With Marvin and Sandy on board, parishioners can take advantage of opportunities to get involved and become a “medic”
By Sara Francis
Picture St. Michael Catholic Community as a field hospital and its parishioners as medics on the frontlines, ministering to the spiritually-wounded in need of love and mercy.
Pope Francis laid out this vision for the universal Church and it’s Fr. John Nemanic’s hope that the parish can realize this vision at the local level.
St. Michael’s has created two new positions to help with just that. Sandy Leia takes the helm as Director of Evangelization and Adult Faith Formation, and Marvin Matthews is the new Volunteer Coordinator.
While Leia is a familiar face, having attended St. Michael’s for 18 years, Matthews brings in a fresh perspective from the outside.
Originally from Montreal, Matthews moved to Calgary in 1998. He’s previously worked for CP Rail most of his career and attends St. Peter’s Parish. His experience both in the corporate world and at St. Peter’s gives Matthews a fresh perspective in his work with St. Michael’s.
“The people here have been doing things a certain way and it’s worked. But there is a need to look at things from a different angle. Me, coming in here and not knowing anybody, I’ve brought a different way of looking at things. Most of these ministries run really well. It’s just interesting for me to see this and add a different perspective,” said Matthews.
Matthews was hired to assist parish ministry leaders in skill development, offer assistance in managing their respective teams, and determine whether there is room for further growth within the volunteer base.
Matthews has met with each of the ministry leaders to learn about their work and, as a result, he’s written short online features detailing the roughly 40 ministries in hopes of adding to the 500 or so volunteers. He’s also undertaken a fact-finding mission with some leaders of other Christian denominations. He’s discovered everyone faces a similar challenge: how to engage volunteers.
“The main thing is people need to understand their level of engagement can always be more. It has to be more than just coming into the building; you need to be an active parishioner, not a passive parishioner,” said Matthews.
Much of his focus in the next few months will be spent on conducting a member engagement survey to gauge the level of participation among parishioners.
“The hope is that the results will allow us to gain some insights as to what the parishioners are thinking and how it can lead to greater involvement in the parish. Ideally, it would also help us understand how, as a parish, we can move forward.”
Some of Matthews’ goals include promoting volunteer opportunities, hosting volunteer appreciation events and developing a succession plan for ministry leaders.
“The leaders here are incredibly passionate and dedicated. The level of commitment is huge here,” said Matthews.
“The benefit is you have people with a lot of knowledge and recognizable faces. Some people have been doing it for 15 to 25 years. But you’ve got to have some people coming up to take over. There has got to be continual growth, a turnover, new blood and new ideas.”
Leia’s Evangelization and Adult Faith Formation portfolio coincides with the volunteer ministry work in the parish to engage parishioners. The overall goal is to continue to be a welcoming community that people can plug in to, grow and ultimately be sent out and share the faith with others.
“The first thing I like to say to people when they come is ‘welcome to St. Michael, we want you to see this as your home.’ And whether you are already Catholic or not, if you want to be part of a community, you already are part of the community,” said Leia.
No matter where people are in their faith — from Christmas and Easter Catholics to regular Sunday parishioners — Leia is strengthening programming and outreach to meet people where they are at. In fact, the list of events and programs for people of all ages and levels of faith is exhaustive.
There’s a Biblical Walk Through the Mass series, Alpha, That Man is You for men, a study by Far. Michael Gaitley for women, and Kids’ Kingdom for children. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) is now open for any parishioner to audit and learn about the faith. Leia is leading a faith study by Catholic Christian Outreach with the Moms and Tots group, to name a few.
Some new initiatives she’s implementing are Mass Buddies: pairing newcomers and regulars to sit together during Mass and a New Parishioners’ Welcome Reception for newcomers to meet and learn more about the parish after Mass. Leia recently welcomed three new families after Mass: one from Nigeria, a 95-year-old woman from Edmonton, and a family from Ontario.
“When we were done, they were hugging each other like they had made new friends in an hour.”
While the vision for St. Michael’s as a field hospital engaged in the New Evangelization has taken shape for the next three to five years, Leia said in light of the parish’ 60th anniversary next year, the visioning will need to extend to the next 60 years.