Men’s faith groups are growing at local parishes
By Pat Shea
Sun associate editor
If it’s around 8 a.m. on a Saturday, participants in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s men’s group in Baldwinsville can count on two things: praying together and an impromptu appearance of Devlin, a rambunctious and hungry Irish Setter owned by Father John S. Finnegan. When Devlin appears, he not only indicates to the men it’s time to find Devlin a breakfast snack, but also that it’s time to come together in faith.
“Our group has been meeting a little over three years,” explained facilitator Gary Stelter. “There had been another prayer group of men from other parishes that previously gathered, but this group began after several of us attended IGNITE, the Catholic men’s conference. That year, IGNITE fell right in the middle of Lent. When we returned from the conference we felt we didn’t want to lose the momentum of what just happened and figured it was a great time to start our own group. We’ve been meeting ever since,” added Stelter.
The weekly men’s prayer group follows a general format. They begin with breakfast, get caught up on each other’s lives and then begin with an opening prayer. The readings for Sunday are shared and discussed and then the men are given reflection questions that come from the National Fellowship of Christian Men.
“Once we finish with the readings and reflection, there is generally a pause,” stated Stetler. “A word, phrase or thought may have been stirred up for someone which then leads to an open discussion within the group. The discussion is followed up by prayer intercessions and discussions of personal challenges our members might be facing.”
Although Stelter has been a part of the group since it’s inception and emails the members the information on the readings for each week, he is quick to point out that he is not the leader: the leadership comes from within the group.
“Leadership comes from all of us, we share it, “ explained Stetler. “We keep a casual format and a casual atmosphere, but there is real spirituality always being shared. The group essentially runs itself.”
Men’s groups growing
Men’s fellowship groups are growing within the Syracuse Diocese. Since the inception of the IGNITE Catholic men’s conference in 2008, more parishes are creating prayer groups and fellowship groups for men.
Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Utica has had a men’s group since the 1970s, but the group in itself has changed through the years, especially since members have participated in IGNITE.
“There is a greater sense of camaraderie now in our men’s fellowship group,” stated Larry Hagan, a facilitator for Our Lady of Lourdes men’s group. “We pray together, but we also do works of charity. We have dues but they go to helping the church in some way. We hold monthly meetings, serve meals at Hope House for the poor, host Superbowl parties that raise money for the church, clean the pews and even host 50/50 raffles. All the money we raise goes to help the parish. We always try to give back,” explained Hagan.
At St. Augustine Church in Baldwinsville, Neil LaBrake greets the 20 men who are waiting to begin their weekly prayer time together.
“We all enjoy getting together and a lot of great friendships have formed,” stated LaBrake. “You can’t help but form a bond with each other.”
During the meeting, LaBrake explained, the members review the upcoming Gospel readings, pray together and discuss a weekly spirituality topic
“After the meeting men may stay to talk and share ideas or others go to the labryrinth we have on site to meditate on anything that might be on their mind. The point is they have a place to share their concerns and deepen their faith,” explained LaBrake.
Unlike a few other men’s groups that meet weekly, the St. Augustine group meets the first Saturday of the month from October through June. “Our parish has seen a lot of transition. We want new guys to feel comfortable to attend and share and learn from everyone’s experiences.”
Although the purpose of the men’s prayer groups is to deepen each man’s person relationship with God, often personal concerns weighing on a participant’s mind may take center stage during a prayer meeting.
“Everything that goes on in our group stays within our group,” explains LaBrake. “We keep everything confidential so that our members feel our group is a safe place to share what is going on in their lives and how it is affecting their faith.”