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Opposite Attraction

If you are like me, you may be emotionally and spiritually exhausted from the animosity and polarization that exists in our society and Church today. I want to tell you the story of a time I went from prejudice to admiration – a time when the hospitality and giving of the other, not only changed me, but produced something innovative and Spirit-filled in the Church.

Facebook brought this to mind when it reminded me that my friend, Linda, was having a birthday. As I went to write a quick “happy birthday,” I found myself wanting to write much more. I met Linda back in 2012. Catholic entrepreneur Bill Simon and I had come together hoping to create something new in the Catholic world that would help parishes thrive. Bill was acquainted with the late and inspirational Bob Buford, who had done just that in the Protestant, mostly Evangelical, Christian world.

Over the previous ten years, Bob’s Leadership Network organization had developed a process that was gathering, forming, and activating Protestant/Evangelical pastors across the country.

Bob could see beyond his own back yard – he lived by the slogan “our fruit grows on other people’s trees.” Bob believed that the Leadership Network process could crossover and benefit Catholic pastors, and their staffs as well. It was Bob’s open-hearted attitude that brought the Catholic non-profit, Parish Catalyst, into being.

I was excited to learn everything I could from Leadership Network, but the idea of mixing Catholics and predominately Evangelical Christians sounded to me like mixing oil and water. I was biased against Evangelicals.

Moreover, not unlike priest groups I have experienced, I knew that Leadership Network had a very male energy. At that time the pastors that I met were all male, as were the Leadership Network facilitators - all except for Linda. When you are a woman alone among that many men, you feel awkward and out of place, despite their efforts to put you at ease. Linda was my touchstone. She made me feel like I belonged there.

The acceptance that I experienced from all at Leadership Network was genuine and generous. Everything that the staff and facilitators had worked for years of develop was freely shared with us. Everyone wanted to see the fruits of their labors growing on Catholic trees too.

I not only learned a process that now teaches Catholic pastors and their staffs to Think Creatively, Act Courageously, and Renew the Church, I saw how much Protestant/Evangelical Churches had to teach us Catholics about hospitality, community and discipleship.

When Bill and I were ready to launch our first Parish Catalyst gathering of Catholic pastors and staffs, four Leadership Network people flew from Dallas to Los Angeles to facilitate, support, and guide us through it – Linda among them. In subsequent years, Parish Catalyst was acquired by Renew International, but even today in its new iteration, Parish Catalyst is directed by John Poitevent - one of the most gifted facilitators I have ever known - who came to us through Leadership Network.

In scripture there is the recurring motif that God’s message often comes through the stranger, the foreigner, from the one who is different from us. God told Sarah and Abraham to set off for a land completely unknown to them. When we open ourselves to what is “other” and “different,” grace can break through, bringing with it fresh ideas and new growth. This notion does not square with many of our current assumptions about how God works, or how we learn. In today’s climate, learning from the “other side” can sound delusional.

The important take-away here is the warm reception and open giving that calmed my fears of being that Papist woman in the room.

It is a lesson that both our world and Church sorely need to hear. The Leadership Network people exemplified my favorite definition of hospitality – they treated me: Like I Belonged / Before I Belonged / Until I Belonged. Leadership Network facilitated a personal conversion in me…not to Protestant/Evangelicalism, but to a deeper dream for what is means to be Catholic.

If someone were to ask me today if I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior, I would say, “Yes, thanks for asking.” I may understand that a little differently than the person asking does, but I now admire his or her Christian fervor. How many Catholics are that willing to share their faith?

We Catholics have been lulled into quiet complacency over the years. When we hear the word “disciples,” we think of the first twelve apostles – not ourselves. It has been sixty years since Vatican II and many of us still consider the Mass a private experience as opposed to a community together in worship. I’m lucky to be in a parish with good preaching…many aren’t. There’s so much we could be learning from other faith expressions. Truth has more nooks and crannies than we give it credit.

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