Jack Jezreel always wanted to be a farmer, but instead of getting into agriculture, he was sidetracked into parish social ministry.
Yet he approached this vocation with a farmer’s practicality.
"At the end of the day, all I want to know is how do I grow better broccoli?" Jezreel, founder of the national JustFaith program, said of his quest to improve and expand parish social ministries nationwide.
Drawing on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 1993 document "The Communities of Salt and Light" and his own experience, Jezreel outlined 10 hallmarks of parishes with flourishing social ministries during a Nov. 30 talk to parish representatives at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Pittsford and those watching a simulcast at St. Ann School in Hornell.
The talk was sponsored by diocesan Catholic Charities and St. Bernard’s. Additional speakers are scheduled to make presentations in the spring, including Michael Theisen, director of membership services for the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, and Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of Catholic Relief Services, said Marvin Mich, director of social policy and research for Catholic Family Center in Rochester.
Jezreel said conversion is a key element of thriving social ministries. He noted the conversion of St. Francis of Assisi is one example; the saint lived a life of privilege before he underwent a religious conversion that led him to give up his possessions and advocate for social justice.
Sometimes people need encouragement to get outside of their comfort zones in order to experience conversion, Jezreel said.
"Jesus saves his strongest words for people who were comfortable," he said. "Part of the prophetic tradition is trying to jar people out of the self-destructive comfortableness of their lives."
Prayer and spirituality are needed to prevent cynicism and despair among those who engage in social ministry, Jezreel said.
"You can’t go wide (in social ministry) if you can’t go deep (in prayer)," he said. He noted that was why the JustFaith program developed a companion program for spiritual exploration called Engaging Spirituality.
Catechesis should be steeped in Catholic social teaching, Jezreel said.
"It’s got to be laced with all sorts of opportunities to recognize the social implications of the Gospel," he said.
Parishes also must be committed to doing both charity and social justice, Jezreel said. He explained that charity is the immediate response to a problem.
"Justice takes a step back and says, 'What are the causes of the problems we are seeing, and can we do something about those?'" he said.
Additionally, active parish social-ministry committees tap the energy of parishioners with particular interests in causes and then help those parishioners bring their ideas to fruition, he said.
For instance, he suggested that parishes look among their parishioners for people with business acumen, including entrepreneurs and small business owners, to engage them in creating organizations that could tackle problems within the community.
That advice was welcomed by former public health and school nurse Anne Schottmiller of Mendon, who attends St. Catherine of Siena Parish.
"One thing we’ve got to do more of at our parish is to get our parish to analyze what things need to be done," she said.
Growth in parish social ministry also is planned at St. Theodore in Gates, said Father Steve Kraus, pastor.
"We are in the process of looking again at getting a social-ministry committee that will be encouraging others to carry on our social ministry," Father Kraus said.