Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. (1 Peter 4:10)
Empowerment incarnates the wisdom given to us in this Scripture passage. That is, when we empower others, we make space for them to use the gifts given to them by God in service to the community. Empowerment is intentional, communal, and an exercise in interdependence, which, when done well, develops a level of trust that allows others to act on their own to achieve a certain goal. After all, no one person is as smart as all of us together.
In parishes across the Diocese of Honolulu, I’ve witnessed many ways in which catechists were empowered to apply their gifts creatively toward Christ-centered learning outcomes. Some examples include:
- a catechist who was a police sketch artist, who drew profiles of saints based upon the children’s descriptions of their physical attributes;
- a catechist who was an information technology specialist, who connected Christian ethics to social media use; and
- a catechist who was a baker, who taught families how to grind wheat berries into flour and produce unleavened bread from scratch during a study unit of the Passover.
I’m sure you have similar stories. But empowerment also involves developing hidden gifts. Done effectively, it may even result in deepening your pool of catechists.
Last year I was asked to deliver an Advent mission talk at a local parish. When I met with the parish council to discuss their statement of mission and current needs, I asked a simple question: “What is it that you hope will happen within your parish community in the weeks following my talk?” After some brainstorming, it became apparent that the desired outcome was to empower adult parishioners to be better evangelizers. I stated, “Given your desired outcome, we need to empower some of your parishioners to be co-presenters. Identify three individuals or couples whose hearts and minds are open to Christ, and I’ll prepare them for our talk. One catch: they cannot be active catechists!”
Perhaps you can identify with how the people who were tapped to be my co-presenters responded at our first planning meeting: “My pastor asked me to be one of the presenters for our Advent mission. I don’t know why he asked me; I can’t write a speech.”
I replied, “Then let’s not write a speech. How about if you share a story about a time when you felt God’s presence in your life?”
And what beautiful stories they shared. There was a story of a turning point in the life of a child who struggled with addiction; there was a story of leaving the Church in the young adult years and finding a way back as a family; and there was a story of a husband unexpectedly dying of a heart attack, leaving the wife to raise children in the faith as a single mother.
At our first meeting, I discovered that the co-presenters recognized but didn’t really know one another. But as we prayed together, listened and related to one another’s stories, their level of trust and self-confidence grew. The parish Advent mission was spirit-filled, and it inspired many of those in attendance to share their own stories of faith that evening and in the weeks that followed. Emboldened by their experience, several of those facilitators are now catechists!
How might you empower your catechists and parish community? How might you help others recognize and activate their hidden gifts?