Amidst the church closings and painful fallout from Called to be Church, many Catholics in the Albany Diocese may feel confused about their future with the Church. Based on the aftermath of consolidations elsewhere, up to 10 percent could stop practicing their faith.

To keep or bring them back, diocesan officials and parish leaders have launched a new initiative to spread the faith. While the immediate aim is to soothe the disaffected, the broader goal is to replenish the Church. 

"Our whole effort at evangelization has to be at the core of our faith and future," said Bishop Howard J. Hubbard. "We don't exist for ourselves; we exist to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. There are many non-practicing Catholics and unchurched people in our secularized society, and we must reach out to them." 

To do so, Bishop Hubbard has established an Evangelization Task Force which recently convened.

"The point of the task force is to try to reach out to those who will be affected," he said.
The panel will concentrate on three topics: technology, best practices and diocesan themes.

Tuning in 
When speaking of the technology aspect, Bishop Hubbard pointed out that "it's all about meeting the needs of young adults. And when I say young adults, I'm speaking of anybody ages 19 through 40."

He stressed the importance of keeping up with the times and instituting new technology to help bring improvements to the Church.

He also stressed the importance of making everybody feel comfortable, bringing up the goal of finding the best practices, and finding an identity that would bring everyone together.

"This plan will be rolled out through time," Bishop Hubbard warned. "We're going to try for sooner than later."

Jeanne Schrempf, director of the diocesan Office of Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life, was named to chair the task force. To her, the group will give people hope.

"It's like when you plant bulbs and seeds," she explained. "You have to wait, but eventually something new and beautiful comes out."

She noted that, though things may be looking gloomy now, it will get better.

"We're all going through what we call a 'pastoral ministry;' a death and resurrection," she said. 

"This certainly is going to affect everybody. There will be a time of loss and grieving. But we believe that Easter will come. We think the Diocese of Albany is going to become a new creation and people are going to learn to be Church in new ways."

She hopes the task force can contribute to that.

"This initiative will allow people to be part of the Church in a new way," Mrs. Schrempf continued. "They'll be proud of their faith, proud to be Catholic, and want to spread their faith."

Refilling the pews
Evangelization could also solidify and expand the ranks of the faithful in order to avoid another round of consolidations in the future.

Mrs. Schrempf expressed hope that the committee will help those who are hurt as well as those who have been, or may become, inactive and bring people back to the Church. 

"It's going to be an exciting new time in the Albany Diocese," she said.
Bishop Hubbard also stressed that they will need help from the parishioners themselves. After acknowledging the discomfort some Catholics may feel about evangelizing others, he offered some initial steps.

"We need people to feel comfortable telling their neighbors or family members, 'This is a meaningful part of my life.' Or telling a co-worker, 'My child is being baptized this weekend - would you like to come and share that with us?'" 

Though the group had only just begun to meet, they seem confident that things will get better and they will do their best to be a part of it.

(Editor Christopher D. Ringwald contributed to this story.)