Franciscan Influences: Involved and Empowered

June Mader Features

This essay is part of a series in which lay people describe the impact the friars have had on them. The most recent reflection appeared in the Jan. 8 issue of HNP Today by a staff member of Create, Inc., a social services program. 

Our two children, now in their 20s, still reminisce about “Monthly Meatloaves.” We participated as a family in a program — run by our church, Immaculate Conception in Durham, N.C. — that provided dinner for the homeless. The four of us would make the meatloaves — one for the homeless and one for us — one Saturday afternoon a month. After delivering the product of our joyful preparation to the church kitchen, we returned home for a family dinner where we prayed in gratitude for the food on our table and for the hungry people in Durham.

While I sensed this family tradition would evolve into a valuable shared experience on several levels, I had a niggling feeling that I could — or should — do more volunteering with the church. But with our circumstances as a young family, this was the best I could do. My husband and I both had global executive positions with a large pharmaceutical company. Considering the demands of our jobs, our travel schedules, the kids’ school activities, soccer games, and the endless laundry cycles to support our active lifestyle, it really was a sacrificial stretch for me to plan and execute the delivery of the monthly meatloaves.

“Be Who You Say You Are” 
Fast forward about 15 years to February 2014, as I prepared to provide a lay perspective at Holy Name Province’s fraternal gathering near Greensboro, N.C. The theme of the discussion was “Be who you say you are,” and my role was to reflect on the friars’ integrity in following their mission and to share my experiences related to that challenge.

In order to better understand the HNP Mission, I referred to the Provincial document “Where We Stand Now.” One aspect of the mission specifically caught my attention: “To provide a strong pastoral leadership in the service of an involved and empowered laity.”

The “involved and empowered laity” term rang a bell. Daniel McLellan, OFM, a previous pastor at Immaculate Conception, said that he invited me to provide the lay perspective at this gathering because I was “very involved” at the parish. So in my preparation for the discussion, I reflected on this aspect of the mission. It really “came to life” for me as I considered my experience with the friars and the strong pastoral leadership they provided to me in my stewardship journey.

Invited and Involved
This all started when David McBriar, OFM, invited me to join the Stewardship Committee while the parish was beginning a major awareness campaign about the concept of stewardship and what it means to be “Called, Gifted, and Sent.” What did Father David see in me that prompted this invitation for increased involvement? Could he sense that “niggling feeling” that I thought I should do more? Did he sense capacity? Capability? I never had that conversation with Fr. David, because it really didn’t matter. What matters is that his invitation triggered my understanding of stewardship in the context of membership on a committed, productive, and fun team. This set the path for my involvement at Immaculate Conception.

The invitations to be involved continued. Steven Patti, OFM, engaged me in a brainstorm on parishioner “listening processes.” Before I knew it, we had formed a small team of parishioners with talents ranging from statistics to communications, and conducted a parish-wide survey. We interpreted the results, held workshops, and developed a parish strategic plan.

With the strategic direction set and the action plan detailed, Father Dan asked me to support him in developing the parish staff, those primarily responsible for executing the strategic plan. I advised him on the organizational structure and roles. We had workshops and retreats featuring skill building, visioning, and some “real” conversations. This volunteer work gave me a way for me to use my gifts in making a positive impact, as well as providing the relevant experience to confidently launch my second career as an organizational and leadership development consultant. The Spirit works in wonderful ways!

I am currently working with a fellow parishioner and getting ready to launch a new “Connections” program at Immaculate Conception. Our focus is to welcome new parishioners and engage established parishioners in discerning their spiritual gifts. We will offer a custom, online gifts inventory tool that matches individual gifts to parish ministry opportunities. This activity will be supported by regular small-group discernment sessions and follow-up calls from parish staff. This is a huge undertaking.

Throughout the past year, our current pastor, Lawrence Hayes, OFM, in photo above, has shown sincere interest and enthusiasm in our developing Connections project. He frequently asks, “How’s it going?” “What do you need from me?” “How can I help?” His confidence in me is truly empowering.

I have been invited, involved, and empowered. HNP Mission accomplished!

— June Mader, a native of New York, has been a member of Durham’s Immaculate Conception Parish since 1986. She and her husband Charlie have two adult children. Mader and Fr. Lawrence are pictured in the above photo.