Deacon challenges parish reps to transform the culture at presentations in Parsons and Wichita

Deacon Keith Strohm speaks to about 140 representatives from 23 parishes Sunday, Feb. 10, at Blessed Sacrament School in Wichita. He spoke the day before at St. Patrick Parish in Parsons. He is a permanent deacon from the Archdiocese of Chicago. (Courtesy photo)

Deacon Keith Strohm challenged representatives of 28 parishes of the Diocese of Wichita to transform the culture – the culture within the parish and the culture of the community.

Deacon Keith talked about Creating a Culture of Discipleship on Saturday, Feb. 9, at St. Patrick Parish in Parsons, and Sunday, Feb. 10, at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Wichita. Nearly 200 attended. They represented 28 parishes.

Deacon Strohm is a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Chicago and a former director of its Office for the New Evangelization.

Shared reflections

Audrey Ronnfeldt, the diocesan director of the Stewardship Office, shared some reflections from the deacon’s presentations.

“He spoke about the five paradigm shifts necessary for parish renewal,” she said. “From Institutional Faith to intentional faith, Engagement to Encounter, Maintenance to Mission, Programs to People and, From Avoidance to Accountability.”

After discussing the results of the “cultural snapshot inventories” submitted by the participating pastors and leadership teams, she said, Strohm talked about the parish culture that he defined as what we tolerate, allow, celebrate, reward, and punish.

“If you want to find out what your parish cultural values are, break them,” he said.

Look below water level

Strohm used an iceberg as a metaphor for a parish.

“We talk a lot about the iceberg’s top and we make changes to the things we can see,” Strohm said. “There are different programs and different items that we might look to change. But what we’re really not dealing with is a lack of discipleship, which is the part of the iceberg below water level.”

The deacon explained that some parishes work hard to get their people involved in parish activities – and that there is nothing wrong with that. “But it’s possible to spend energy engaging people and converting them to the community and not necessarily to Jesus.”

The question that should be considered, he said, is how do we bring more people to Jesus? “We have to change from relying on a program to accompanying people.”

Programs aren’t necessarily bad, Deacon Strohm said, but the expectation of the results must be considered.

Strong relationship with Jesus needed

“We each have a personal responsibility that our relationship with our Lord has to be strong in order to be equipped to share it with someone else,” she said.

Often the church acts like widows and not brides, the deacon said. “Meaning that Jesus died but do we act as if he is living today?” Ronnfeldt said. “Deacon Strohm said we are Easter people and need to act as if Jesus is alive. How are we doing that?”

One way is through the support and partnership offered by diocesan offices, she said. Several diocesan offices were represented. Taking part in both day’s events were the Director of Leadership in Missionary Discipleship Ryan Purcell, Director of Human Resources Therese Seiler, the director of the Office of Faith Formation Anthony Keiter, the director of Hispanic Ministries Mrs. Danny Krug, the director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life Jake Samour, and the director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice Bonnie Toombs.

Lending a hand to parishes

The events were scheduled to support the parishes of the diocese, Ronnfeldt said.

“It was something to serve and support our parishes,” she said. “But the idea is not that we have done this one thing, but how do we each continue to serve and support our parishes.
She said the Holy Spirit is alive in every age.

Quoting from the book From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, she said: ‘The Holy Spirit’s at work in every age, ours included. Our task is to understand the age we’ve been given to trace out how the Holy Spirit is working in it and to seize the adventure of cooperating with him. And may we be given the wisdom and courage to rise to the challenge of the New Apostolic age that is coming upon us and prove faithful stewards. In our generation of the saving message and liberating life given us by Jesus Christ.’”

Ronnefeldt said she was grateful to all those who attended and helped make the events possible.