Virginia Parish Asks ‘Now What?’

Lisa Ostendorf Around the Province

The "Now What?" campaign at St. Francis Church in Triangle, Virginia

Photo courtesy of Lisa Ostendorf

Through the years, HNP Today has featured creative and unusual programs being offered at the Province’s ministries. The report below, written by a parish staff member, is about a new initiative meant to energize the spiritual life of participants. This “Now What” campaign was launched in January and, as the St. Francis of Assisi Parish bulletin said, it is “a year-long journey to seek where we are on our path and to discover ways to move forward to share our faith with others.”

Other programs that have been featured in past HNP Today stories include the Emmaus Ministry for Grieving Parents at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, the young adult program of St. Francis Parish in New York City and the many music ministries around the Province.

TRIANGLE, Va. — Whether it is in a fruitful or dry time of your faith journey, have you ever asked yourself, “Now what?”

At the beginning of 2015, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in northern Virginia encouraged all of its parishioners to ask themselves that very question with the launch of its parish-wide “Now What?” campaign.

“This was an effort to encourage our parishioners, staff and ministries to move forward from a place of complacency in their faith journey,” said Kevin Downey, OFM, pastor.

The campaign consists of three phases: seek, discover and share. Through various means of communication, parishioners and staff are encouraged to “seek” where they are along their faith journey, then “discover” potential next steps along the path, and eventually “share” their faith with others as disciples of Christ.

Excitement with New Opportunity
The “seek” phase began on Jan. 4 and ended the last Sunday before Lent. During the “seek” phase, banners and wristbands, printed with the “Now What?” logo, announced the campaign. Pulpit talks, bulletin columns, ministry meetings and media posts stimulated parishioners to intentionally evaluate their image of God, image of self, charisms or gifts, prayer life, and personal challenges.

“I was so excited to see our parish begin the new year with the question, ‘Now What?’” said Jan Floom, a parishioner. “Although our parish is very active, it is important that each of us remain open to new opportunities that enrich our faith formation, and this campaign has challenged us. Upon hearing the first question, ‘How do we see God?’ I went home and immediately started writing my personal reflections. I feel blessed to have had this opportunity and look forward to future challenges, for with each, it builds a deeper relationship with God.”

The “discover” phase began the first Sunday of Lent and will run through the month of August. Parish staff members will use the same communication tools to respond to questions raised during the “seek” phase, and describe programs and resources available to help parishioners “discover” next steps.

The “share” phase will begin on Sept. 6 and will run through the end of October. During this final phase, the unified message will describe various ways to become involved in discipleship and encourage evangelization.

“For years, I was very involved in the parish school, but after my kids graduated, I missed the parish community,” said Eileen Hartigan, a parishioner. The ‘Now What?’ campaign encouraged me to find a new way to get involved again.”

now-what-campaignInterest in Varied Themes
As part of the campaign, a parish survey was conducted at the end of the “seek” phase to determine topics of interest to address during the “discover” phase and evaluate the desired communication methods for conveying information.

Results of the parish survey demonstrated interest in a wide variety of themes, with spirituality topping the list, including how to feel closer to God, different ways to pray, practicing Franciscan values and identifying personal and spiritual gifts. There was also a strong interest in relearning fundamental Catholic beliefs and practices, including understanding the Bible, the Mass and morality.

Feedback from parishioners also identified preferred methods of communication, with pulpit talks, bulletin columns, parish website and online courses receiving the highest number of responses. Knowledge gleaned from the survey has already led to fruitful discussions among staff concerning areas of emphasis and the expenditure of resources for effective adult formation.

“I was at a place where I wanted to be more,” said Rebecca Devilliers, a parishioner. “The ‘Now What?’ campaign challenged me to look at myself and ask, ‘Who do I want to be?’ It influenced me and others to take the steps to do things to get there and it pushed my limits. Because of the ‘Now What?’ campaign, I pray more, make conscience decisions to be better, give myself more to God, and see God more in others.”

“I am already seeing where the ‘Now What?’ campaign is having an impact on the parish,” said Kevin. “We have seen an increase in the number of people who are signing up for adult faith programs as they seek to know more about their faith. More and more people are discovering the presence of Christ in their lives, which is leading them back to the sacraments, and they are sharing this newfound relationship by becoming active in our many ministries. The campaign has more than exceeded my expectations up to this point!”

All of us are on a faith journey, and all of us pause at various places along the way. Sometimes all it takes to begin to move us forward is to ask the question, “Now What?”

— Lisa Ostendorf, a graduate of Washington Theological Union, is a pastoral associate at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle, Va. In November, HNP Today published a story about the media attention that this northern Virginia parish has received for its various social justice initiatives.