Last weekend, from July 15 to 17, nearly 30 people – representing Province ministries from New England to Florida – gathered for the Province’s annual JPIC Local Contacts Retreat. One of the participants provided a report on the activities of the gathering, which was organized by Russ Testa, director of the HNP Province’s Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, and his colleague Fran Eskin-Royer.
STONEVILLE, N.C. — On the way to the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Local Contacts Retreat, I passed an old hand-painted sign on the side of the road near a little church that read “Be Prepared to Meet God.” I wondered where I would find God at the retreat. My GPS led me through twists and turns, past Church Street (surely God would be on that road!) and finally to my destination: St. Francis Springs Prayer Center.
Twenty-nine people gathered in beautiful northwest North Carolina for a weekend retreat. The participants came from 16 locations throughout the Province, and represented parishes, outreach ministries, universities, and the Province’s JPIC office staff. The friars, staff, and volunteers welcomed each person. It felt like coming home.
The four main themes of the retreat were Change, Effectiveness, Planning, and Being Authentic followers of Jesus Christ in the footsteps of St. Francis. The retreat began with fellowship and food. For some, conversations were about catching up with old friends. For others, conversations were introductions.
While St. Francis did not set out with the intention of forming a community, that was the natural outcome because a group of people engaged in ministry bonded with one another through their shared commitment to the work and will of God. In a similar way, a community definitely took shape quickly at the beginning of the retreat weekend.
Sharing Work of Ministries
The retreat provided an opportunity for participants to describe their ministry work. Some common themes centered on helping those in need through charity, community organizing and advocacy; building relationships within parishes among different communities; identifying ways to engage young people; working on communications and media; and struggling with how to reach those who have left the church, who have lost interest or who no longer find relevance in the Church. The importance of listening to peoples’ stories was paramount for many at the retreat. Building community seems to be a critical cornerstone to ministry within the Church — community both with fellow ministers and with those served by the ministries.
Providing basic human needs for people is a common thread across most of the ministries of the Province, but a variety of other efforts and accomplishments were shared as well. Among them: helping 30 people in New York City apply for and receive citizenship; hosting speaker forums on topics like Black Lives Matter or Islamophobia; social justice education and advocacy through prison ministry work; community organizing for affordable housing or improved school food programs; immersion service trips to provide first-hand exposure to poverty and immigration challenges; and building on community relationships initiated in a parish effort to combat human trafficking in order to tackle other local problems. God’s presence is clearly in these people and in their work.
The topics of education, communication, and outreach cropped up time and time again throughout the weekend. The JustFaith program was identified by several retreat participants as one that had a great impact on justice and peace work in their faith communities. People exchanged ideas, offered words of encouragement and support, and, most importantly, people built relationships that will likely continue.
Preparing and Communicating Change
Gary Burton, a secular Franciscan and parishioner at St. Francis Parish in Triangle, Va., presented several workshops on effectively dealing with change in an organization. One of the reasons that it is important for the Province and hence HNP JPIC ministries to pay attention to change is because of the potential realignment or reorganization of OFM provinces in the United States in the coming years. Change is inevitable, as the saying goes. The Province’s JPIC ministries want to be as prepared as possible to embrace the changes, and to anticipate and effectively plan for smooth transitions so that vital JPIC work can continue as well as — or even better than — it currently does.
Gary presented a change process that he promotes in his “day” job, generously sharing his expertise with those gathered. He emphasized the importance of having an effective change plan, with clearly defined goals and objectives. He also made clear that organizational change is likely to occur only if the individuals in that organization embrace the change that the leadership is trying to accomplish. He repeatedly stressed the importance of planning before trying to implement change, and of getting support from leadership and from those who, ultimately, will be most impacted by the change. He talked about the need to build awareness for the need for a change as well as a shared desire for it before trying to implement the change.
The timing of the communication, as well as how the plan is communicated, both are important parts of the plan, and often impact how effectively change is implemented. Planning for change readiness in an organization, with each of the individuals in the organization, is another critical step in the process. Change is more likely to occur in a smooth manner if the organization and the people in the organization are ready for it.
The retreat included opportunities for prayer, reflection and time for people to go outside and walk in the beautiful surroundings at St. Francis Springs. One group of women went for a walk on the grounds Saturday morning, and had an impromptu prayer service at one of the outdoor chapels in the woods. During the weekend, there was a good balance between silence and conversation, laughter and serious discussion. Even the thunderstorm that knocked out the power for a few hours on Friday evening did not interrupt the energy and passion of the people there to share and listen.
We continue to experience great challenges in our work: how to effectively engage young people in the life of the church, how to welcome all people, how to welcome back those who have left the church, and how to deal with a changing world and a changing church. We started some difficult conversations at the retreat that hopefully will continue in the months to come. Relationships, new and old, were strengthened at the retreat because of the opportunities provided there. The beautiful environment and warm hospitality of the staff and volunteers at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center only enhanced the experience. The energy, commitment, and passion for doing “God’s work” were as visible and tangible at the end of the weekend as they were at the start – and now they were bolstered by community.
Yes, this group of people definitely seemed “prepared to meet God” – in one another, in the stranger, in the immigrant, in the young person, in shelters, in prisons, and in schools. The person who painted that sign years ago was wise indeed.
– Marie Vetter has been an active parishioner at Immaculate Conception Church in Durham, N.C., for more than 30 years. A member of both the social justice committee and the parish council, she also serves as a Eucharistic minister and lector, and helps with the RCIA program. In May 2000, Vetter received the HNP. Francis Medal for coordinating interfaith relief efforts after September 1999’s Hurricane Floyd that devastated eastern North Carolina.
Editor’s note: Last year’s JPIC Retreat focused on the encyclical, ‘Laudato Si’,’ that was issued by Pope Francis in June 2015. Information and resources related to a variety of social justice issues can be found on the Justice and Peace page of the HNP website.
- “U.S. Provinces Approve Four Restructuring Possibilities” — Sept. 2, 2015 HNP Today
- “St. Francis Springs Marks Anniversary” – June 22, 2015 HNP Today
- “Durham Parish’s Diversity adds to Impact of Music Ministry” – Aug. 14, 2013 HNP Today
- “JPIC Local Contacts Retreat 2011: A Meeting of Minds, Hearts and Hands” – June 29, 2011 HNP Today