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The Pastor's Role in the local Via de Cristo/Cursillo movement

Rev. Al Sager

The topic of this second workshop "The Pastor's Role in the local Via de Cristo/Cursillo movement and How to Encourage the Benefits of Pastoral Involvement." (dual foci) I have in my hand a pamphlet produced by the National Episcopal Cursillo the title of which is "Role of Clergy in the Cursillo movement". A quote from the first paragraph - "For years, Cursillo was often described as a lay movement - but from the beginning Cursillo was understood as a movement of the church involving all the orders of ministry and equipping ministries - lay and ordained - to be apostles of Jesus Christ. Despite this fact, however, very little in the official literature of the movement described the role of the clergy in overall design. In view of the mistaken notion that Cursillo is a lay movement, and to make up for the lack of guidance for the ordained in the official literature, this booklet will attempt to discuss the principles and practicalities of the clergy role in Cursillo."

A little editing on that second paragraph: "In view of the mistaken notion that Via de Cristo is a lay movement, and to make up for the lack of guidance for the ordained in our official awarenesses, this workshop will attempt to discuss the principles and practicalities of the clergy role in Via de Cristo."

We have three fellow clergy here to help do that. After we hear from them, we'll be inviting you, as before, to make your comments and to ask your questions. These three represent different regions of our country - Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina. We'll be hearing from the three in that order. Pastor Ron Walter - one of the pastors here at St. Paul Lutheran church in New Braunfels, then Nate Lundgren, Minneapolis, and finally Peter Setzer. I'll be introducing them, then they will have about twenty minutes and following them, then, as we pursue this topic: "The Pastor's Role in the local Via de Cristo/Cursillo Movement and How to Encourage the Benefits of Pastoral Involvement."



I welcome you to Texas, to New Braunfels, and to St. Paul Lutheran Church. I indeed pray that your days here will be very beneficial and a blessing. I'd like to just take a few moments to tell you a little bit about my background. My wife is an important part of my background of twenty-six years. Seven years ago, Jan and I attended a marriage encounter weekend in San Antonio. We had a good marriage, but we knew that there was always room for growth and for improvement. As we drove to San Antonio, we had no idea what we were getting into. Little did we know how intense that weekend would be. We did more honest sharing with each other in

2 1/2 days than we had for the previous twenty years of our marriage. We learned to communicate in new and exciting ways. That experience - that weekend - has helped me immensely in my pre-marital and marriage counseling in the parish.

Several years later, I heard about the possibility of attending another weekend where we could grow, but this time spiritually. We made the commitment to go, but because of some unforeseen complication, we were unable to attend the first Lutheran Cursillo in Texas. Several weeks later, I was lamenting to the local Episcopal priest about the fact that we had missed this opportunity to go away for a weekend of renewal. To my surprise, he asked, "Well, Ron, if I can arrange it, would you and Jan be willing to go to an Episcopal Cursillo weekend?"

Of course, my immediate reaction was, "Well, will they let Lutherans attend? If they will, we'll go." The Episcopalians in this area put on co-ed weekends, and it was a marvelous experience for Jan and me. We've been active workers and supporters in the Via de Cristo weekend here in Texas ever since. Since the second Texas Via de Cristo weekend, over 50 members of St. Paul have attended a Via de Cristo weekend. This has changed the lives of many people at St. Paul.

There are several reasons why I as a pastor feel that the Via de Cristo/Cursillo is a useful and needed tool for Christ in the Lutheran church. It's been my experience that the Lutheran Church has a real problem helping its members see their spiritual life as a faith journey which is always growing and becoming. We in the Lutheran church attempt to help our people see God's grace as love with no conditions - as a free gift - as something that can't be earned. We talk a lot about baptism and how God assures us personally that He accepts us as His own. We lift up Holy Communion as God's central act of grace. As an evangelical church we emphasize the need to witness to others about what God has done and is doing in the world through the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We make much to do about the fact that as we live out our lives our relationship to God must be intimately connected and intimately related with those around us.

Somehow this life of grace gets turned around, and the central focus of our faith becomes worship attendance on Sunday morning. Is it because for thirteen or fourteen years of our children's lives they are taught that Sunday school, vacation Bible school and confirmation are all the preparation that they need for their adult faith journey? Or is it because as adults we're told that a baptismal certificate in one hand and a confirmation certificate in the other hand is all that's necessary to face everything that life will bring? Or is it because our spiritual life is often encapsulated in a one hour worship service (of which most church congregations only require attendance once a year) during which we can commune and give and attend and then we will be active members of that congregation and the church?

Why is it so important to use other tools of Christ in the church? A recent survey indicates that by the year 2000 the ELCA and the Missouri Synod will have had a negative growth of 104,000 in America. Another indicated the Lutheran church and its members came in last among the major denominations in their knowledge of the Bible. When Martin Luther was alive, the institutional church of his day believed that it alone could dispense God's grace through an elaborate system of sacraments and penance and dispensations and indulgences. Nothing else was needed. Luther found no peace in such a humanly controlled system and neither should we. I firmly believe that for the Lutheran church to survive - no better yet to be renewed, and to grow and to fulfill its calling in Matthew 28 - it must find ways to help its members live in a personal growing relationship to their Savior Jesus Christ.

The Lord gives the Church a tool chest filled with many tools - many opportunities - many ways to help bring this about. Via de Cristo/Cursillo is only one tool for Christ. The Church should use and endorse all of the tools that are available and especially, if possible, this tool. Via de Cristo as a tool can help Lutherans recapture what it means to be a life-long active member of Christ's body, the Church - both on Sunday morning as well as the other six days of the week, not just as children, but as growing, maturing adults. It's always been interesting to me that the Lord Jesus spent the majority of His time preparing and teaching adults about the kingdom of God - never children. He only blessed them. In Sunday's gospel lesson, Mark recorded how Jesus took those who followed him to a remote hillside and fed them both physical and spiritual food. I believe that Via de Cristo/Cursillo models after the example set for us by the Lord. To my knowledge, Via de Cristo/Cursillo has never claimed that all one needs to do to nourish one's life in grace is to attend a weekend. If that were the case, it would fall in the same category as our Lutheran once-and-for-all confirmation instruction and our once-a-year communion and worship attendance.

During a weekend, attendees learn that although the seed of faith planted in baptism is complete and total, that seed must continue to grow and to become all that God programmed it to be throughout the life of every believer. Via de Cristo/Cursillo participants return to their congregations seeking to continue to know and to become more and more of what God wills for them. Those returning seek opportunities to grow in their piety through regular worship and communion, through personal and family prayer, through meditation - basic opportunities to better understand God's plan for them through reading and studying the Bible by themselves and with others. They look for ways to share Christ with the world, so that others might come to know and to love Him. Each is encouraged to share the good news of Jesus Christ with their family and with those in their social and professional environments. Everyone coming back from a weekend has these words on this banner ringing in their hearts, "Be a friend, Make a friend, Bring a friend to Christ." I can't think of a better evangelism program for the church. Via de Cristo/Cursillo is a tool for Christ which helps shy Lutherans witness to others about what God has done and what God continues to do through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the biggest deterrents to the use of this tool for Christ is not shyness, but fear and mistrust. I think most pastors still remember the less-than-positive effect the Charismatic movement had on the church. Many are suspicious that the Via de Cristo/Cursillo movement will produce the same results. Some are concerned that if their members come back changed, what will he or she do with them? Will they cause problems? Will they challenge what their congregation is or is not doing - that it's not spiritual enough? Some pastors are personally threatened by the prospect of attending a weekend - what if I go and I'm changed? Will my people think less of me - that I wasn't spiritual enough before? What will that say about my ordination - my sense of calling as their spiritual leader? Others may go reluctantly but only to check it out and see if it measures up against scripture and Lutheran doctrine - an attitude which makes it difficult for the Spirit to accomplish its task of making God's loving grace new and fresh in one's life.

Along with much prayer, pastors who have not attended need to be approached with TLC - tender, loving care. Any request to attend must be prefaced with information about the weekend which will demonstrate that its purpose is to enhance and not to distract from the congregation's mission. I suggest being open and honest as possible about all that takes place during the weekend. I would much rather a pastor be less surprised by the events of that weekend, than to not attend at all. Letters of testimony from peers as well as a list of those clergy who have attended might be helpful. Offers to line up another pastor to supply preach during his or her attendance will eliminate a frequent reason for clergy from small congregations not attending.

Another reason for non-attendance is a practical one. Many clergy today are swamped and over-committed. Attending a weekend - participating in reunion groups, Ultreyas - having to recruit others in the congregation to attend - working weekends, etc., etc. - keep many from committing and taking on one more thing.

Why encourage pastors and parishioners to get involved in the Lutheran Via de Cristo/Cursillo? Well, the answer is found in the opening prayer that we just prayed just a few moments ago.

To fill ... to kindle ... and to renew.

The Holy Spirit, we pray, may fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in us the fire of His love - so that He might renew the face of the earth.

Thank you.


Thank you. This is a neat experience for me when I look at the opening lines of my talk and I thought Ron was going to steal my talk as he got into our fears because those from Minnesota - some of them who have been around awhile - can remember back to '84. The discussion earlier talked about the fact that "is it helpful to have one state together?" Well, Minnesota has just one state unit - secretariat or council - Even though we have three sections - North, South, and Metro-Minneapolis/St. Paul - it's spread out over quite an area and at the time that I was approached, I was serving a beautiful setting in Brainerd, Minnesota. If any of you have vacationed in Minnesota, Brainerd is sort of like Corinth - Sin City. It's kind of in the middle of the state and anyone going anywhere in Minnesota travels through Brainerd and brings their good stuff and drops off their garbage. It was a neat place to be but there wasn't Cursillo there. There wasn't Via de Cristo. I remember the day that I'm sitting in my office at the church minding my business and two very neat ladies stopped in. They were very friendly and they weren't push, but they wanted to look through our church because they said they wanted to use it for a Via de Cristo or Cursillo weekend. And I though immediately - I had had bad experiences with the Charismatics. I thought "uh-oh, they want to use our building now." I kind of cooled my heels and listened to them and let them walk through the church and they came back and they said "yep, we're right, this is the place we'd like to be." I thought they'd decide it was too small or inadequate. Then we talked some more and I kept raising my questions and they kept answering them very softly and very quietly until I really had no defense left. Finally, I agreed that I had nothing to lose by experiencing a weekend, and I had to experience it first. That impressed me! They wouldn't allow our people to go through until I had gone through. They invited me to go through. The problem was the next Via de Cristo weekend - the only one I could attend before they wanted to be there was 200 miles away. That doesn't seem very far to some of you, but there are a lot of closer ones around. That one happened to be the one that was open and besides that my wife couldn't go. But they couldn't meet in our church unless I went, and so they convinced me that I should go and it sounded reasonably good. It still had my suspicions and I said, "Now you know, that if I go down there and it turns out to be a Charismatic prayer meeting, I'll go right out the door and go home and won't say a word to anyone." I found out several years later, Ron, that that's why so many people so eagerly rushed up to me at the closing and said, "How was your weekend?" Because a few people on the team knew they had this renegade outspoken pastor there who was going to bolt. I was sponsored by the Episcopal rector in my town, and I said, "what a lousy sense of stewardship!" He was going to drive me 200 miles and drop me off and I said, "You've got better sense than that. I will drive myself." - which is worse. I had my car there. I could have bolted very easily. But the Spirit was at work and I went to that weekend.

I kind of said, look, you don't often get a chance to kick back and let other people worry and do things - do it. And so I did. That was my Cursillo weekend - a neat experience, 'though not unlike weekends at pastors' conferences where you talk about what all of this theology and faith mean, but this time it was lay people who were doing most of that talking. That impressed me. They talked joyfully of their faith and of the Christ whom they followed. I sensed the commitment in them. That was really special - a wholesome kind of grace-filled commitment that fit so well with the teachings of the Lutheran tradition. It was ironic that when I finished - that was when we closed later in the evening as some of you will remember in Minnesota and I drove home that night between 9 and 1 in the morning. I didn't even fall asleep. I was processing all kinds of things, and slept a few hours and got up and went off to Bible camp for a week. Otherwise, I don't know how I would have shared that with my wife who wasn't going to be able to go for another three or four months. But the kids at camp could sense a difference when I came. We talked about it through the week and I kept referring to this as one of the pastors on staff. I was sold on it, probably most of all by the comments of the lay people, the rector, who in one of his presentations toward the end said, "If this has been a good weekend for you, roll up your sleeves, go back home and become an assistant in your parish to your pastor." I thought, "this can't be all bad." I went back home and ... the one thing you lay people may not have discovered and I see it so often - maybe it's just among Swedes and Norwegians in Minnesota - a few Germans there, too. But pastors' wives - if the pastor gets excited about it pastors' wives are sometimes not too excited. Have you noticed that? Pastors' wives are expected to do all sorts of things because their husband is the pastor and I would guess pastors' spouses if the wife is the pastor get into that same role where you're just expected to do these things because your husband or your wife is doing them. My wife found lots of excuses not to go, until she finally did and had a good experience herself.

I come to Cursillo, and I talk to this event aware of that kind of history. Then I can address that question, "How do clergy fit in?" First of all, on the weekends. I agree with Ron that while we call it a lay movement, clergy are important, but I'm kind of glad, Ron, that we still call it a lay movement. If it should ever go awry, let them have the blame.

It's still basically a lay movement. Every weekend that I've worked, we've been maybe three clergy in a hundred and some lay-folk. They do most of the work. I remember John Preus, a good friend of mine who now is teaching in a seminary in Africa, who was at a church not far away, worked a weekend with me and I came late to the first team meeting. I remember sitting down by John and he said, "Nate, this is really wonderful. When things go wrong, they don't turn and look at the pastor to see what we should do next." I like that part of Cursillo - that we as clergy are not responsible for all that stuff.

Our job is to bring devotional thought to that weekend, challenging thought, to bring grace rollos, to share the sacrament with those who come, and to by our presence enflesh Christ to that event. Otherwise, stay out of the way and let it happen.

Clergy serve, it seems to me, as the theological conscience on the entire weekend. When I talk to pastors about why they should be involved, I say that's our primary purpose in being there. We can't always make all of the training sessions, and that concerns some of our people. As clergy, our schedules are kind of wild at times, but we make it a point to try and have at least one if not two of the three clergy at each training session because sometimes there are things that are said that will be misread by someone who hears them. In a very loving way that needs to be observed and a corrective offered. At the same time, we as clergy have the responsibility of keeping that event ... and I heard it said that maybe Minnesota is the only one that does this .. but we try to keep that event unapologetically Lutheran. On every weekend that I've been on we've had some non-Lutherans, Roman Catholics and others in attendance and they seem to fit right in, but we're unapologetically Lutheran, on those Lutheran weekends and I appreciate that. Maybe that's why my co-worker - we have two pastors that serve on our council - my co-worker, who is just starting this year, is a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor. It's going to be a little tough because he doesn't know all of those ELCA'ers out there and we don't have a coordinator for people to serve on weekends. That's part of our job on the Council. They are reasonably comfortable - many of them coming in and serving on Cursillo weekends because love and grace - God's unconditional love and grace are the backbone of what we're doing there. Clergy help enable a happy atmosphere - full of good fun and fellowship. That sounds strange for me to say about clergy, but it's got to be. Christians ought to be the happiest people around. We've got the good news! If our pastors are sticks-in-the-mud, the people are going to be little different. It's our job in addition to making sure that the message of the good news is shared, is to be good news and to laugh heartily and to share ourselves - clay feet and all. To try to be available as needed or requested by the leadership as well as weekenders for counseling or for reconciliation.

I see it as a job of the clergy further to affirm the value of lay leadership and witness - as opposed to theological nit-picking. There are times when some word needs to be offered because someone has gotten away from that grace theology. That can be done in a loving, caring sort of way. I also know that some of my colleagues engage in what I call theological nit-picking. That's not a place for it. One of the things I like about Cursillo is the emphasis on Christ as Lord and Savior and there have been people in our community who have tried to bring in the issues of abortion and other social issues and make them standards within the Cursillo community and haven't been able to do that. I'm grateful that they haven't. The clergy have a responsibility to see that the focus is where it ought to be. Finally, the clergy do not in any overt or covert way attempt to take over the weekend. So much for the weekend.

How do the clergy fit in - in general? I've heard it said several times here that clergy should serve at least one team per year. I think that's a good rule of thumb. I think we clergy need it. I've never come off any one of my weekends except inspired to go back. I think the people in the parish can feel that when you come back. Yet I've seen pastors who want to serve more than that and I think we run the risk of burning ourselves out, because it does demand a great deal of a clergy person in a parish to do the preparation - the 28 hours that we're involved in and the weekend itself. We run the risk then also of alienating our parish for taking away their clergy person too many times. That keeps us in touch with those who are a part of Cursillo and it invigorates us as clergy for our own parish ministry.

Secondly, clergy fit in by actively recruiting other pastors - to offer this renewal option or tool as Ron called it - important tool to their people. I hear it all the time from pastors. "Well, that sounds good, but I'm just too busy." I say, "friend that's why you need Cursillo." Go through and take a lay couple with you - which we require - and the laymen in your parish and women will take over the responsibility for evangelism, and you'll have time to do a whole lot of other things rather than being frustrated that evangelism isn't working. You have to keep prodding and keep reminding clergy people of that. I prefer strongly the requirement that we deal with, that a pastor must attend with or before the people that are a part of that parish. Otherwise, as I say, some of us tend to be nit-picky and many times our tendency to pick things apart because of a couple of small things that we don't like - that can be very tempered by a lay couple, for instance, who are there and come back with a real uplift in their spiritual life. We try to insist that someone beyond the pastor go. We had had to change our response to the pastor's wife or the pastor's spouse going, because there are just some situations where that church would be denied the option if it meant that that spouse of the pastor who really doesn't want to be there were forced to go before they could participate. We need to participate with our lay folks in renewal groups, in local Ultreyas. This kind of, for many of us, goes up and down. The Ultreyas sometimes aren't as regular in our own church groups as they ought to be, but we need to have those times where we get together with others. They don't necessarily become formal reunion groups. My weekly group that I'm part of happens to be a men's breakfast. About half of the group have been through Cursillo now - when we first started it, there were maybe only one or two of us. We included a lot of other men and we talk about the same issues that we do in Cursillo and a number of men have gotten excited about Cursillo because of what they hear in that group. We meet every Saturday morning for breakfast and that becomes our renewal group. We need as pastors to encourage Christians within the church to deepen their faith and commitment by experiencing such a weekend. -- The kind of weekend that we may experience and the kind of weekend that others also need to experience. Very importantly, also we need to discourage - discourage the temptation on the part of some of our lay members. It always pains me to see those who lift up Cursillo as the only true Christian experience. "If you haven't gone to a Cursillo weekend, you don't really know Christ." That's not right! That's not right! We as pastors hold a key to call that in to question as much as we support Cursillo, because it is simply an opportunity for those who have encountered Christ to grow in the depth of that encounter as they share a weekend. The rewards of being available to serve on weekends even to serve as I have had the chance on the local Cursillo Council or secretariat. These rewards are immense. They also give us the opportunity as clergy to relate to our synods. Last week I was at the Global Mission Event that was mentioned by one of our earlier speakers, Judy. I met Judy and her husband there. In that event in a number of ways the word about Cursillo was mentioned.

I probably engaged half a dozen to a dozen pastors in just a casual conversation, "Have you experienced Cursillo yet? You deserve that." That's another key phrase my Episcopal rector friend, when we used to go out and cut wood for burning in our homes together with my old pickup, used to say, "You deserve a Cursillo." He didn't say, "You need a Cursillo." I tried that with my brother, and he said, "I'm incomplete, am I?" No, my friend said, "you deserve a cursillo weekend." That puts it more appropriately.

In conclusion, I wish I had more time to devote to the Via de Cristo. I've spent the early summer part of my three weeks vacation building a retirement garage up in that vacation land near Brainerd. I like that area.

Around the year 200, I'm hoping to turn the church over to those full of vim and vinegar that are much younger than myself. I'd like to devote my time - full time - to visiting pastors and to being part of promoting the growth in faith that happens in Cursillo and other such renewal events, and yet as a pastor now I need to be careful not to overcommit in the parish to Cursillo in such a way that members get a bad taste for the movement.

We need to nurture and I need to do this - nurture, promote, and encourage this as a tool of the Holy Spirit. A friend of mine became assistant to the bishop in a synod up in eastern North Dakota area. This fellow was very straight - very reserved. He went through his Cursillo weekend, and I wasn't there, but at the Clausura he said (I am told), "I knew that the Holy Spirit had a plan for evangelizing the church and now I have found it."

That's the kind of word that people need to discover. The Holy Spirit has, within the Via de Cristo/Cursillo method, a way of enlivening the Spirits of God's people in our parishes. We can pray and tell the story of the way in which God's love has touched us in times of joy and in times of pain through Cursillo and elsewhere.

I was reminded by one of our delegation that I should share a story with you - which I usually do. Two of my favorite theologians are Lars and Ole. When Fred Arndt referred to lutefisk earlier, You know I think in Minnesota we could serve lutefisk on our weekends even though I don't enjoy the stuff. You know lutefisk and Cursillo/Via de Cristo have a lot in common. Lutefisk, you know - the piece of cod that passeth all understanding. Via de Cristo offers that peace of God that passes all understanding. These are very close. I commend you for your enthusiasm in being here and I pray God's blessing on your work and the clergy's work in Via de Cristo. Thank you.


Good afternoon. Nate was talking about cooling his heels when the two ladies were talking to him about using his church as a sight for a Via de Cristo. I think you all need to cool your rears. You want to stand up and get a little stretch? ...... Hearing the two pastors speak ahead of me, I find myself feeling very happy for the people and communities that benefit from their pastoral direction and inspiration. I want to warn you all about something. I hold the record in the Western North Carolina Lutheran Via de Cristo for preaching longer than any other pastor in the whole state - 2 hours and 47 minutes! This is what happened. We were holding a cursillo at a very rustic camp setting when a storm blew in. The hail peppered down on the roof of the little building. The windows were rattled. Lightning was flashing. Thunder was rolling, and suddenly lightning hit a huge oak tree right next to the front door. It crashed down. The lights went out. I couldn't see my notes. I couldn't see my watch. What do you do in a situation like that? We knew the troops would panic if we let them loose. They had nowhere to go in the storm, so I just kept preaching. When the storm stopped, so did I. Two hours and 47 minutes. Given no change in the weather, I will stick by my required time allotment, today.

We were given a number of questions to address. The first one's "why I attended a Via de Cristo/Cursillo weekend?" I would say three reasons: First, Paul Brashon, one of my members, a converted Catholic, saying to me one day, "Pastor, the most significant spiritual experience I've ever had in my life was at Catholic Cursillo, and if you ever get a chance to go to one, please do." That impressed me, because Paul Brushon was very introverted, scholarly thinker and it pleased me that this man was able to speak in terms of a powerful, emotional spiritual experience. Several years later, a young man moved to town, Don Leonard - one of these guys who has it all - handsome, bright, a very popular person, and had a wife just like him on the female side and three attractive young kids. They came to church one Sunday, and I visited in the home a day or two later and he said, "we'd like to join your church. We're Presbyterians, but we'd like to become Lutherans, because we've been working with the Lutheran Cursillo in North Carolina, and we are so impressed by the grace-centered theology of that weekend that we want to join a Lutheran church."

They had just moved in from Statesville, North Carolina. He said, "We also like your services. It seems like everyone there has been to Cursillo - even you."

Well, I wasn't sure what that meant, but it probably was better than saying, "You and your whole congregation need Cursillo!" That gave me a little more positive image of it.

Finally, John Coffey came to me a few months later and said, "Pastor, I'd like to go to Cursillo, but there's a policy that unless your pastor has gone, you can't go." Then I realized that I was holding some folks back from attending possibly a very beneficial spiritual experience, so I decided to go. It also had the practical advantage of being good stewardship, you know. Anytime a pastor spends three days doing something else you feel like there ought to be some spin-off benefit for the congregation, so I went, but rather skeptically. To tell the truth, this was about the time that Jim Jones had his mass suicide with Kool-aid, and there had been talk in that area of this being a cult kind of a movement. Frankly I'm one of those pastors that takes very seriously the shepherd role that one of the pastor's jobs is to defend the faith and to assist members in thinking rightly about the Christian doctrine. I went, wondering if these people were wolves in sheep's clothing and I recall being very pleased with the experience from the very beginning - impressed with the very carefully thought out method of moving people to an increasing openness about their personal lives and in using faith language comfortably.

It was at the Clausura, though, that I really came to the conclusion that I did. I stood up and told the folks that anything that would move Lutheran men to stand up in public and say what I had just heard them say about Jesus Christ was going to get my hearty endorsement. >From then on, that was my approach.

What are the personal benefits of Via de Cristo/Cursillo for me? One was the uplift of the prayers of the lay people. Pastors do a lot of praying, and praying for other people and with other people, but we don't hear other people praying for us much, so being in a reunion group and kneeling every week at the altar and hearing the fervent prayers of laymen in the church for me was a profoundly moving experience. Also it led to a closer relationship between myself and other people in the church. There's something about the Cursillo movement that seems to deepen people's affections for their pastor and so I find this rather overwhelming and quite welcome.

Third, I found that people who had been to Cursillo increased their involvement in spiritual direction. They were the ones who seemed to want to come to me and say, "Pastor, I need some help in making a decision," or "I'm having a little crisis in my life, and I'd like to share with you if I could" and "Pastor, would you pray for me?" That moved me very much. Then there was the vital network of support for my wife. She shared the conventional wisdom of a number of spouses - not to get too close to members of the parish. You know, it can lead to all kinds of problems. She was a rather lonely woman as far as the parish was concerned until she went, got into a reunion group and decided conventional wisdom can go with the wind - that she was going to begin sharing closely with at least these sisters - and that was a big strengthening thing for her and for us together. Well, I could go on - but that's enough.

What about the congregational benefits? Ron and Nate have given a number of good ones and I'd like to suggest a few more. One kind of general benefit is an increased zeal for worship - people who come back from weekends wanting to worship every Sunday and to study the Bible without the pastor twisting their arm, and to lead in free prayer in the congregation, because they were more accustomed to doing it now and weren't so self-conscious. These were people turned on to evangelism - they actually volunteered to be on evangelism committees. I don't know about you guys, but prior to Cursillo, usually Evangelism was the last committee members would volunteer for. I found the evangelism committee one of the favorite service areas for those who returned from a weekend. Christian education - they wanted to be there every Sunday. Piety in the home - people who had never prayed with their families before were now praying at every meal, in the morning, in the evening, and so forth. Also, these people came back with a new enthusiasm for the church. They were more warm. They made hospitable members. The pilgrims become the cheerleaders for the whole congregation. It also provides a dynamic new source for evangelism. In the Lutheran church, we're emphasizing more telling your story - your faith story. Our folks still have trouble figuring out what their faith story is. Pilgrims tend to be able to do that, because every week sharing their closest moment with Christ becomes a way of giving a little piece of the faith story for that week. That is a big assist.

I find that pilgrims provide a group of willing volunteers for a wide variety of tasks in the church. It seems that this group, when I say "I'd really like to see you do this or consider it".

They reply, "Yes, Pastor, I'd be glad to!" This is a group that's eager to do what the pastor suggests. That kind of blew me away.

I also find as a pastor that there are certain people in the congregation that have very deep needs and if these needs aren't met, they become frustrated - they may back off - they may even join another congregation. The Cursillo movement gives a way to meet these needs. For instance, people who have a driving need for a deeper spirituality - Cursillo provides that. It gives a motivation and a discipline for a life of prayer and study and witness in keeping with Lutheran piety. It helps people who have a need for an increased intimacy with other Christians. You know how we Lutherans can be rather stiff and distant and formal. A lot of folk want to get through all of that and get close to people and hug once in a while and laugh and talk about loving each other. This provides a way for that segment of the congregation to do so, and hopefully the whole congregation eventually will be in that segment. It also meets a need for people who want a higher expectation church. You're familiar with Lyle Schaller's terminology - "the higher expectation church" or "low expectation church." Every church has a certain expectation for its members. This is communicated very subtly and sometimes quite unsubtly in congregations. For instance, a congregation may communicate to outsiders. We expect in this church to go to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday evening. "If you don't go to those three, you're not really an active member of this congregation". Well, that's high expectation church. They would add other things to it, of course. Lutherans, as a whole, probably tend to be a low expectation church. There are some high expectation people in it that are very distressed with this and so the Cursillo gives them a way of living out a higher expectation for discipleship. It's good for people who want a more disciplined and supportive discipleship - who feel a need for support from others to live a closer walk with out Lord.

Via de Cristo is good for groups in the congregation who want to have an opportunity to have mentors in the faith - who may be new in the faith and would like to get a little closer to someone who's been around a little longer. They want a mentor who is a little farther along in the faith journey, from whom they can learn and be inspired. The reunion group provides that. It's good for people who need to be converted. You know, in all honesty, we have some Lutherans that need to be converted, but we don't know how to do it, so we send them over to the Baptists who give them a good workout and if we're fortunate, they'll come back and we'll polish up the edges. Via de Cristo provides a way where people can make very radical changes in lifestyle. One of the joys of my ministry is seeing this occur. I know we have to be careful not to send all of this kind of person to the weekend together, but you mix one in with the others and it's amazing what it will do in the church - "Wow, did you see that Brady was at Sunday School this Sunday. Six Sundays in a row, and did you hear what he said? I can't believe it! Look how he and his wife are getting along. It's really ....." "You know what happened? He went to that weekend that the pastor was talking about. People say it really makes a difference in the lives of some." Others are just so saintly to start with that you don't note much change.

Finally, it's good for people in the church who want closer contact with the pastor. There are people who have those personal expectations. This gives a little different entree to spiritual director/pastor.

The next question - "What's the role of the clergy/spiritual director in a lay movement?" This the other speakers dealt with so well. Other than the leadership on the weekend, of course, and at the team meetings, that have been mentioned, I would like to underscore the need to provide theological guidance for all rollos preparatory to the weekends, and to keep the lay witness teaching consistent with the Lutheran confessions. Now we had a real crisis in North Carolina particularly in the western secretariat. It's been said in North Carolina, there are more Baptists than people there. Baptists are good people, but they think differently about some things in the faith than we. They think very little of infant baptism and they have a very conversionist theology in the sense that humans kind of cooperate with God in their salvation. At the point I came into the movement, about one-fourth of the people attending weekends were Lutherans. The rest were Baptists and Methodists and so forth and so there's a lot of conversionist language and piety that is very unfamiliar to Lutheran ears. It bothered me, for reasons I mentioned to you earlier. I would hear Lutheran pastors saying, "I don't want to send my people to that because they're going to get taught something different from what they get taught at home." I think that pastors are being responsible when they have that concern and I think we have a responsibility to make sure that we do a little quality control, theologically. What we preach in the pulpits in the Lutheran church should be also what gets taught on the weekends. One of my personal decisions was to help that happen. I think our Lutheran pastors have become rather lax about helping with the rollos, particularly in one-on-one kind of sessions with the lay people and getting their rollo in advance and talking with them one-on-one and helping them find ways to word things so that they fit our confessional understanding better. I can think of one particular case where a former Baptist in the congregation had a wonderful religious experience early in life - in his teenage years - and had a very Baptist way of talking about it that completely undercut the Lutheran notion of baptism. We talked about it and tried to help him come up with Lutheran words for describing that event - not discounting the event at all - appreciating it every possible way, but making it grace-centered. He was so happy when it was over because he had felt this tension within himself through the years. Then it got worked out so that the way he talked about a conversion experience of the past and the way he believed as a Lutheran was now consistent. I think Lutheran pastors have a good opportunity here to do some good solid education in the assistance of the lay people in preparing their rollos. I think pastors need to assist with recruitment of members to attend the weekends. I personally find it well rewarded - any effort I put into helping to recruit members.

Another thing we pastors need to do is to provide follow-up counseling and spiritual direction for members after the weekend is over to get them through crisis period. We really have to do a lot of this sometimes. Some people come back and they're so high they don't know how to deal with this experience. They're kind of scared. They've never felt this way before. How do you guide them through understanding that and relating this to their daily life and then dealing with it when the feelings leave. Or here's a wife who comes and says "I'm in personal crisis. My husband wants me to stop taking my medication. He thinks all I need is Cursillo." She's about ready to fall apart.

Or the person who comes back, "I didn't have the same emotions as everyone else. Everyone's disappointed with me, and I'm disappointed with me. I'm disappointed with God." Or the person who wants to come back and drop out, who has some problem with the weekend. Pastors need to be alert to these kinds of situations and to give spiritual counsel.

Also, I like to provide assistance in forming reunion groups for members after they return from the weekend. That's kind of a sticky thing. How do you form reunion groups?

As the movement increases in size in the congregation, assist in forming a congregational steering committee for the Via de Cristo -to provide pastoral oversight as needed.

Finally, the pastor can provide pastoral guidance to shape the movement in the local congregation, to avoid pitfalls and meet congregational needs and to coordinate the schedule of events with other congregational events so as to avoid competition for scheduling and an energy drain among the leaders of the congregation.

What's the best way to approach other pastors who've not attended about why they should attend the weekend and get their congregation involved? One of the worries in North Carolina was a pastor would fear, "What will the bishop think about me if I go?" Because the bishop wasn't too hot on the movement. And the bishop had reasons for not being too hot because there had been a couple places where congregations just blew up for lack of proper pastoral supervision. That meant we needed to go to the bishop and help the bishop understand. I remember going with an ALC pastor and a Missouri Synod pastor and myself and the three of us sitting down. He was so impressed to have this inter-Lutheran dialog taking place in his office. He was pleased to discover that the Missouri Synod pastors were so involved with it. I told him my bishop wants to be known as ecumenical bishop - he's a wonderful bishop and I love him dearly, he's a personal friend. He's an ecumenical-minded bishop and he has this close friendship, with President Hintz of the eastern district - Missouri Synod and it has led to some real breakthroughs in ELCA-LCMS relationships. I informed him that one of the most significant things going between Missouri Synod and the ELCA was Cursillo. In our synod, for instance, we have at least twelve Missouri Synod pastors who are sharing with us in the leadership of Cursillo/Via de Cristo, who are having communion with us - leading in communion and he just was stunned. He had no idea this was going on and it pleased him no end. That helped a great deal in winning his support. He never has come to the point of saying, "I'm going to write in the bishop's communication - 'Everyone go'," but he has given silent support of the movement and plans to go himself sometime.

Also, we were able to organize a meeting at the synod assembly for any pastors who were interested in learning more about the movement. I called together all those pastors who had ever gone to a cursillo to meet with pastors who had never been but were interested and they also would bring with them friends that they wanted to interest, and we had a meeting together. Also we had a number of meetings with pastors all across North Carolina both east and west secretariats to evaluate the movement as they saw it - this is a lay movement, granted, and some of them were feeling rather bypassed. They had some real concerns about what was going on but didn't have a forum to express their concerns. We gave them that forum and then engaged the pastors in doing some strategizing to help the movement grow and to grow the way they as pastors saw the church needed to grow and the movement needed to grow so that it would actually reinforce the congregation's mission and not be a competitive church group. I'd say that was one of the most helpful things that we have done.

Finally, you asked me to say something about how to keep it a force. I'd like to share some handouts. You all have Lutheran colleges in your synods - most of you. I wonder if you have a movement occurring on campus. Some of you may. I can recall a couple years encouraging the chaplain of Lenoir-Rhyne College to attend a Cursillo/Via de Cristo. He did go, finally, and he was much impressed with it and found himself thinking all the way through - "I wish this kind of sharing would go on between college students." He had harbored a frustration for years that the Baptist student group on campus was a ball of fire - you know, they're having Bible studies all over, enthusiasm about the faith - and the Episcopal movement was a ball of fire and the Athletes for Christ - they were balls of fire, but the Lutheran group sort of meandered around. The fraternities and sororities have a very strong hold on the people. He said, "If we just could have that kind of hold on the Lutheran group that the Greek system has and have the kind of fire that these other denominational groups have, it would be wonderful." He saw Cursillo as the method for doing that - for renewing the spiritual life on the Lutheran campus so he organized what he ended up calling "Pathways." They have had several weekends now and it has had a revolutionary impact on campus life and if you are interested in doing a similar thing in your area, give a call to Rev. Don Just. He can give you a lot better information than I. The college students are also assisting in the leadership with TEC as a result of that. These high school students really get excited when big college kids are there helping them with TEC.

Some of you are concerned that you have something to take back. I've heard frustration - people say, "I went to a convention, and they paid my way and I didn't have anything to take back!" Here are some handouts - three of them - I didn't develop these for this event. These were just three things I had in my files that we developed for other things. I'd like to say just a few words about them.

The top one is, "What the pastor can do to shape and encourage the Via de Cristo/Cursillo movement in the parish". This was distributed at the meeting of pastors we had for Via de Cristo, so you can stick that in your file. As you plan a program for pastors - either pastors that are in the movement or pastors who are not, this could get you started with some thinking. I would particularly want to put a check on a couple lines. "Follow up on good potential candidates." Don't be afraid to recruit. Any number of members of my congregation that ended up at a closing saying, "My pastor asked me to go, and so I went." I was kind of surprised they'd say that. Almost always they're grateful for it. There are a lot of people who have trouble making decisions but they trust their pastor a lot. Don't be afraid of taking the risk.

I think it's very important for pastors to be at the Clausura. I want to see what happens to my members. I try to send as many as I can to every weekend and I want to hear what they say. Then I like to take the group out for dinner afterwards - particularly after the women's weekend, where the whole family's together and share the joy with them. I usually initiate the first reunion group with men and women. We invite the sponsors, the pastor leads it. We deal primarily with the piety section of the card - your closest moment with Christ. They get to talk to their pastor and their sponsor about the weekend and then we decide when they're going to meet, what kind of reunion group schedule they'll have, and then we have our altar visit. I found once we started doing that it helped get us off to a stronger start. We also like to have congregational Ultreyas. We found this was very helpful in mobilizing a group. When you get sixty, seventy, eighty people in a congregation who are the movement, you've got to find ways to make it more efficient.

I also find that when you get a large group in a church that you got to find some way to coordinate the recruitment to avoid badgering some members. You know, you've got ten different people asking them to go to Cursillo, and so they develop a resistance and they get angry. You can resolve that if you have a steering committee, and you coordinate it so there's a certain person that's going to approach a certain family. I also like to lead an interest meeting a couple of times a year for persons in the congregation who may be interested in attending a weekend and want more information. We'll just meet right after 11 o'clock service is over. We'll meet in the chapel with anyone who's interested. We pick up a few people that way.

The second page is one that we developed over a period of several years at my former church. We had these congregational Ultreyas. We've had a covered dish dinner, afterwards we've sung some songs, and then we get serious. I ask, "What are the difficulties that we're experiencing in reunion groups and in the congregation?" "What are the do's and don't's?" Written down here is a summary of what we came up with over a period of several years. I think you'll see some things there that sound familiar. I think most of them speak for themselves. We go over this at least once a year at one of our congregational Ultreyas. Then the secretariat decided to put a copy in every palanca bag at the end of the weekend, so all pilgrims get a copy of this document. The third page is on reunion groups - we sometimes have had problems with reunion groups. I wonder if you have. Someone feels hurt because they didn't get chosen for a certain group, or they asked to be in a group and they were told, "Well, I'm sorry our group's full" or they were in a group and they shared something very personal and they suddenly heard this information coming back from someone else. So what we did was to develop a piece that we could give out that would help people understand what a reunion group is and is not; so they'll think more realistically about it. We wrote down the principles here for a reunion group and discussed it.

I hope these suggestions prove helpful to you.

De Colores!


RANDY MULLIN: We're a new secretariat, so I'll ask a naive question, "How and who selects the spiritual directors for a weekend?"

REV. NATE LUNDGREN: It's apparent to me that in the various secretariats, it's done in different ways. In the Minnesota council, we have two spiritual directors on the council whose job it is to identify the head spiritual director for each weekend and then we also end up giving names to those people of people they might contact to be their assistants. I neglected to show you something earlier. This little booklet contains the list of about 350 pastors that we happen to have to choose from. Now that sounds like it should be shooting ducks in a pond. It's like being in a large church. The larger a group gets, the harder it is to find the committed ones. It is still a substantial job. In our council it's those of us that are on the council who do that, and I kind of like ... we're talking about expanding that number because this year I think we have 23 weekends, and we've decided to have no more than 21 in the future because we burn out our lay people and our pastors. I also neglected to say that you've heard mention of the national secretariat spiritual director's manual. When we enlist people to be spiritual directors in our council, each spiritual director gets this manual which is a kind of a Minnesota update of what the national was. This has been very helpful. There are sheets that they can write on that are thrown away and replaced by Rose, our coordinator, and many pastors have expressed gratitude for the very defined role of spiritual directors.


LYNN SWAFFORD: I was just wondering - we have some clergy who tend to think they can go over their scheduled time in their rollos. We have a lot of trouble with that. I was wondering if you guys as clergy could help us deal with those kind of problems.

REV. AL SAGER: Strong lay leadership and emphatic emphasis in advance of how important it is to keep the whole weekend together. Sometimes it's also because the clergy aren't aware of the whole sweep of the weekend. They don't have to say everything in their particular rollo. Allow it to build. These are all little building blocks, and if they have a sense of the completeness of the total, they are a little less apt to have to do it all now in this moment that is mine - this precious now moment. But it is this occupational hazard we have you see.

REV. NATE LUNDGREN: One of the practical ways we deal with that on the weekends I've been on is that the clergy rollos are evaluated or affirmed and discussed just as are the lay rollos. If somebody - lay or clergy - (applause). I should have said first of all they are given. We have some clergy who have said, "well, I've given that four times. I don't need to give it again." Team members have said, "I'm in the kitchen. I'll never get to hear it if you don't give it on the practice rollo." When it's evaluated, if it's too long, these people pull their trousers on one leg at a time. They're just like the rest of you; they deserve to hear that it is longer than it needs to be. I remember the Sacraments rollo one time - it was an hour and 40 minutes - my goodness, that was hard to sit through.

ELLIE HENNING: I've done leadership training for many ... 2-3 years - worked with it. One of the things that we'll do is we'll sit down with the rollo room and we tell them that their rollos in Minnesota - they are 20 minutes to 30 minutes - and that goes for clergy, too. That to try and keep it within that time. You don't have to tell every personal story that relates to that. Give maybe one example to try and help so that we don't try to tell our life story within a rollo. It helped with the clergy, but we set that guideline up front at one of our leadership training that all that are giving rollos are asked to keep it within the time frame. Because most talks given 20 minutes and that's about the length that's kind of why we suggested 20 minutes.

REV. JOHN EARP: At team meetings, it begins there. I've always encouraged rectors, "When you send out your initial correspondence to your team, that you say your team meeting starts at 0900, it starts at 0900. Not at 9:30, when the other people start to wander in." Get it in everybody's mind that ultimately there is an element of courtesy here. You're asking people to sit on their hind ends for a long time. Please don't abuse the good will that they have given you by listening to you by going beyond the allotted time. If you come at it from the courtesy point of view, it seems to help. We start at team meetings right now - it's a timed event.


GEORGE STEADMAN: One of the things, I think, that needs to be addressed. We have sitting here with us, we have five secretariats that I know of that are strictly ecumenical. I would invite those who have a little fear of the ecumenical movement to come and join us in one of our weekends to find out that it is Spirit-filled, and it does no dilute the Lutheran theology a bit. Also we need to hear maybe from a couple of the pastors/spiritual directors that - we don't have the time tonight. I know, the feeling of how they are dealing with an ecumenical group, because when I talk about ecumenical, we not only have an ecumenical candidate list, but we do have an ecumenical spiritual director list. So it is an entirely different flavor, but I would invite that it is something that we need to address and not be afraid of because the Spirit works. We rely on the Spirit - that's what we say we do - we're grace-filled and the Spirit is there.


GREG STEELE: Going back to Randy's question, we've been experimenting a little bit with what Atlanta's been doing in selecting spiritual directors, 'cause we kind of hold you guys in esteem. Lay people think you know more than we do. So there's a lot of times we won't give you direction that you're waiting for. You'll come to a team meeting. You'll think we know how to do communion, so you wait for us to tell you that we don't know, 'cause we think you know everything, and so we don't prepare for that. Anything spiritual we leave up to you. So there needs to be more communication - what you said - it's a church and not a lay movement/pastor movement, although us laymen tend to take the lead.

What we've been doing on the Space Coast is I've kind of been working with the spiritual directors to get spiritual directors for the weekend. What we've found is: you won't turn a layman down as fast as you'll turn down another pastor. The real reason for that is because pastors understand pastors. If a pastor goes to another pastor and says, "will you serve on this weekend?" "Well, you know I've got a wedding the weekend before this one." "Oh, I understand." We found that pastors have a harder time getting pastors committed because they understand too much. But the laymen can just say, "Look, you need to serve on this weekend. You haven't been on there in a year and a half or a year. We need you. We'll work it out. Okay, you have to go home to do a certain thing, we can allow that. We'll work it out with the rector," and so I think Atlanta's on the right track - it's got to be kind of a partnership because us laymen can put the pressure on you guys if we know how. You can't just have anybody go out and do that, but some of us know how to relate back and forth. When they say I'm so busy, say look I'm working ten hours a day myself, and I'm going to be on that weekend, so you ought to be able to do it, too. It works out.


ROSE LUNDQUIST: One of the things that we tell our leadership at our day long training session, when it's just leadership, is that final authority on decisions which would range in the area of length of pastor's rollos does remain with the rector of the weekend. They have final authority.


BARBARA SMALLEY: I must support some things the other folks have said. Our rector is the head of the whole weekend - sets the time schedule, manages it very closely. Our pastors as well as lay people practice their rollos. They are timed. They are definitely critiqued, but another thing that we have done - not at every weekend - but a number of weekends is to have someone at the back of the rollo room to stand up and give an indication that there's one minute to go, and then to stand up and usually with some little banner, hopefully, they're not too obvious. We do that with everyone, including the pastors.


D. WAYNE FORD: I know of several instances - three to be exact myself in eastern North Carolina - where lay people have been motivated to enter the clergy, to go to seminary after having attended Cursillo, not to say that they weren't already thinking about it, but that kind of finalized the decision. I would be interested in hearing from all three of you other instances you may know of lay people, whose final decision to enter the seminary really was prompted through their having attended or involved with Cursillo.

REV. PETER SETZER: If I have someone in the parish that I think has gifts for ministry I try to get them to a weekend as soon as possible. I think it gives them an opportunity to explore their gifts, and to get excited about the church, and then be in a religious - a spiritual support group to get the feedback from other lay people who might say to them, "We think you ought to be a pastor or Christian educator, also."

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