In my last post, I shared an interview that the Catholic Witness did with me, as one of the speakers in the upcoming Fresh Expressions Amore Conference. In this post I’m sharing another article about the conference from the same publication.
I would encourage everyone to join the roundtrip bus ride from Truro to the main day of the conference on Thursday, March 16, in Harrisburg, PA. You can register for the bus and conference by clicking this link: bit.ly/conferencebus.
Here is the article:
Fresh Expressions Conference Will Renew Vision of Ministry to Families
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness
One of the ten plenary speakers for the upcoming Fresh Expressions conference to be hosted by the Diocese of Harrisburg next month likens the amount of treasure that families share about the faith to a making a miniscule withdrawal from a fortune of a bank account.
“It’s as if each of us have been given a ‘bagillion’ dollars in our bank accounts through baptism, but few of us withdraw more than one or two dollars,” said Christopher West, world-renowned expert in St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and founder of the Cor Project, which equips men and women to share the beauty of God’s plan for love, life and sexuality.
“We have such a treasure to share – a message of hope, of healing, of fulfillment of the deepest yearnings of our hearts for real life, for real love,” he said.
Mr. West will join a stellar line-up for Christian leaders and thinkers – including Bishop Ronald Gainer, Msgr. Renzo Bonetti and Rev. Dr. Tory Baucum – at the Fresh Expressions conference to be held March 16 and 17 at the Cardinal Keeler Center in Harrisburg.
The national conference will invigorate Christian churches in rethinking their ministry to families as the center of evangelization. It is particularly aimed at clergy, directors/coordinators of religious education, youth ministers, educators and those who minister to married couples and families.
“If the family is to serve the cause of evangelization, the family itself needs to be evangelized. You cannot give what you do not have,” Mr. West said. “When the Church speaks of the new evangelization, we have to recognize that evangelization is aimed first and foremost at us, the people in the Church.”
Fresh Expressions is an international ecumenical movement of missionary disciples that seeks new ways of proclaiming the Gospel in an increasingly secular society by going beyond the boundaries of the church and meeting people where they are.
“Fresh Expressions is akin to Pope Francis’ call that we must be a welcoming Church that isn’t afraid of the margins: ‘For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family,’” observed Dominic Lombardi, Diocesan Secretary for Catholic Life and Evangelization.
The Fresh Expressions movement is united with the Amore Project, a Catholic venture begun in Italy by Msgr. Renzo Bonetti and “invites couples to be missionaries witnessing to the Gospel and inviting others to join them in prayer and fellowship in their very homes. These couples become witnesses of the Gospel and a sacrament of God’s love. They go beyond the physical boundaries of the Church, reaching out to those on the margins as a fresh expression of the Gospel,” Mr. Lombardi said.
The Fresh Expressions movement and the Amore Project work together to bring Catholics and Protestants into a new expression of mission.
The conference, now in its fourth year as a national gathering, “will address in both visionary and concrete ways this movement of the Spirit to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the very homes of our communities,” Mr. Lombardi said.
Its plenary workshops will focus on the centrality of the family in the new evangelization, the social order and spiritual lives of the earliest Christians, re-imagining the mission of the family, the domestic church as an agent of evangelization, the liturgy and everyday life of the family, and the family of God. Additional workshops, songs of worship, and prayer will also be part of the conference.
Rev. Dr. Tory Baucum, Chairman of the Board of Fresh Expressions in the United States and Rector of Truro Anglican Church in Fairfax, Va., remarked that Fresh Expressions “shows us two things simultaneously: First, the family is God’s favorite site to reveal his covenant of love to people. So, in a sense, it’s the natural focus for evangelization. Second, the Church is a family of families – a big church made up of a lot of different domestic churches. This conference seeks to re-wed what should have never been divorced.”
“Families are where we all learn to love and be loved – or not!” he said. What the Church enables is that couples can be equipped to bring others into the ambit of that love. A couple whose bond is inhabited by Jesus Christ generates more love than they consume. Domestic church is how we share the excess of love, which in turn makes it ecclesial – a gathered family.”
At the conference, Rev. Dr. Baucum will speak on the centrality of the family in the new evangelization. It dates back to the early Church, he noted, pointing to Paul’s greeting of the churches that met in the homes of married Christian couples.
“Domestic church is so old and forgotten, but it has been rediscovered, and thus seems new,” Rev. Dr. Baucum said.
Chris Backert, who serves as the National Director of Fresh Expressions, said the conference “challenges prevailing assumptions of family in Church and society.”
Some churches are oriented toward serving the needs of families, and thus become internally focused, he said. Others see families as a collection of individuals and therefore divide ministries into those for parents, youth and children. “In either case, collectively, we end up with a church that, at best, has a divided family looking inward,” he said. “Similarly, our society is increasingly unconcerned about the family, particularly the long-standing expressions of family that are considered ‘traditional.’”
The Fresh Expressions movement and the Amore Project tell us that “family is not a problem but a solution, not an encumbrance to the witness of the Church, but perhaps even the main witness of the Church in the world,” Mr. Backert remarked. “Family is the first place for the people of God – Church – to manifest itself in the world, and, in fact, an expression of Church can arise from a family in a neighborhood or among a people.”
“If the Church is to have a vibrant witness, it must be in such a form that it is visible,” Mr. Backert said. “This is true from the local neighborhood community of faith meeting in a home or coffee shop, or a parish within a community or even here in a region.”
As the Fresh Expressions conference brings together clergy and ministers from various Christian churches, Mr. Backert remarked that “the challenge facing Catholics from a comprehensive missional sense are not different than the Wesleyans or Baptists or non-denominational church communities. We are all navigating the decline and soon crumbling of Christendom and its impact on our version of Christianity.”
To that end the Fresh Expressions conference will offer attendees practical steps and tools to re-imagine ministry to families.
“There is a critical need for effective ministry to families,” said Mr. West. “Families are suffering from a direct frontal attack on the meaning of gender, sexuality and marriage. We are desperately in need of a renewal of visions, and this conference is a great place to start.”
“If society has a cancer, we have to treat that cancer at the cellular level. The fundamental cell of society is the family,” Mr. West said. “The world is suffering because the family is suffering. This is why addressing the problems at the root of family breakdown is so important, and so fruitful. It has a ripple effect on the whole world.”
Rev. Dr. Baucum offered similar sentiments.
“The Church and the family in North America are both suffering. This conference will shed light on the reason why it suffers and what can be done about it. We must remember that when God created the family, he was not creating a problem. He was creating a solution to a problem. We still believe that to be true,” he said.
For a full list of speakers, the conference schedule, cost and additional information, visit the Fresh Expressions icon on the Diocese of Harrisburg’s Web site, www.hbgdiocese.org.