HUNTERSVILLE — St. Mark Church now has more than 5,500 registered families, making it the second-largest parish in the Diocese of Charlotte after St. Matthew.
Father John T. Putnam, pastor of the Huntersville parish, knew that many parishioners could feel overwhelmed by so many people. So he asked the parish’s stewardship committee to look for a program designed to make them feel more a part of the parish family. The result was “SmallGroups.”
“The mission of SmallGroups is to connect people and create friendships within our large church while growing in faith together,” said Beth Zuhosky, the parish’s stewardship director. “It is for every member of our church and community to grow in an intimate relationship with God through prayer, hospitality, formation and service.”
Similar to the “Why Catholic” program held at the church 10 years ago, SmallGroups seeks to help parishioners connect with others and grow closer to God. It includes various groups so members can feel a common bond with other members of their individual group along with sharing the Catholic faith.
For instance, there are groups for empty nesters, couples, singles, singles with children, first-time parents, interfaith marriages, all men, all women. Or people can choose a co-ed group of various ages or a specific age group. There is even a group for high schoolers.
Laura Hogan is chairwoman and one of the leaders of the steering committee for the program. “I was the chair of the Adult Education Commission at St. Mark when the pastor asked me to implement the ‘Why Catholic’ program,” she said. “I love helping people go deeper into their Catholic faith! Fast forward 10 years and I was the chair of the Education Commission again and heard that our Stewardship Commission was looking to start SmallGroups at our parish. I immediately felt drawn to it again. I prayed about it for a little while and then I asked our director of stewardship if I could step down from the Education Commission and instead lead the SmallGroups movement. Now it is eight months later, and registration for our first study just closed with more than 560 in 53 small groups.”
“It’s a huge movement,” Hogan said. “Many parishes have small groups but call it different things and run them completely different. Ours is unique to us.”
While the format for each group can be tailored, typically a group of up to 12 people gather in a parishioner’s home. They meet for eight weeks, usually in the spring and again in the fall, to do engaging studies together. St. Mark’s first session focuses on prayer using a program called “Oremus, a Catholic Prayer Study.” Members watch a video and then discuss questions.
Between studies they gather once each month to perform service together, socialize or participate in events going on at St. Mark or at other local parishes such as lectures, religious movies and prayer services.
The current program began the week of Feb. 26.
— Diana Patulak Ross, Correspondent