Parish mission brings together music, prayer and storytelling

MERRILLVILLE – Old and young stood together with voices raised, singing spiritual phrases that filled the church. The music was accompanied by gentle hand and arm movements of those who filled the pews expressing gratitude to the Lord. That was the scene during the three-day parish mission of Holy Martyrs Parish and Our Lady of Consolation held Nov. 12-14.
ValLimar Jansen, an internationally renowned catechetical speaker, musician and storyteller, led the parish mission titled “All Are Welcome, All Belong.” Jansen, a recording artist, is a college professor with degrees from Howard University in Washington D.C., and California State University and University of California.
“One of the things I wanted to emphasize is our connection to people all over the world, and that we are sent forth to be the love of God,” said Jansen. “One of the things that binds us together as Christians is that we believe in one baptism. We believe that anyone who is baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is united.”
While gathered in the church facing the altar and crucifix above, Jansen invited all those present to stand up and move, praising God with songs like “Trading My Sorrows (Yes Lord)” that included the lyrics, “I'm trading my sorrow. I'm trading my shame. I'm laying it down for the joy of the Lord.” 
During her presentation, Jansen would transform into characters written in the Gospel. Becoming Martha from “Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary,” she told the Bible story from that sister’s perspective. In the Bible passage when Jesus visited their house, Martha remained busy doing all the cooking and cleaning while her sister Mary sat at the feet of Jesus.
Portraying Martha, Jansen said, “I’m not a complainer, but this one time I said, ‘Jesus, look at my sister. She’s just sitting there and letting me do all the work. Tell her to get up and help me.’ And Jesus said to me that my sister Mary had chosen the better part.”
In addition to depicting stories from the Gospel and leading the group in song, Jansen shared many faith-based messages, such as the importance of relying on the Lord during difficult times and the significance of the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist.
“After we are transformed and filled with his Real Presence, we are sent forth to go out into the world and to be the presence of Christ to the world,” she said. “And we are that way not just by our thoughts, but by our words and actions.” 
Parishioner Jackie Mitchell appreciated that the mission was “different and engaging.”
“I’ve never been to a mission like this before,” she said. “At a mission someone usually just talks, but she just really gets you involved.”
Another parishioner, Carolin Bier, attended all three nights and enjoyed the storytelling aspect of the presentation. She said while the themes for each night were slightly different, there was the same “bringing the congregation in, the same singing and making you feel like you were part of something. “It’s the way she brings everyone into it and how blessed everyone feels at the end,” she added.
Bier has been a member of Our Lady of Consolation for the past five years. Moving from Illinois, she recalled being welcomed by another member of the congregation who shared information with her about the many ministries at the parish. She is now active with the food pantry, participates with the Blanket Ladies group and volunteers as a greeter at church events. 
The mission also attracted plenty of visitors in addition to those formally registered with the Merrillville parishes such as Paul Herdzik. He came to watch the performance by the children in the St. Margaret Ann Polish Language School which kicked off the last day of the mission. Herdzik has three children attending the school, which rents classroom space at Our Lady of Consolation. 
“The Father seems really nice, and I’m looking forward to checking it out,” he said.
Pastor Ted Mauch was on hand to greet the Herdzik family and others in attendance, and he also offered a prayer during the evening sessions.
“Let us allow this mission to open our hearts to receive God as he is present in our midst in the tabernacle. How happy He is to be surrounded by his children and how happy are we to give praise and worship to Him,” said Father Mauch.
Melissa Novak, director of discipleship and evangelization at Holy Martyrs Parish, detailed that more than 100 people attended the mission, and she was pleased to see the participation in the interactive program. 
Novak, along with a planning team that meets regularly to discuss hospitality, helped organize this year’s parish mission. She explained that the event was developed to create “a sense of renewal – to bring hope and enrich people’s faith as we go into Advent, and as we merge as one parish.”
Novak plans to continue focusing on events where the church is intentional about hospitality and welcoming people.
“We want to bring people together and just renew that spark of faith,” she said.


Caption: ValLimar Jansen speaks with those gathered at the parish mission of Holy Martyrs Parish and Our Lady of Consolation on Nov. 14. Jansen, a university/college professor, leader of worship and prayer and a workshop presenter at conferences across the United States, led the three-day event entitled, "All Our Welcome, All Belong." (Erin Ciszczon photo)