CARIBOU---“People share their faith, and we get to share our faith, and there is no judgment,” says Cindy Gagnon of Caribou.
“Everyone who attends has really enjoyed the idea of it,” says Theresa Bonner, director of youth ministry at the Parish of the Precious Blood in Caribou. “The conversation flows, and the faith is just woven into it.”
The idea for “Theology in the County” came from Bonner, but the success of the faith-sharing group can also be attributed to local parishioners possessing a strong desire to grow their faith, publicly and proudly.
Held at the Warehouse Bar & Grill in Caribou, “Theology in the County” provides all adults (18 and over) with an opportunity for Catholic fellowship in a casual forum where adults gather for challenging and relevant presentations on our faith and how it applies to daily life.
The next gathering is set for Wednesday, September 18, at 6:30 p.m. with Fr. Kyle Doustou, pastor of the Parish of the Resurrection of the Lord in Old Town and the interim director of campus ministry for the Diocese of Portland. Each session includes a special guest speaker and time for discussion.
“I think it’s awesome to be out in public. That’s what Jesus would have done back in the day, not just go to church on Sunday but go out and evangelize and share the faith in the open. I think it’s awesome and powerful to be able to do that,” says Peter Deschenes of Presque Isle.
The gatherings were immediately popular and, over the past year, have continued to attract new participants, with over 50 adults or more regularly attending.
“Theology on the County” followed the roadmap of “Theology at Tim’s,” a faith-sharing group for teens which meets monthly at Tim Hortons in Presque Isle (returning September 22 at 6 p.m.) As word spread about that program’s success, Bonner says she was approached by adults desiring a similar opportunity.
“A lot of it was just the motivation of people contacting me because they wanted to do what the high school kids wanted to do,” said Bonner.
Bonner says when she was designing “Theology in the County,” she thought about what type of program might have attracted her years ago prior to her work with the Church.
“If someone had invited me to come to a faith-sharing group, I would be interested, but I might not have taken that step. So, I thought, ‘What would have gotten me to go and do something?’ That was part of it and, also, trying to provide something that would be a gateway to people furthering their faith. This was a great opportunity for something like that.”
Bonner says she thinks people sometimes hesitate to participate in faith-sharing groups held in churches fearing they may need to know more than they do, even though that isn’t the case. She says what makes “Theology in the County” work is its low-key approach.
“Going and have a beverage of your choice and sharing a meal with somebody and just having a conversation can be a lot less threatening than saying, ‘Hey, come to a faith-sharing group,’” said Bonner. “It’s just a way to break down the barriers, so faith isn’t so scary. It’s interesting. It’s fun.”
“This is informal,” says Kendall Sutherland of Woodland. “It’s good to talk amongst the people, and you get to meet new people from outside your own church.”
“It’s an informal setting. You get to meet a lot of people from other parishes, which is nice, and you get different viewpoints from different people,” says Debbie Sutherland, Kendall’s wife.
“It’s awesome to hear the different speakers but, also, to talk with people about the faith together, hear different points of view, and share and enrich our faith together,” says Deschenes.
Previous speakers and themes have included Deacon Luis Sanclemente discussing “Masculinity and Theology: What we all should know,” Father Joël Cyr’s topic was “Perfectly Imperfect: How to be disciples,” Father Dave Raymond sharing insights on honoring the Sabbath, and Father Antony Alexander Maria Doss, HGN, discussing the Ten Commandments.
“You learn a little bit more about your religion,” says Herman Legassie of Presque Isle. “Being a cradle Catholic, we just know what to do in this and that, but we don’t always understand why we do it.”
“It’s awesome to see different topics brought up that affect our culture today,” says Deschenes. “It’s very powerful, I think, to get together with folks and to talk about the faith and learn more about your faith.”
For more information about “Theology in the County,” contact Theresa Bonner at (207) 764-0161 or firstname.lastname@example.org.