Ss. Peter & Paul parish in Boonville is in the middle of a substantial reconstruction project.
It has nothing to do with bricks and mortar, only the spiritual foundations.
“We’re looking at radically transforming the parish,” said Father William Peckman, pastor of the Boonville parish and of St. Joseph parish in Fayette. “We’re looking far into the future, starting with a fundamental shift in how we view ourselves and our mission.”
With help from people in the diocesan Chancery office, Ss. Peter & Paul parish is placing renewed emphasis on stewardship, spiritual apprenticeship, and the courage to try new things.
Ss. Peter & Paul is one of six parishes in the diocese that are taking part in the Catholic Coaching Cohort, with guidance from the diocesan Office of Youth Ministry and Religious Education, and the Wisconsin-based Parish Success Group.
Their five-year mission is to break away from a maintenance mindset and turn more fully toward discipleship and evangelization.
“We’re going to be trying a lot of new things,” said Fr. Peckman. “Some of them will work, some of them will not. But we will not be afraid to fail.”
Parish leaders started the process about a year ago by thoroughly inventorying the parish’s structures and procedures that are aimed at connecting with families and helping them raise children who love and serve the Lord.
Parish leaders been taking an objective look at who is being ministered to, who is missing out, which of these efforts are effective and which are not.
“We’re focusing on becoming much more responsive and responsible to all of our parishioners and to the larger community, as well,” said Fr. Peckman.
This has caused them to an across-the-board reassessment of their approach to preparing people for all the sacraments.
“We’re moving toward spiritual mentorship and apprenticeship, rather than just classes and programs and the like,” said Fr. Peckman.
Theresa Krebs has been serving as director of religious education and youth ministry at the Boonville parish for about two years.
With the rest of the diocese, Ss. Peter & Paul is in the process of moving the age for the sacrament of confirmation from juniors and seniors in high school to seventh grade.
Bishop McKnight will confirm about 42 candidates in November. Next year’s class, which will be open to anyone in high school who has not already been confirmed, will be even larger.
“We have some terrific youth leaders and a great confirmation team,” said Mrs. Krebs. “We’re blessed to have these adults who are really great mentors to the young people.”
Beginning next year, the parish will do away with the service-hour requirement for confirmation preparation.
Instead, the candidates will choose from a handful of parish groups and organizations to become connected with.
“All of those groups have several adults involved who will mentor them and help them get a feel for that particular aspect of parish life,” said Fr. Peckman.
In addition, Mrs. Krebs teaches to all grades in Ss. Peter & Paul School the Virtues and Practice curriculum developed by the Dominican Sisters of Nashville.
Each age-appropriate lesson highlights a trait related to one of the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), along with a saint, a prayer and a service opportunity.
Mrs. Krebs then mails a summary of each lesson to the children’s parents, so those lessons can be reinforced at home.
Students at every level of school are also learning about and praying for vocations.
“It’s very specific,” said Mrs. Krebs. “We’re praying that one girl in their class will discern to become a sister and one boy in their class will become a priest.”
John DeLaporte, diocesan director of Youth Ministry and Religious Education, helped her develop a Rite of Christian Initiation of Children (RCIC) program for children who have not yet received the sacraments of initiation or been instructed in the basics of the faith.
This year’s class of six children began the program earlier this month.
“It’s such a beautiful thing to be a part of walking with those kids and families through the whole school year until they join the Church or receive their First Communion and confirmation at the Easter Vigil,” said Mrs. Krebs.
Mentors and apprentices
Ss. Peter & Paul parish works to pair each couple seeking marriage in the Church with an already married couple to accompany them through the early part of their marriage and hopefully beyond the baptism of their children.
“We’re trying to cultivate those mentoring opportunities in the sacraments and throughout daily parish life,” said Mrs. Krebs. “It’s about people walking closely with other people like in the early days of Christianity.
“Our goal is to help them develop personal relationships in the faith and the Church and have them be there for each other as their kids grow,” she said.
Mrs. Krebs hopes that in addition to the grace that God imparts through the sacraments themselves, the preparation will help people and their families stay active in the parish and continue to grow in faith and knowledge of God.
“We want them to continue to read and attend retreats and other encounter opportunities that are available through the diocese, and really stay engaged in their faith,” she said.
Traditional boundaries among families of Ss. Peter & Paul School, the Parish School of Religion and those children who are homeschooled are fading away.
“We emphasize that we’re all families of the parish,” said Mrs. Krebs.
All eighth-grade and high-school teens are encouraged to join the Sunday youth group and take part in a slate of local and diocesan activities.
About 50 young people attended a youth rally the parish held one evening last month.
To help parents and other adults grow in discipleship, the parish recently started spirituality groups for men and women and a support group for cancer survivors and people who are being treated for cancer.
“Like Father tells us, these things require all of us to work together as a family so we can support each other in various ways,” said Mrs. Krebs.
She said the widely-accepted “industrial” model of promoting discipleship isn’t working very well.
“We need to get back to mentoring each another in our journey toward discipleship,” she said.
Back to stewardship
Ss. Peter & Paul School Principal Alan Lammers, who grew up in the Boonville parish, can feel the momentum.
“I can’t quantify it, but you can definitely feel it,” he said. “Because there’s concrete action that’s being taken.”
An important part of the process is to ask questions that make the whole parish uncomfortable — “things like, ‘Are we serving God’s people in the way God is calling us to serve them?’” he said.
He is convinced that the bishop’s message about stewardship has the potential to transform the diocese.
“Stewardship is not just about money!” Mr. Lammers insisted. “It’s about how you live your life.
“Once you realize that everything you are and everything you have is a gift from God, you don’t feel like holding onto it so tightly, because it’s not about you anymore,” he said.
“You give of your time, your energy and, yes, part of your treasure because you can’t help but not give.”
Cooperating with the Spirit
Ss. Peter & Paul has 673 registered families. The school has 182 students.
Deacon David Miller noted that the parish maintains a robust outreach to the larger community through the Boonville Ministerial Alliance and through ministry at the Boonville Correctional Center, a minimum-security state prison located within the parish boundary.
As coordinator for Ss. Peter & Paul’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program, Deacon Miller believes that outreach is helping people in the area who aren’t Catholic, want to be.
“They see people who are actually living out what they preach, and they want to be a part of it,” he said.
Deacon Miller and eight other volunteers lead anywhere from five and 10 people through the RCIA each year, culminating with the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil.
“We’re pleased to be cooperating with the Holy Spirit in that way,” he said.
Keys to conversion
Lifetime Boonville parishioner and current Ss. Peter & Paul parish pastoral council president Brian Lutz noted that helping a parish move from just surviving to thriving is hard work.
He has noticed the eagerness of many young people to serve as leaders and help move the parish forward.
He pointed to Bishop McKnight’s dictum that “what we invite inactive Catholics to return to should not be the same as what they left.”
Rather, said Mr. Lutz, “if you see people living as disciples of Jesus Christ, you’re going to want to be like them.”
He said it’s not about the quantity of converts but the quality.
“If the people who come into the Church here continue to grow in faith and want to be part of the life of the parish, then you have done your job,” he said.
While leading that group with his wife Trish, Mr. Lutz has noticed more young people attending the group’s events.
“They’re coming because they want to come and because their parents are helping them make it a priority,” he said.
He emphasized that while parishes that practice good stewardship often have the money they need, that will never be enough.
“It’s about the fellowship and community and being the best disciples of Jesus Christ we can possibly be,” he said. “You can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have community, you’re not going to have anything.”
From the beginning
Mr. Lammers reiterated that decisions must continue to be made “not on our terms but on the terms under which Christ would have us live our lives.”
“It’s not about us,” he said. “It’s about how we point to Christ and how we point to God.”
The key, said Mrs. Krebs, to be ever-watchful for God’s inspiration.
“It’s not so much what I do but what the Holy Spirit does through me, through us, how we help people find what they need through the Church, what they’re looking for, what they’re yearning for,” she said.