climate, Paradise outlined tools for leaders.
Church ministers are effective when they cultivate a spirit of service, by helping people understand the reality of their lives and experiences, she said.
“They should ask the right questions to help people,” she said
As in the Emmaus story, church workers are to “go where (the people) are and help them form questions about their own experience,” she said. And those questions can help ignite a faith life, she said.
But it is most important for workers to commit to self-reflection and prayer, she said. People can get caught up in the paperwork, the procedures, focusing on teaching but losing sight of the larger purpose, she said. It’s easy to get “immersed in the ‘what is’ instead of what should be,” she said.
“We don’t do the hard work of self-reflection,” she said.
That’s a goal for Carol Kruskamp, of St. Oliver Plunkett Church in Snellville.
“I have to work at it,” she said. “I know that’s key.”
These leadership conferences are a time for people working in the church “to take some time and challenge ourselves,” said Kruskamp, who works with the parish adult faith formation program.
Eight members of St. Theresa Church, Douglasville, came to the conference. Pat Smith, the liturgy coordinator and assistant to the pastor, said Paradise’s message hit home.
At times, rushing to meetings or trying to complete projects can be hectic, she said.
“I really need to incorporate that in my life,” Smith said about self-reflection. “It really causes you to look inward.”