I believe.

Denise UtterFeatured, NCCL Board of Directors

Dear Members, 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from your NCCL Board of Directors! 

I am full of hope this Christmas season. I promised myself I would enter into the Advent season intentionally this year, and stay in the waiting, in the preparing, in the anticipation. Too often in ministry, we can find ourselves planning for the new year, for Lent, for Easter and Pentecost, even VBS, long before Christmas is even upon us. Sometimes the planning is necessary, but because of that task, I can find myself feeling like I’ve already been through Advent. And thus at times, I can feel “out of sync” with the liturgical calendar and the lectionary cycle. Not this year.

Advent: the Art of Paying Attention

This year I prepared by praying for the season ahead of time, by planning personal events that would keep me mindful throughout: first, a presentation by a former professor, Fr. Ed Foley (a favorite of mine) on “Advent: the Art of Paying Attention”; then Deck the Halls, a musical celebration of the season at my parish; and finally, a night of reconciliation, then reflection at the parish with author Jack Shea sharing, “The Nativity Characters Speak.” All of this, along with personal prayer time for reflection, kept me in the moment… Advent.

Each piece of my Advent plan reminded me of the voices of our Christmas story, of the many perspectives from which one can view the miracle, from the angels who proclaim God’s glory, to the wise men who harken us to pay attention to the deeper meanings. They and the shepherds tell us to “Risk more than we know, but not less than we hope for.” Jack Shea reminded me that the characters of the nativity still speak to us: “We are in your crèche because our destiny is to invite you into what happened to us.” Transformation. No one would return the same way after having encountered the child.

The Incarnation is very real, and in this season I am reminded that Christ did not just become flesh one time but is incarnated within each of us for all time. Fr. Foley reminded me, that if I could only pay attention to others, really pay attention, I might see the divine spark in another, “the image of God refracted.” I was reminded that even though, for us, to move from the Hebrew Scriptures to the New Testament is simply a turn of the page, for the Israelites it was a matter of hundreds of years. We are formed as God’s people in that middle space, in that long waiting.

We are in anticipation of transformation.

NCCL is in a kind of middle space. I’ve said that before. But I do believe we are being formed, as God’s people, as leaders who “risk more than we know, but not less than we hope for.” Leaders who believe in transformation. I also believe that we are learning to pay attention in new ways. 

NCCL’s annual fall Representative Council meeting was a spirited and life-giving conversation. Many board members and representatives expressed great hope for the future of the organization and our Church. We need all of our members to be a part of this conversation. Mark Mogilka from Meitler was at our meeting and held a listening posture throughout. Through that listening, through interviews with directors, representatives, staff, members, and former members, Mark gathered information to help us pay better attention to you. If you haven’t read his letter in the November Catechetical Leader magazine, please take a moment to do so. It is very descriptive of the process we have undertaken. A survey will be sent to you in January. Please complete the survey. Your voice is critical to what comes next. Mark Mogilka from Meitler will be at our annual convocation in the spring, in Dubuque, to share the results of the survey. Please join us. You can register for the Convocation here.

We need your prayers and participation.

We have been praying and planning for this process so that we might more intentionally be present to this season in NCCL’s history. Paying attention to the voices and the perspectives of our members will be important to our own transformation. You can join us on this walk into the future, by completing the survey, by sharing your voice and your talents, and by giving to the Annual Appeal here. We launched our Annual Appeal at the fall Rep Council meeting; 100% of your Board of Directors pledged their gifts to this Appeal! The funds will support the Meitler process and name the priorities that will allow NCCL to walk into the future, supporting leaders in their efforts to go and make disciples, missionary disciples in the name of our Lord, Jesus.

I believe. I hope you do too.

NCCL has made all the difference in my ministry, giving me the opportunity to collaborate with leaders around the country in the area of family faith formation. I’ve learned alongside peers and I’ve been coached by mentors. I’ve prayed with and for the members of this organization, our ministries, and our Church. I have grown in my faith in Jesus as I walked alongside others on this journey. It has been an amazing journey. The Strong Catholic Family Faith website has become so important to my ministry, and working with members Diane Kledzik, Wendy Scherbardt, and Jim Kemna has been true gift, professionally and personally. There are many others who I now call friends (you know who you are) who would not be in my life if not for this organization. I believe in NCCL. I believe in her future. I hope you do, too.

This Christmas season I pray that the love and hope of the Incarnation are made visible in your lives.  

Merry Christmas!

Denise Utter

Chair of the Board of Directors