Seeking to RENEW the spirit

October 02, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Betsey Swancar, a 14-year member at St. Louis Parish in Clarksville, is getting her knuckles ready for some serious door-knocking.

As head of the Sunday Liturgy Committee at the 139-year-old parish, she is trying to unify parishioners and renew their spirit as part of the RENEW Program, which 162 parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore will launch today.

The program, which will run for more than two years, is designed to give parishioners a chance to develop closer relationships with Christ. Eight Roman Catholic parishes in Howard County will also participate.

The program's goal is to get parishioners to pray more, find new parish leaders, bring inactive parishioners back to the church and help strengthen the community.

"What we're trying to do is knock on people's doors and hope they open and once they do, the Holy Spirit will take over," said Mrs. Swancar, a Dunloggin resident.

Her liturgy committee, one of 11 RENEW committees at the parish, has worked to make the liturgy more poignant and current for parishioners who cannot participate in other RENEW activities but can attend Mass on Sunday, she said.

Using Mass readings, her committee has written a booklet on the five seasons of the RENEW program and the liturgy's history to make it more understandable.

"I don't know if every person knows why we do what we do," she said. "We Catholics have a real rich . . . tradition." Her committee has also made altar cloths and vestments for the RENEW program.

"It's all an effort to make the liturgy come alive," said Sister Louann Sciubba, who is helping coordinate the program at the 3,300-member Clarksville parish.

"It's really been an exciting process," said Geralyn Magan, co-coordinator for the RENEW program. "We've been at this since January."

The RENEW program is divided into five six-week sessions offered in the fall and during Lent. The project's dates coincided with the Pope's planned visit to Baltimore, which has been postponed.

RENEW emphasizes the Sunday liturgy and take-home materials for small and large faith groups.

The program originated in New Jersey 15 years ago when two priests noticed dwindling membership in their parishes and designed RENEW to increase its numbers, Sister Louann said.

The Plainfield, N.J.-based International Office of RENEW sends parishes information packages on how to implement the program.

The Clarksville parish has made buttons and banners for the RENEW program, including one that proclaims: "The Lord loves us so much he created us."

Mrs. Swancar said she has seen "the spirit moving" in the parish because people who normally don't communicate are working together.

When the small faith sharing groups meet weekly, they will follow a booklet and apply what they've learned to their lives.

The Bible and people go together, Sister Louann said.

"It's not Scripture over here and my life over here," she said.

Programs for youths and divorced parishioners will be offered, as well as one called RENEW-To-Go, where church volunteers visit house-bound and older parishioners, Sister Louann said. "We're going to take the new spirit to people who cannot come to Mass," she said.

Mrs. Magan said the project tries to bring the church alive so that it doesn't become a place people just go to Sundays.

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