By Jay Nies
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
Those words from Pope Francis have been resonating through Church of the Magdalen parish in Wichita, Kansas, since Bishop-elect W. Shawn McKnight became pastor there two years ago.
They are from “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), a document Pope Francis released a few months after ascending to the papacy.
Bishop-elect McKnight, who will become the Jefferson City diocese’s new bishop on Feb. 6, has taken “The Joy of the Gospel” to heart.
“I think one of the things that is really important to our Fr. Shawn — your new bishop — is the whole ‘Joy of the Gospel’ and the call to reach out to people on the margins,” said Church of the Magdalen parishioner Kit Lambertz.
She is chairwoman of the parish’s Charity Board, which Bishop-elect McKnight established shortly after arriving there.
In “The Joy of the Gospel,” the Pope insists that the Church must constantly reorient its work toward outreach and evangelization.
Pope Francis calls for the Church to be in a permanent state of mission, leaving comfortable enclosure behind in order to connect with people who have not yet heard or responded to the Gospel — especially those who are poor, vulnerable or otherwise on the margins.
“You’re going to find that your new bishop has a big heart for that,” said Ms. Lambertz. “He loves Pope Francis and his style of ministry.”
Patrick Hanrahan, chairman of Church of the Magdalen parish’s finance council, said Bishop-elect McKnight consistently emphasizes the essential role of stewardship in evangelization.
“It’s natural for him to always be thinking of ways to move the Church beyond the walls of our building and out into the community,” said Mr. Hanrahan, president and chief executive officer of United Way of the Plains, which serves the Wichita area.
Bishop-elect McKnight created the Charity Board as a way to promote, coordinate and keep the pastor apprised of the parish’s charitable outreach and that of several organizations affiliated with it, including the St. Vincent de Paul society.
St. Vincent de Paul involves Catholic laypeople praying for, getting to know and helping people in need in the local community.
Bishop-elect McKnight called on parishioner Chad Beard to be the Charity Board’s first chairman.
Mr. Beard noted that the board releases a report every February to let parishioners know how their gifts of time and money to the parish, the Knights of Columbus, the Altar Society and the St. Vincent de Paul Society were used the previous year.
“People respond to that kind of transparency,” he said. “It makes people want to get involved, and it helps them realize how much good they’re doing.”
Ms. Lambertz is executive director of StepStone, a ministry that offers transitional and supportive services to women who are survivors of domestic abuse, and Sisters of St. Joseph Dear Neighbor Ministries to people in need. Both organizations were founded by and operate as sister organizations of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Adorers of the Blood of Christ.
She noted that because there are always more needs than available funds, the Charity Board models good stewardship by working to make the best use of limited resources.
She said the emphasis is always on people’s relationship with God.
Mr. Beard said Bishop-elect McKnight “is always reminding us that any services we’re providing are done through Jesus, and that’s what we’re here for.”
All of this helps individuals and families grow in faith.
“I know I’ve grown in my own spirituality, and I definitely feel like my wife and I have become closer by becoming involved in these things at church together,” said Mr. Beard, a sergeant in the Wichita Police Department.
“It definitely helps to have your kids see you get involved at church and in the community,” he added.
Mr. Hanrahan called the Charity Board a shining example of how Bishop-elect McKnight combines his backgrounds in theology and administration.
“From the theology side, he saw a better way for the Church, the parish, to be doing things in Jesus’ name to help people in the community,” he said. “On the management side, he envisioned a more deliberate, efficient, structured way for us to oversee the outflow of resources.”
Mr. Hanrahan said Bishop-elect McKnight sets a good example by being thorough, deliberative and decisive and by bringing humility, energy and a tremendous work ethic to his ministry.
“When he talks to you, you know he’s listening to you,” said Mr. Hanrahan. “He may have things on his mind, but he gives people that individual attention, and they feel it.”
He often says that he can get through making difficult decisions because he’s doing it for the good of God’s people.
“And here’s something else you always want in your bishop,” said Mr. Hanrahan. “As a good shepherd, he’s true to the teachings and canons of the Church.”
Mr. Beard pointed out that the bishop-elect is also a passionate storyteller, which helps make his homilies interesting and understandable.
“He’s going to ask for people’s input and help, and he’ll want an honest response,” Mr. Beard added. “So don’t be afraid to make a suggestion.”
“Who we ought to be”
“You’re getting a terrific individual, a real jewel,” said Mr. Hanrahan.
He urged the people of this diocese to pray for the new bishop, specifically for the wisdom, strength and holiness he will need to make whatever decisions are necessary.
In “Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis writes about unleashing the explosive energy of Jesus’ teaching, restoring Catholic energy and confidence, and building up Christ’s kingdom in the here and now.
Ms. Lambertz said Bishop-elect McKnight’s enthusiasm for that message is contagious.
“He’s keenly aware of Church history and how things came to be the way they are,” she said. “But he’s also very much in sync with who we ought to be today.
“He’s very pastoral, very caring, and very, very, very smart,” she added.
Ms. Lambertz was initially upset upon finding out that her pastor was being sent away to be a bishop.
“But then I saw how excited he was and the love he already had for the people of Jefferson City in the way he spoke and in his eyes,” she said. “He’s very excited, so we’re sending him off with our prayers and best wishes for him and for all of you.”
She asks for one thing in return.
“Take good care of him,” she said, “and know that he will take very good care of you.”
Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) can be found online at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html