Diocese of Iowa’s ‘58,000 cups of coffee’ initiative fuels synod conversations

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DAVENPORT, Iowa (CNS) — An idea began to sprout in Patrick Schmadeke’s head as he listened to an interview with Missionary Sister Xaviere Nathalie Becquart about the Synod of Bishops in 2023 and the process leading up to it.

“Synodalism begins with coffee,” said the French nun, who is undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops.

“It just felt right to me. I jotted it down on my notebook,” said Schmadeke, evangelism director for the Diocese of Davenport. “Conversations over coffee are places where humble listening to the experience of church people can take place.”

Meanwhile, he and members of the Diocesan Evangelism Commission were trying to figure out how to reach the disaffiliated.

“They don’t just show up to church for an event and are unlikely to show up for a formal listening session,” he said. “Most if not all of us have friends and family who are disaffiliated. So how do you leverage people’s personal connections? »

Then Schmadeke began to smell of coffee. The diocese had just compiled its 2021 diocesan Mass attendance count, which stood at 19,399, or about 60% of the pre-pandemic tally. If each of those 19,399 Massgoers had a conversation with three different people, that would total about 58,000 cups of coffee!

So put the coffee maker. The Synod’s 58,000 Cups of Coffee One-on-One Conversations initiative began in the Diocese of Davenport.

“It’s a smart way for Catholics in the diocese to engage others on the topic of the Catholic faith,” Davenport Bishop Thomas R. Zinkula said. “A lot of people don’t know how to broach the subject; they don’t know what to say; they think they don’t know enough about faith; they will not have answers to the questions.

“The synod and this initiative give them an excuse, an opportunity, to tell others about the faith, and all they have to do is listen.”

Here’s how it works:

Mass spectators are invited to have a synodal conversation with three different people: someone already on the pews; someone who was on the benches but hasn’t been there since the pandemic; and someone who has never been part of a religious community or who has long ceased to practice.

The conversation focuses on the essential question of the Synod in the Diocese of Davenport: In your personal experience, what fills your heart and what breaks your heart about the Catholic Church (for example, in your parish and beyond your parish)?

“It’s about listening to the experience of your interlocutor. It’s not about debating or listening to respond, it’s about deep, in-depth listening to understand,” Schmadeke told the Catholic Messenger, Davenport’s diocesan newspaper. “We want to learn from their experience.”

No one is limited to three conversations. “Have coffee with as many people as you can! This is an opportunity to generate enthusiasm for the faith in our communities,” Schmadeke said. The diocese provides a form on its website – davenportdiocese.org – for the person who initiated the conversation to share their thoughts on the experience.

Deacon candidate Ryan Burchett, who serves on the Evangelism Commission, reached out to a Catholic friend who has been away from church for some time.

“It led to a really interesting conversation for us,” Burchett said. “He told me where he was and I told him where I was. We both left the conversation in tears. It was heartfelt and meaningful.

“So rarely these days do we have the opportunity to be heard without being subjected to guidance, judgment, counterpoint,” Burchett said. “It was time to stop and listen.”

He admitted to feeling a bit anxious about inviting his friend to talk about his faith. “I felt like I was rolling the dice a bit.” The question, “What fills your heart and what breaks your heart,” goes beyond superficial stuff. It cuts to the heart. My advice: don’t be afraid to go there and give it a try.

Burchett is grateful to have done so.

Responses submitted on the diocesan website were equally compelling. “People bare their hearts,” Schmadeke said. “People need space and conversations to allow these things to come to the surface.” Among the comments:

– “This man is my son, and although he deeply appreciates the life of faith that we gave him growing up, and is always attracted to rituals, the church has disappointed him deeply.”

— “She craves spiritual fulfillment and connection to the community. She has been a faithful Catholic but considers that faith should be actions for the larger good (rather than) than rote Mass attendance faith. I felt his pain and his search.

The 58,000 cups of coffee initiative is one of two parts of the Diocesan Synod process. The other strand focuses on organized listening sessions that leverage Church structures, such as parishes, schools, and other diocesan entities to connect to the greater community.

Responses from the listening sessions and conversations will provide content for a 10-page summary that the diocese will submit to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB will synthesize summaries from around the country to send to the Vatican for the World Synod of Bishops which will meet in 2023.

The ideas collected in the diocese will also be “very useful in our efforts to evangelize the people of our diocese,” Bishop Zinkula said.

“I hope that once they get a taste of this, people will be more inclined to continue having one-on-one conversations about the Catholic faith with others,” he said. “Hopefully it will become more natural and normal.”

Keep the coffee maker on.

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Arland-Fye is editor of The Catholic Messenger, the newspaper of the Diocese of Davenport.

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