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Symposium marks the start of RENEW’s next 40 years


The keystone of our yearlong celebration of RENEW International’s 40th anniversary was the Monsignors Thomas Kleissler and Thomas Ivory Symposium on Parish Renewal held on Thursday, April 19 at Seton Hall University.
 
The symposium was named to honor the two dedicated priests who founded RENEW through a deep faith commitment, a willingness to take a risk, and holy innovation. We at RENEW are determined to continue their legacy of parish renewal and revitalization in today’s cultural context.
 
I was so moved when I entered the large conference room and saw it not only brimming with a variety of people—priests, deacons, pastoral staff and lay leaders—but also with energy and enthusiasm. It was so hopeful!
 
Chris Lowney, one of our speakers, talked about the grim facts of the decline of church membership, not to keep us stuck in the muck of despair, but to awaken us to reality so that we commit ourselves to change. The metaphor of the “burning platform” is often used in business to illustrate the commitment needed for organizational change. When we recognize that the “platform is burning” it can engender greater commitment to jump into change. Transforming and revitalizing our parishes becomes not a good thing to do but a matter critical to the faith of the next generation. We have no choice. The risk of maintaining the status quo is way too high—the irrelevancy of the Catholic parish in the United States.
 
The day began with prayer and song and then moved to the keynote by Bill Simon, author of Great Catholic Parishes, who set the framework for the day. He spoke of the four foundational practices for a thriving parish: great parishes share leadership, great parishes foster spirituality and plan for discipleship, great parishes excel on Sunday, and great parishes evangelize. Bill’s talk was followed by presentations by four panelists, each addressing one of the foundational practices.
 
Chris Lowney, author of Everyone Leads, called us to be leaders and innovators. I spoke on the power of small groups to deepen faith and discipleship. Fr. Bismark Chau, pastor of a multi-cultural parish in Newark, New Jersey, exhorted us to open the doors of the church and make Sundays a spirit-filled experience through relevant homilies, good music, and warm hospitality. Leisa Anslinger, director of Catholic Life and Faith, addressed how to intentionally evangelize young people, taking her cue from a study called Growing the Church Young, a study by the Fuller Youth Institute. Leisa explored two of the “six essential strategies” identified in the study: empathizing—that is, seeing the world from the viewpoint of young people, and making young people a top priority.
 
Throughout the day, the participants shared faith, hopes, ideas, and action plans to make their parishes great.
 
The day concluded with Evening Prayer. The Easter music lifted our spirits, and Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s homily inspired us to look to the future with faith and a renewed vision. In his homily, Cardinal Tobin connected his reflections on the Scripture to Fr. Tom Ivory and Fr. Tom Kleissler as leaders who were a step ahead. The cardinal presented each of them with two gifts. The first one was an apostolic blessing from Pope Francis; the second was a framed personal note from him—a note he signed, “your brother Joseph.” Cardinal Tobin is a giant of a man and to see him kneeling before Fr. Tom Kleissler, frail but still with a giant spirit, was an overwhelming moment for me.
 
Fr. Tom Kleissler often reminds me that while RENEW has had a great impact on the Church, what is important now is what great things RENEW can do to transform the Church for the future. So look ahead to the next new innovative parish resource RENEW is developing to reach out to young people, because we are moving Forward at Forty!
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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2 Responses to “Symposium marks the start of RENEW’s next 40 years”


 
  1. Matt Cinadr says:

    Tonight an old program/ bookmark form the RENEW Albany ,NY program ( Fall 1983 to Fall 1986 ) surfaced , I am so heartened to find this report and thanks to you all.
    I best wishes for the next 40 years
    Matt

  2. RENEW says:

    Thank you, Matt. Your diocese was among the early adopters of the original RENEW process as it spread beyond our home Archdiocese of Newark.

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