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The Parish as ‘House of Formation’√≥Discerning The Gifts of the Laity

BY Jim Cosgrove

November 3-9, 1996 Issue | Posted 11/3/96 at 2:00 AM

 

SHERRY WEDDELL has lived a life as varied as the spiritual variety that characterizes the American religious scene. Since“going forward”to make a commitment to Jesus Christ at age nine, she has been steadily guided bytheHolySpirit;comingfroma backgroundthatwasovertlyanti-Catholicintofullcommunionwith Rome; taking on the job of pastoral associate for lay formation at Blessed SacramentParishinSeattle, Wash.; and becoming Spiritual gifts program director for the Western Washington Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

“I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church in rural Mississippi thinking the local Catholic Church two doors down the street was sort of the ante-room of Hell,”she explains. In her teenage years, Weddell left her Fundamentalistroots,spentseveral years as a non-Christian, returned to Christian belief (under the influence of thewritingsofEvangelicalFrancis Schaeffer), explored various Christian traditions and became a Quaker. Next, sheobtainedadegreeinMiddle Eastern studies at the University of Washington, went to a Quaker seminary and transferred to Fuller Theological Seminary, an Evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., to pursue her interest in mission to the Islamic world. Eventually she ended up in a community of Welsh non-Conformists whoranan Anglicanmissionin Ramallah, on the West Bank.

She found herself becoming increasingly open to“classical Christianity” whichclimaxedina transformative experience in 1985 that“opened the whole sacramental realm to me and made sacraments a necessity.”Quakers, however, have no sacraments, so Weddell began to look more deeply into the Catholic faith and was finallyreceivedintotheChurchin December 1987.

LikemanyothernewCatholics from a Protestant background, Weddellbroughtthefire,zealand savvy of her Evangelical training with her and committed herself to renewing orthodoxbeliefandpracticeinthe American Catholic Church. She returned to school and received her masters in Adult Education at Seattle University in 1993, did an internship with the Western Washington Catholic Charismatic Renewal office and becameactiveinfacilitatingparish renewal programs in the Archdiocese of Seattle. Eventually, her supervisor asked her to create a program to help people discover and discern their spiritual gifts or charisms. Out of this was born the Spiritual Gifts Discernment Program,aprogram Weddellnow offers internationally and which has helpedhundredsofCatholics,both Religiousandlay,todiscerntheir charisms.

According to Vatican II's Lumen Gentium, says Weddell, charisms are given not just to a spiritual elite of the saints,butto “thefaithfulofevery rank.““'Charism,’”she says,“is simply a Greek word for‘gift of grace’“ThepurposeoftheSpiritualGifts Discernment Program is to help the ordinarypersondiscernhisorher charisms and to discover a particular vocation.“A vocation is a work of love to which we are called by God,”says Weddell—and this doesn't only mean a vocation to the Religious or priestly life.

“We all have a call,”she says.“We all have a vocation. We all have a missionasbaptizedChristiansandthe charisms are tools that we are given to help carry this mission out.“

Weddell'sprogramconsistsofa six-hour introductory seminar that presents Church teachings with regard to charisms, alongside a hands-on practicalapproachtothediscernment process.

The success of the program promptedFatherMichaelSweeney, pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish, to invite Weddell to join him as a co-presenterataconferencelastyearon evangelization and the role of the laity, which was sponsored by the Western Dominican Province. At that conference, Weddell articulated a vision of the parish as a“house of formation”for lay people.“The parish is to be a house of formation for the laity, just as a seminary is to be a house of formationforReligiousandclergy,” she says.

Such formation is crucial, she adds, since it is increasingly the task of the laity to, in line with Vatican II,“evangelize, sanctify and renew the temporal order.”Weddell argues that much of the confusion in the Church in the United States stems from a kind of clericalism leading some to think discipleshipmeanslargely “helpingat Mass,” andotherstocomplainthat“priests have all the power”and that thosewhocannotbeordainedare barred from exercising power.

What's needed, insists Weddell, is a healthy understanding of Vatican II's take on the role and authority of the layperson. “Inthelayarena—the evangelization, sanctification and ordering of the world in the light of the Gospel—wearecollaboratorsand equals with the ordained clergy, not competitors or delegates,”she says.“The Council teaches that this task and theauthoritytoperformitderives from our baptism into the prophetic, priestly and kingly office—which is the inheritance of all the baptized.“

This year Weddell was hired as the pastoral associate for lay formation to help create the institutional structures at the parish level for making the local community a“house of formation.”Meanwhile, Weddell stays busy offering the Spiritual gifts discernment program to other parishes and dioceses around the country.

Forfurtherinformationcallthe Western Washington Catholic CharismaticRenewalofficeat(206)364-2272.

Mark Shea is based in Mountlake Terrace, Wash.