Small groups share faith as parishes ‘ARISE Together’

By Maureen Walsh, courtesy of The Holbrook Sun

Photo byTom Gorman

Three Weymouth parishes are joining more than 160 others throughout the Boston archdiocese in a three-year faith renewal program called “ARISE Together in Christ.”

St. Jerome Parish in North Weymouth and St. Albert the Great and Immaculate Conception Parishes in East Weymouth are forming dozens of small, faith-sharing groups that are at the heart of the ARISE program.

ARISE was created at the request of Cardinal Sean O’Malley in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of the archdiocese of Boston, said Mary Ann McLaughlin, director of the Office of Worship and Spiritual Life.

“People were asking for ways to share faith with one another. They were asking for ways to connect their lives with Scripture, for ways to help young adults find a home in local parishes,” she said.

“They were also looking for ways to enhance the celebration of the Eucharist by helping people make the connection with the Eucharist and daily life.”

The program is organized into five six-week “seasons,” one each fall and spring, from now through November 2010. In each season, groups of 6 to 10 participants meet for 90 minutes once a week to reflect on Gospel readings, share personal faith experiences, and apply the lessons to their lives in the coming week.

Days of the week and meeting times are flexible to fit into individual schedules. Groups are facilitated by trained lay volunteers, and a small ARISE booklet provides Scripture readings and materials to guide each session.

“At the end of every meeting is an invitation to act, to look at what we’ve heard in the Gospel, what we’ve heard in faith-sharing, and to say, ‘Okay, what difference does this make for me this week, in what small way can I respond?’” McLaughlin said.

“You don’t have to be a very active church member to participate. You don’t have to be a theologian. There’s no testing people in their knowledge of the faith.”

“It’s really about how the Gospel touches your life, how your life looks in relation to the Gospel and your relationship with Christ.”

St. Jerome and St. Albert Parishes have held sign-ups for ARISE groups after Masses the past two weeks and will begin the first six-week “season” next week. Immaculate Conception Parish will have ARISE sign-ups after Masses this weekend and will begin meetings the week of Oct. 19.

All three parishes encourage parishioners, inactive Catholics and interested members of all faiths to contact them at any time for information on the ARISE program.

‘God in others’

“This is a wonderful way for our parish to relate differently than just going to Mass and leaving and going to Mass the next week,” said Mary Ellen Cassani, Director of Faith Formation at St. Jerome Parish. “There is a need to get people talking about Christ amongst themselves, which is not our usual conversation.”

The parish has formed about 18 groups for the first season, she said, including a young adults group, a couple of mothers’ groups, a men’s group and a seniors’ group that plans to share a walk together before each meeting.

“ARISE is meant to be people sharing their experiences of Christ, their experience of the Sunday Gospel in their lives,” Cassani said. “We hope they will have a richer experience of God, because they experience God in others.”

The ARISE program is “a great match” for the people of St. Albert the Great Parish, with their tradition of lay leadership and lay-led ministry and prayer services, said ARISE team member Eileen Doherty.

“The program is structured really well for bringing people out and building on a small community,” she said. “In each group, the members become a small family, going into deeper levels. Any sharing is done with confidentiality, so people feel comfortable in faith-sharing.”

Many people are shy about talking about faith in normal circumstances, but the ARISE program encourages people to take an active role, Doherty said,

“At the end of each session, we look at our activities for the week and how we can share with the bigger world the call to be disciples. This is a pretty active community, where people are willing to share and if you ask anybody for help, they’re there,” she said.

Information on the ARISE program and the groups that are forming at Immaculate Conception Parish will be available after the 4 p.m. Mass on Saturday and the 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon Masses on Sunday, said Bill Gunville, ARISE coordinator.

We’ll have people there who know quite a bit about the program and can explain what the groups are about,” he said. ”People can sign up for a group at that time or take the material home and decide over the next couple of weeks what it means to them.”

Some of the dozen or more groups forming may be of special interest to high school teens, young adults, single parents, people with economic or work concerns, Gunville said, but others are more general and all are open to anyone who wishes to join.

We want to bring people closer to Our Lord, both those that attend Mass and those we haven’t seen for a while,” he said. “They can expect to be part of a group that is going to enliven their lives and enliven the lives of their friends and neighbors and families.”

Gunville said the ARISE program has already brought together members of the parish who were strangers, but who have bonded together during their training as team leaders.

“Everyone is so enthused. We’ve all grown together, and I know that attitude will work into all of the groups,” he said.

The parish-centered ARISE program was developed for the Boston archdiocese by Renew International, a private organization based in New Jersey that provides spiritual training support to more than 150 dioceses in the U.S. and 23 countries around the world.

For more information on “ARISE Together in Christ,” contact Eileen Doherty at St. Albert the Great, 781-337-8778; Mary Ellen Cassani at St. Jerome, 781-335-2038; Bill Gunville at Immaculate Conception, 781-337-0380; or visit the website at www.renewintl.org.

Click to learn more about ARISE Together in Christ.

About RENEW International RENEW International is a canonically-recognized Catholic organization based in Plainfield, NJ, in the Archdiocese of Newark. RENEW International fosters spiritual renewal in the Catholic tradition by empowering individuals and communities to encounter God in everyday life, deepen and share faith, and connect faith with action. Since 1980 RENEW International has revitalized parish life in over 150 dioceses in the United States, touching the lives of 25 million people through its renewal processes. RENEW International also reaches many thousands outside the United States, having served people in 23 countries, across six continents and in 44 languages.