There are 51 million people living in rural communities throughout the United States. Slightly more than one-third of parishes are located in rural or “non-metropolitan” areas as designated by the U.S. Census. Many priests in rural communities are now ministering to two to four parishes, driving long distances to provide the sacraments to the faithful.
At the same time, there are many young couples with families who are rediscovering the value of raising a family in a rural setting. Unfortunately, there are very few programs in the Church today focused on revitalizing the faith of rural Catholics and equipping them with leadership skills to lead small group discussions in the Church’s teaching for the purpose of entering into a deeper relationship with Christ and His Church.
CRL is developing a pilot-program that equips and develops Catholic lay leaders in rural communities who are able to lead small groups through the Holy Scriptures, Papal Encyclicals and the Catechism. The goal of this program is to revitalize the faith of Catholics in rural America in the spirit of the New Evangelization and Blessed John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People (Christifideles Laici), which highlights the role and calling of the laity in the Church. The outcome of this program will be more Catholic lay leaders in rural communities able to lead small groups through Catholic social teaching, putting their faith in action through service, and transforming their communities.
Following the input and advice from rural priests, bishops, adult faith formation directors and seminarians, CRL initiated the program in the Diocese of Winona in 2011 with approximately 22 participants in the program over the course of nine months. “The program certainly supported what I was trying to do in the parishes in terms of adult faith formation,” said Fr. Timothy Hall, pastor of the St. Adrian parish cluster in Adrian, Minn. “The program bridges the gap between Scriptures and the Church’s teachings. I wouldn’t change a thing in terms of content.”
CRL is expanding the program into the Dioceses of Sioux Falls (SD) and New Ulm (MN) over 2012-2013. Each pilot site will be composed of two to four parishes. We will expand the dioceses and the states as the program receives the required financial support. Both the bishop and the pastor must endorse the program. For the program to be of greatest service to the local pastor, it must be led by well-formed and catechized lay leaders.
For more information about bringing this program to your diocese and parish, please email Jim Ennis.
Components of the program:
1. Work with the local priests to recruit leaders from each pilot site to participate in the leadership training sessions.
2. Conduct initial leadership training retreat for all of the leaders to renew, deepen, and revitalize their faith and learn how to facilitate a study and discussion of the program materials.
3. Small group leaders recruit participants from church to meet regularly to pray, discuss/work through a prescribed set of materials, and share “best practices” for practically applying faith to everyday life.
4. Periodic small group leader training meetings led by CRL.
5. Periodic site visits from CRL to assess progress and get feedback from leaders.
People love being members of the Catholic Rural Life community.