Walking the ‘Clear Path’ in parishes

By Marty Denzer and Megan Marley

Have you heard of the Clear Path for Discipleship, the guided learning and self-discovery process that equips parish leaders and pastors to self-assess their present situation and needs?

The Clear Path process is designed to help them develop a common understanding of stages of faith development, evaluate the parish’s current circumstances and form a plan to address the needs of people at each stage—missionary disciples are thus formed. Resources and suggestions are available, but each parish has complete freedom to determine what will work for their own situation and on their own schedule.

Pastors’ selection of parish facilitators and teams and ‘Base Camp’—the all-day training to kickstart Clear Path—are the first steps made at the deanery level. Nine deaneries (subdivisions of the Diocese consisting of parishes and missions in a general location headed by a dean who reports to the bishop) have participated in the base camp as of March 1. All 14 deaneries are expected to have trained at Base Camp and begun regular parish team meetings by the start of the Amazing Parish Conference in mid-October 2020, which will provide additional training for a select group of leaders from each parish on leadership development, parish evangelization strategies, resources and more.

St. Rose of Lima (Savannah) and St. Patrick (Forest City) Parishes

Fr. Joshua Barlett, pastor of St. Rose of Lima in Savannah, and St. Patrick, the mission in Forest City, shared his observations, thoughts and goals for the Clear Path process. The Deanery 12 parish sits between the city of St. Joseph and the rural areas north of Savannah. 

St. Rose and St. Patrick’s team first formed about six months ago in September. Fr. Barlett said they were “excited to be called to be part of the Clear Path process as they are keenly aware of how churches are emptying. This is a direction for us toward our future.”

The team met with their facilitator, and a little later, after some team building exercises, Fr. Barlett and the St. Rose and St. Patrick’s team attended base camp, along with other parish teams in their deanery.

“One of the things we did at base camp,” he recalled, “was to write what we were feeling —stressed, upset or negative were some. The Clear Path process was explained, and how it can change us from negatives to wanting more people to have a closer relationship with Jesus, to be magnets of conversion for others.”

The Clear Path base camp was not a step by step instruction guide to how to become a magnet of conversion, a missionary disciple. Fr. Barlett said it focused more on having team members grow in faith and knowledge of that faith to find a remedy for the emptying of churches and other things going on in their communities.

“In settings like St. Rose and St. Patrick’s,” he explained, “missionary discipleship has to be intentional. We need to seek out those who need to be found.”

He sees two obstacles — interior and exterior — to the formation of missionary disciples in today’s church.

“The first obstacle is interior contentment. Many Catholics are happy to get along, punching their Sunday Mass card, just going with the flow. But wait. Isn’t our hope and our goal to get to heaven?”
He said the Church offers a lot of programs to help instill the basics of faith and a lot of programs that strengthen faith, but nothing in between.

The second obstacle, Fr. Barlett continued, “is exterior — the culture we live in encourages the quick and easy and focuses on the comfortable. The culture is not excited about hearing the Gospel because it goes against the quick, easy and comfortable. Wait a minute! Isn’t our goal and our hope to get to heaven?”

A missionary disciple, he said, is one who carries the message of Jesus Christ to those who need it and invites them into a deeper relationship with Him.

St. Elizabeth (Kansas City) Parish

In Kansas City, St. Elizabeth’s parish Clear Path team is comprised of seven parishioners, Fr. Greg Haskamp, pastor, and Deacon Mike McLean. Many of the team members had earlier served on the parish’s Adult Formation Team.

Although the city is basically shut down except for essential businesses and services (i.e. healthcare providers, hospitals, grocery stores and pharmacies), and gatherings of more than 10 people banned due to the community spread of the coronavirus, meetings can still be held online or through conference calls. The St. Elizabeth’s Clear Path team was scheduled to meet last week for the second time. Fr. Haskamp said they were waiting for guidance on the next steps. In the meantime …

He said the diocesan call to the missionary discipleship process had started him thinking, “What are we doing in this parish to form and implement a change to discipleship? How do our ministries teach, heal and welcome? Are there gaps? This is a chance to be creative in response to a need and move forward toward discipleship.”

He added that it was good to be able to think about the gaps.

“Our parish has many entry points for people seeking to learn more about the Catholic faith — for instance someone might have attended a Catholic funeral here, perhaps received some grief support and wanted to know more. Evangelization is a benefit of many ministries in a Catholic parish.”

Deacon McLean said reflectively, “We’re just trying to love people like Jesus told us to. This whole faith thing is bigger, greater than I ever thought! It’s exciting! A lot of what organizations is to fill needs. We must be proactive, intentional, we must articulate our values and motivations of faith.”

“Hearing others’ views,” Fr. Haskamp added, “contributions and hopes is kind of like putting a puzzle together. We just don’t know yet what the completed puzzle will look like.”

Both priest and deacon acknowledged that challenges were present on the path to missionary discipleship. Some questions that need asking and answering:

  • What does it look like to be welcoming?
  • Who is my neighbor and how do we welcome them?
  • How do we serve those who look at the world differently?
  • How do we serve those with negative feelings about the Church due to the sex abuse scandals and ensuing financial crises?

“There are risks in loving people,” Fr. Haskamp said. “Mainly, rejection.”

Deacon McLean cautioned, “Parishes cannot develop missionary discipleship fast, it takes time. We must show others who we are, why we believe what we believe and that we have no hidden agendas. One way to do this is to spend time with our neighborhood community.” He described the fall barbecue contest at St. Elizabeth’s as a “really good taste” of evangelizing.

Fr. Haskamp sees the parish as “showing a real commitment to the neighborhood, in the spirit of caring for everyone, being a positive, and bringing the Gospel to everyone, which is discipleship.”

Deacon McLean agreed, saying, “Living our faith, helping people be more comfortable in talking about their faith are both ways of inviting others to ‘come and see.’”

Twelve Apostles (Platte City) and Holy Trinity (Weston) Parishes

Fr. Steve Rogers gives a little homily at the March 12 commissioning for Catholic Christian Outreach at Holy Trinity and 12 Apostles Parishes. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

As two synergized parishes under one pastor, Twelve Apostles in Platte City and Holy Trinity in Weston started the Clear Path for Discipleship process together months ahead of other parishes in Deanery XIII.

“Our deanery wasn’t going to do this until August, and I said I don’t wanna wait—so we got to do it by December,” said pastor Fr. Steve Rogers. He said that he and a co-parish team attended an Amazing Parish Conference in California back in October, and the Clear Path process fell right into place afterwards.

“The Holy Spirit is not stopping, God is not taking a break—He’s moving fast, forward,” Rogers said.

Rogers and his team attended two meetings for the Clear Path for Discipleship in November and December (with a follow-up meeting in January), and have met regularly on their own to discuss what to do with what they learned from the Clear Path process and the Amazing Parish Conference.

One outcome was to fill in gaps along the Clear Path with Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO), which is one resource the diocese offered. The Canadian-based missionary organization’s focus is on proclaiming the Gospel to people where they are at, accompanying them and forming them before going out to evangelize in turn.

“You basically move people not only to the point they commit to Christ and become disciples, but so they become disciple-makers,” said Dan Ovaitt, one of the early CCO initiators. “The premise works for all of us—those of us sitting in the pews, and my brothers who have fallen away from the Church—we can use those tools that we learned to move them along that path.”

“Part of what the Clear Path for Discipleship is supposed to be is gearing our ministries toward all of these different thresholds, meeting people where they are at. What is the purpose of this ministry, how does it fit into how we’re feeding people?” his wife Vonda Ovaitt added.

“This Catholic Christian Outreach is one of several movements, programs and models that can help lead people through this process of decision making of putting Christ as the center of their lives, and leading them on to be a multiplying disciple-maker,” she continued. “It’s not the type of evangelization where you go knock on doors…it’s reaching out to people that we meet along the way, that we know. It’s very person oriented.”

One challenge was to get people committed—so an invitational dinner was held. The response has been good: once a central group was formed, they in turn lead other groups, and members of those groups will eventually lead their own. A Mass, Eucharistic Adoration/benediction, commissioning ceremony and reception were held March 12 as a launching point for group leaders.

“We walk with other people—it’s not just those who we know, or who we like or who we think we should like, it’s truly walking with people wherever Jesus sends us…people know that, it’s a concept that we get, but I think they’re waiting for someone to do it, for a template to follow, a book to read—they don’t exist…when the Holy Spirit moves, you move with the Spirit and He will give you everything you need,” Rogers said.

The co-parish team is also forming a vision for the two parishes and a mission to commit to.

“When you have the discipline, the information, the theology, the doctrine and dogma, you have to apply it, you have to synthesize it. And that means you do it in real time in relation with other people,” Rogers said. “It’s an intentional thing.”

For more information on the Clear Path for Discipleship, visit discipleshipkc.org/clearpath.

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Wednesday
December 02, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph