BY ANGELA CAVE"Be who you are and be that perfectly well": St. Francis de Sales' popular motto was the charge of the keynote address at the Autumn Diocesan Gathering - the new name for the annual Parish Convening - held last weekend at Christian Brothers Academy in Albany.
Brother Mickey O'Neill McGrath, OSF, a nationally-known artist and author, inspired the crowd of 400 parish leaders to embrace their callings and find God in the small details of everyday life.
His popular sacred art, infused with humor and thoughtfulness to mimic modern life, features scenes like young Jesus riding in his dad's carpentry truck as Mary watches from a window; Mary and Martha cooking for their boys; and young Jesus clutching a soccer ball.
Brother McGrath's artwork also includes portraits of each post-Vatican II pontiff, woven with key messages from the respective pope's encyclicals or other writings. Pope John Paul I's quote reads, "We are the children of hope; we are the amazement of God."
That quote was theme of the gathering and permeated the workshops that followed the keynote.
Participants at the gathering seemed eager to adopt "Amazing God," the three-year evangelization and spiritual renewal process now underway in the Albany Diocese. "Best practice" ideas for Amazing God filled easel pages at two workshops.
Participants at those workshops called out ways that God reveals His love to them: the Eucharist, nature, crisis, forgiveness, priests, books, education. They brainstormed ways to enhance these in communities: Scripture study groups, prayer chains and groups, caregiver support groups.
Knock on doors and ask neighbors for prayer requests, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard suggested.
Link prayer chains to the other churches or houses of worship in the community, participants offered; they also suggested holding ecumenical Thanksgiving services or meals.
At Christ Our Light parish in Loudonville, perpetual adoration of the Eucharist is open to the larger community. Another parish in the Diocese asks families to create their own logos to wear at events and retreats to promote getting to know each other.
At Holy Spirit parish in East Greenbush, a hike and accompanying meal attracts about 30 people twice a year, said Eva Pearce, a music minister there.
She was inspired by the variety of ages at a recent outing and the way the participants helped each other over roots and other obstacles in the woods.
"Don't wait for the Diocese to tell you what to do," said Jeanne Pitkin, one of the presenters at the gathering and an Amazing God committee member. "Initiate it yourself. Take charge."
"Make a world that looks like it's been blessed by Christ," echoed presenter Rev. Robert Longobucco. "We need to be responsible for our faces, for our sense of enthusiasm."
An Amazing God website, as well as a DVD retreat, will be ready next month for use by parishes. The new logo features a ray of light being scooped up by two hands.
The Diocese plans to incorporate the logo into banners, pins and bumper stickers and market them to other dioceses. Teens may even receive t-shirts reading "Amazing G" after completing service projects.
One workshop attendant had a better idea: "tattoos!"