Knocking on heaven's door
Ken Livengood fell head over heels in love when he was in high school. His sweetheart, Myrna, was a Catholic. He, on the other hand, was raised with no religion.
To impress his girlfriend, he started attending Mass with her and her family, and eventually entered the Church. The two later got married outside of the Church.
But Livengood, who spoke to more than 100 people attending a workshop on door-to-door evangelization July 26 at the Cardinal Rigali Center, said that once he became a member of the Church, "I was done." Several years into their marriage, they received some unexpected visitors. Two religious sisters were going door to door in the area, with an invitation to become involved in the Church.
Livengood said he regrets the sisters "never saw the chain of events that followed." He was so moved by the visit that he returned to the Sacrament of Confession, the couple had their marriage blessed and the children were baptized. The Livengoods now attend Holy Trinity Parish in St. Ann.
"They planted the seed and others watered it," he said.
Today, Livengood is involved with door-to-door evangelization efforts at his parish. The following are points of advice from Livengood, adapted from a handout given to those who attended the July 26 workshop. The workshop was sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Laity and Family Life.
• Get support: It's critical to have the approval of your pastor. His prayers and support will be essential for a successful outcome. He also may have some ideas on how the program can best work in your parish.
• Volunteers: Looking for people to help? You may already have volunteers in your parish who are going door-to-door. Organizations such as the Legion of Mary and the St. Vincent de Paul Society have members who make frequent home visits. Other good examples to recruit members include the Knights of Columbus, a good source for volunteers who promote the faith, and a teen or youth ministry, a source of young Catholics who are "fired up about their faith," said Livengood. It's also recommended to work in teams of two or three. This is not only for safety reasons, but also, while one person is talking, the other can pray silently to Our Lady and the Holy Spirit to bless the visit. At the next house, switch roles.
• Get the lay of the land: Before setting out, check with your pastor to obtain a map of the parish boundaries. This will come in handy in planning where to visit. A suggestion might be to cover all of the east to west routes first and then focus on north to south routes.
• Handouts: Think about what kind of handouts you want to provide to those with whom you meet. A good example is a simple postcard, with the parish address, website and general information on one side, and an invitation from the pastor on the other side. The idea is to put something in the hands of those you meet, which will remind them of your church.
• Prayer: No one will be able to reach others' hearts unless we reach out to God in prayer. It's important to pray before going out on a mission that the Holy Spirit will bless you and the people you will meet. When returning, be sure to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the opportunity to serve God and His people. "Without prayer, you might as well stay home," said Livengood. "God has called every one of us to share His Gospel. He will never leave you unequipped." It's also recommended to ask each person you meet if they are in need of prayer. If they answer, "yes,", then offer to pray for them.
• Invitation, Not Confrontation: When speaking to people, ask if they have a church that they attend. Many people you will meet might be unchurched, or perhaps were attending a church but aren't going anywhere right now. This is a great opportunity to extend an invitation. An invitation should be personal and share the impact your faith has had on you and your family.
Those who are of different faiths who are attending different churches might be happy and are not looking to go elsewhere. Express gratitude to God they are actively seeking Him and offer an invitation to visit your parish. Let them know they are always welcome and remember to ask if they are in need of prayer. Keep the message positive and rely upon God's charity.
• Answer questions: Sometimes people will have questions about the Catholic Church. It's always good to answer honest questions and have productive discussions about faith. If you don't have an answer for a question, be honest and let them know you will find out and let them know. Remember that arguing about religion never ends well. If someone has a negative reaction upon hearing you are Catholic, politely wish them well and move on to the next home.
• Following up: Most people do not want us knocking on their doors week in and week out. If you're working your way systematically through out parish boundaries, then it might be a long time before you're in the neighborhood again. However, if you do sense that someone is open to coming to your church, then ask if it is OK to visit them again sometime in the future. It's also good to let parishioners know that a door-to-door evangelization mission is occurring. This is a good opportunity to remind them if they see someone new to greet them.
• Overcoming nervousness: One of the biggest obstacles to going door-to-door is being nervous about sharing our faith with strangers. Suggestions for overcoming this include role-playing, limiting your time out to no more than an hour or so ("I don't want anyone to get burned out," said Livengood.), share stories of previous positive meetings, and remind people to relax and just be themselves. It's good to remember that the majority of people we meet who may not be interested in talking with us will politely say so.
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