Jen Brown’s work as coordinator of evangelization and discipleship for Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Lansing is her true calling. She finds joy helping parishioners discover how to use their talents to love Christ and share Jesus’ love with everyone every day.
“I never dreamed a job like this would be possible,” Jen says. “When I saw the job information, I thought, this is the job of my life.”
Pope Francis’ encouragement of evangelization is helping to make it a more active part of parish ministry. “Evangelization is now at the doorstep of parishes,” says Jen. “I think, ‘Wow, that’s extraordinary.’ I think God’s calling me to this ministry. Every other job I have had has led up to this one.”
Jen’s passion for Christ is the center of her strong faith, and is a perfect fit for her evangelization role within Immaculate Heart of Mary, the parish of her youth. Guided through childhood by parents dedicated to discipleship, Jen has grown into an adult Catholic excited about the love Christ has for her and for all his disciples.
“Why wouldn’t people want to be loved by Christ? It’s the best thing ever.” Jen says. “We have to share the truth with people. Only Christ can really love us.”
Jen spends her days working to challenge and guide parishioners to a deeper relationship with Christ. Her goal is to have members of her parish family understand why we are Catholic, and share their joy and knowledge with others.
“I believe one of my charisms is that of evangelization, where I am able to introduce people to the person of Jesus Christ. And if I ever get worried about it, I know the Holy Spirit will give me the courage and words I need,” says Jen. “There is an intentionality to discipleship. People have to be formed in how to fully live the life of Christ. It is far more than just going to Mass or saying a rosary. Discipleship is a lifestyle, for many a new and intentional lifestyle. For me, discipleship occurred from habits ingrained by my parents that ordered my thinking and behavior. It has led me toward a full life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, guided by the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
Much of Jen’s job involves asking questions and listening for answers as a way to guide people. Questions are a perfect way to determine where people are in their faith journey. Jen says, “We need to ask, ‘Are we being in the heart of Christ?’”
She also listens to and answers questions about the Church and Christ that are asked of her. “The journey has to start somewhere,” says Jen. “We need to allow people to have those questions. How do we help people go further in their faith life, see different things in their sacramental life, and find a different prayer life?”
She works with people to show them how to reach out and draw others into Christ by sharing their own faith. “We discuss practical ways to start a dialogue, how to bring the Gospel into a situation, and how to tap into the Holy Spirit,” Jen says. “You don’t have to be afraid, because people are hungry for the love of Christ.”
People who determine how the Holy Spirit is calling them find evangelization much easier. Everyone has a charism, and that gift from the Holy Spirit is how God speaks to others.
“What can I offer you to help you with your faith?” Jen asks parishioners. Some are excited by the question while others are more hesitant, not ready to go deeper in their faith
“We have people on all parts of the spectrum,” says Jen. “It can be very challenging for people.”
Sometimes Jen has the answers for people, and other times she has to find a different method or person to reach an individual.
“It challenges me a great deal because I have to look at the Lord and say, ‘It’s working for me but I can’t get it across to this person,’” Jen says. “I am nothing without the Lord. I can’t be all things to all people. This is how the power of the Holy Spirit works. The Holy Spirit knows their needs and can help me when I seek his wisdom.”
Jen’s main message is that going through the motions of faith will not be enough to feel the joy and peace Christ has to offer. The key is to understand the magnitude of God’s gift of Christ, and then to allow a relationship with the Holy Trinity to help all of us celebrate the best moments in life and sustain us through the hard times.
“There is nothing you have experienced that he can’t relate to. If we let ourselves be loved by the Lord we can be transformed,” says Jen. “You don’t have to do it on your own. There is actually a person in God that actually walks with us. Do not let fear keep you from the love of Christ. The rewards are wonderful. Just be open. Just say yes, because there is nothing to fear.”
Jen works with parishioners in different ways. Some come to her on their own. She also meets with leaders of the sacramental programs in the parish. “I encourage them to have threshold conversations with participants to find out where individuals and families are in their faith so we can find the best way to bring Christ into their lives or help with the formation of their Christian lives,” Jen says.
Threshold discussions start with questions to create understanding, both for the parish staff and the parishioners. “We ask, ‘What are you doing to bring Christ to the world?” Threshold conversations give a good sense of where someone is spiritually,” says Jen.
Guiding parishioners through the process of evangelization is a focus of the entire parish staff. This sense of community is part of the blessing for Jen in her ministry, and IHM pastor, Father John Byers, sets a perfect tone. “Each time I walk out of his office after a meeting, I think ‘That was a Holy Spirit moment,’” Jen says. “To have him for a boss is just great.”
For Jen, Catholicism offers the only true opportunity to develop a complete relationship with God in his three parts. “Our Church is ever-ancient and ever-new,” she says. “It’s all part of our Catholic heritage. We can have all these good things in our lives. I just love that we have a Church that is a vehicle for our love of Christ. I am grateful to the Lord that he put me where he put me.”
By Mary Kay McPartlin | Photography by Tom Gennara