I am a woman of faith and a member at Byron’s St. Anne’s Parish. In 2008, while working as a trainer for Cisco, I embarked on a three-year certificate program at the School for Pastoral Ministry (SPM) that offered cradle Catholics like me the introduction to the history and teachings of our faith that converts normally receive through new-member orientation classes, plus preparing us to serve as lay ministers.
One SPM course assignment was to interview my pastor, Fr. Ron Schmit, about his vision of Parish ministry. I learned that Fr. Schmit, who has been at St. Anne’s for nearly two decades, views his priestly role as encouraging parish members to engage in their faith while reaching out to the world. His goal for the ministry is to preserve a vital sense of community while preparing for dramatic growth.
The two of us began working together to create an effective program to reach his two goals. For his part, Fr. Schmit engaged in planning sessions with members of the clergy from local parishes. They were working out strategies and procedures for effectively serving people on a personal level and motivating them for change.
For my part, I brought more than two decades of training and professional experience in accomplishing in the corporate world nearly identical goals to what Fr. Schmit aimed to encourage in his faith community. I was greatly assisted by research being carried out by Dr. Al Winseman, the Gallup organization’s Senior Learning and Development Consultant. Dr. Winesman, who was responsible for much of Gallup’s research into change management and executive leadership, was now focusing on transferring to faith communities those elements that he learned would promote or obstruct employee engagement in the corporate world.
Fr. Schmit and I used Dr. Winesman’s book, called Growing an Engaged Church with the intriguing subtitle How to Stop “Doing Church.” The book offers research-based and practical solutions to reverse the decades-long trend of declining church attendance. We used a Gallup instrument called Member Engagement Survey (ME-25) to measure levels of parishioner engagement through responses to 12 items. We then offered a Gallup “StrengthsFinder” assessment helping them identify what they enjoy doing the most and what they do best. The assessment compiled 34 themes into a priority list and then focused attention on the top five. The resulting self-discovery would then hopefully motivate them to search for ways to channel their passions and gifts into avenues of service to the world around them and to our faith community in particular.
The two exercises were designed to be the first steps in what would become a genuine Life Journey. We approached parishioners from a human development rather than a church growth perspective. We confronted them with the truth that, while each of them possesses unique inner strengths, these often go unrecognized. We appealed to their self-interest by telling them: “Ignoring the potential that’s within you can make your life more difficult and tiresome than it needs to be.”
We focused on the challenge of taking what parishioners were learning about themselves and applying it to the real world through a 5-D Process — Discover, Discern, Dream, Design, and Do — that could move from self-discovery into actually changing attitudes and behaviors.
Dr. Wiseman agrees with Thoreau’s observation about most men living “lives of quiet desperation.”
“Most people do not live their lives with intentionality; they float through life, drifting aimlessly — or as is often the case, buffeted by the storms of life and tossed about on the restless and unrelenting sea.”
From the beginning, we were gratified as our respondents began to develop a sense of purpose and to feel that there were things to be done. Another wonderful outcome was the diminishing importance of the distinction between secular and religious. People began to experience a “deeper calling” — a sense of meaning and purpose that they had missed in their previous relatively humdrum and unfocused lives. They began searching for ways to apply their personal discoveries to their homes and workplaces as well as in their parish and community. Many of them began to reach the genuine core of religious experience in a growing sense that they were doing God’s work in every part of life, including their job or business.
The truth is, as one guru pointed out, “Work is worthwhile only if it touches lives.” Laurence Olivier expanded that idea in a wonderful way when he wrote:
“I think a poet is a workman. I think Shakespeare was a workman. And God’s a workman. I don’t think there’s anything better than a workman.”
As the people began to focus on using their gifts and passions in serving others, their work touched other people’s lives, even if only indirectly through the power of their example.
And, of course, they are having a wonderful and positive impact on the quality of worship and service at St. Anne’s.
This was not a one-shot program; we are still moving forward in helping people engage in ministry and life through discovering what they like to do and what they are good at. In an effort to propel the movement into the future and to share our incredible journey with others, I put my research and findings into a book titled The Gifted Journey with the subtitle “Five Transformative Steps to Uncovering Your Unique Path.” It is essentially a workbook, guiding the reader through the five steps with a set of assignments and activities.
THE MINOR MIRACLE THAT MADE MY LIFE
I was born and raised in Northern California and graduated from Antioch High. I did well in my studies — in part because of the influence of an amazing English teacher. He saw something in me, I guess, and spent time coaching and encouraging me to excel. The teacher organized small study groups in which peer interactions created genuine synergisms encouraging each of us to perform at the top of our academic game. The wonderful experience actually foreshadowed my current work, which is conducted in large part by sharing information and learning in small group settings.
Following high school graduation in 1979, I became the first person in my family to attend college. It almost didn’t happen. Not only was there no incentive at home to consider higher education, during my senior year I got a good job running credit reports at a financial institution. I had my own office, making good money, and felt that I was lucky not to be waiting tables or working as a grocery clerk. I imagined that I had a nice position that most people would qualify for only after wasting four years and thousands of dollars on schooling.
My life turned an important corner when the school’s guidance counselor, Linda Jackson, announced one day that with my grades and my family’s financial situation, she would get me a full ride scholarship to any school I wanted to attend.
My response was succinct and to the point. “Nope!” I told her “I’m fine!”
A hymnwriter named William Cowper told us, “God moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.” It may be true because He seemed to perform a small and mysterious “wonder” on my behalf while I was filling my car at a gas station. Next to me I saw a VW Bus loaded with young people and their luggage. I realized that they were students heading for college. In that instant I experienced a mysterious and profound surmise that I should be going to college too. I somehow knew that I would spend the rest of my life regretting it if I passed up the opportunity that Mrs. Jackson was holding out to me.
I ended up with a BS degree in Psychology from Moraga’s St. Mary’s College. It was years before I realized what an amazing gift that scholarship was. Besides the valuable learning that took place, a college degree is like a union card; it opens doors that would be shut to a high school graduate.
So now I am an executive with a rich résumé of accomplishments in the corporate world and have my own successful company, called “The Moore Group Inc.” I’m conducting seminars, workshops, and small group encounters that focus on developing skills for leadership and for individual employees. I’m showing ways for employers to motivate employees and helping workers to manage their careers by engaging fully in the company mission.
And, of course, I’m working with Fr. Schmit in applying all that experience to motivating the members of our faith community towards the same goals.
My heart overflows with gratitude whenever I recall that none of this would ever have happened, and I might still be running credit reports for some financial institution if it weren’t for the persistence of that guidance counselor and the magical moment when I looked past a row of gas pumps, saw those young people in that VW Bus heading for college, and changed the course of my life for good and forever.