Mr. John Meyer was the volunteer director for St. John Vianney Catholic Parish’s Emissary Program.  He was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Stevensville, Montana where his parents still continue to reside and ranch.  After teaching in the public school system for three years, he felt the Lord calling him to be a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).  After this very transformative experience with FOCUS as a full time missionary for two years, Mr. Meyer entered the seminary for the Diocese of Helena and attended St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, CO.  After completing the first year, he actively discerned monastic and missionary vocations in Oklahoma at Clear Creek Abbey and in Connecticut with the Legionaries of Christ.  Teaching had always been a recurring desire during his discernment and currently he teaches at Divine Mercy Academy in Belgrade MT.  Below is a detailed interview with Mr. Meyer about the Emissary Program at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Belgrade, MT.

How did you get involved with the Emissary Program?

I wanted to particularly do some sort of missionary work and the Emissary Program that Fr. Gilbaugh introduced seemed very exciting.  I volunteered and was selected to lead that program.  After that, the next step was finding emissaries.  The most time and energy during that phase was preparing a talk for after Mass – a pulpit presentation during the announcements.  That was my one shot to get to the parish so I really wanted to do it well.  Time wise, I would recommend that this talk be made a priority since it is really the one opportunity to cast the vision for the whole parish.

After that, there was an announcement in the bulletin, but really the parish talk needs to be well done.  I probably put in four hours preparing for it.

What other prep time did you have?

I was involved with splitting up zones for probably two hours along with Fr. Gilbaugh.  Maybe two or three as we had to do all the research to find homes.  We used Google Earth to find all the neighborhoods and then we sat down and divided them up based on size.  “This neighborhood has about sixty houses…this one eighty…this one forty.”  Fr. Gilbaugh handled all the ordering of the materials and we actually drove to a few neighborhoods during the plotting out process to see the conditions.  For example, is the map accurate, distance between homes, are there apartment buildings, etc.

For the orientation, I spent about three hours of prep time and then one hour for each of the three sessions.

On the street, it took about two hours for an “A” zone of forty houses; 2.5-3 hours for a “B” zone (sixty homes); and 3-3.5 hours for a “C” zone (eighty homes).

In this whole process, some advice I might suggest is don’t be afraid to ask people that you think would make good emissaries and make personal invitations to them.  Don’t be afraid to really cast the net wide as well.  Anyone can do this.  There are people that probably come at it more naturally, but it’s doable for anyone and the biggest benefit is their faith is going to grow because they have a vested interest in it – they are actually offering Christ and His Church to others in a form that could be taken very well, taken neutrally, or rejected.  There is something on the line and you can help people see that the benefits truly outweigh the negatives.

What vision did you cast?

There is so much in the Gospel, in the lives of the Saints, and now the New Evangelization.  I think for most Catholics they aren’t sure what evangelization looks like and this is a concrete and very practical, hands-on and approachable method to fulfill our Gospel commission, to fulfill the Great Commission…No one wants to the Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons to come to their door so the fear is that “that is what I’m going to be doing!”  People think that just by virtue of going and knocking on someone’s door, but that’s not the case!  The call to evangelize and this method goes back to Christ sending out the seventy two.  Other denominations are trying to answer that call and maybe they have a method that we don’t particularly care for, but they are still trying answer the call.

As Catholics, we should be leading in this effort and this program is a great step to show the Catholic laity that you can evangelize and it doesn’t have to be confrontational or cause consternation.  In the parish talk, you cast the vision broadly to get emissaries, but then you really embolden them during the orientation and training by showing them that what they are going to do is Biblical, Magisterial, and is rooted in the Tradition of our Church.

What was the attitude of those who actually came to the orientation sessions?

They were excited, but I think they were apprehensive because they had never done this before and they have a pre-conceived notion of what door-to-door evangelization is.  You have to work against that and ease their anxiety.

Why do you think they showed up?

I think they answered the call because they do see that this is a very concrete way to serve the New Evangelization.  Christ has been calling us to do this and continues to call generation after generation.  I think those that came are Catholics who are very interested in spreading Christ and His Church and they are going to come even though it might be uncomfortable.

What was the general response of the Parish after your parish talk?

There were people that said, “I don’t do that sort of thing.”  I was disappointed in that.  There was an attitude of some that felt, I really think, like their conscience got pricked and that they should do something like this, but were looking for the “that’s not my style” way out of it.  There is nothing you can do.  You can say, “Give it a shot, maybe it is your style!”  However, there was still a certain population that would come up to me after Mass, after I gave that talk that would say, “I really like what you’re doing…but it’s just not my style.”

What was it like to go on the street and knock door-to-door?

I find it exhilarating!  This is really my kind of thing and I particularly enjoy it.  But, I think the best part of this method is that you don’t have to be original and you don’t have to be spontaneous.  You just have to be pleasant.  There is a script and you follow it.  You’re simply asking questions and giving gifts.  And the questions are not deep or theological or anyway confrontational.

What was it like going to the door?  For me, it was easy and I hope it was easier for the first timers because in the orientation, we ask every emissary to role-play with us.  Father would be behind the door; they would knock and then he would respond in a number of ways.  There were a variety of different scenarios that might be on the other side of the door including language barrier – what do you do if they speak a different language than you?  Or, perhaps there is a dog who wants to knock you over or something.  For the most part, it was just to show them what to expect.

What was the response of those you surveyed?

Eight out of ten accepted the gift as one would accept a gift; one of ten accepted the gift in a lackluster manner or even reluctance; and then one of ten did not accept it.

Since the survey was so brief, how did that impact the experience?

It was a big benefit that it was brief since there is a “who are you, I don’t know you” reaction.  I think it is normal and to be expected, so most of the people (8/10) played that scenario pleasantly.  “There is someone new to me at the door and I will give them my attention and listen to them.” Then there was 1/10 who was half-hearted, “Oh yeah…who are you?…Okay.” and there was 1/10 was “I am not interested because… and I’m not even interested in hearing any more than ‘I am John from St. John Vianney Catholic Church.’”

Have you seen any tangible fruit within the parish?

I think that would be a question for Father.  I know that there was a gentleman that mentioned that an emissary came to his door and that is why he came to Mass.  And he talked to Father and was excited enough or interested enough to share that.  So that was fruit.  As far as the emissaries, we had great turn-out the summer where this was a big theme in the parish (2014).  We had repeated sessions even though we only had two orientations…we had several weekends in which we evangelized.  And, the emissaries responded consistently…There were very few who, after one experience, quit.  That is a good indication that it was a success and there was fruit. What brought them back is that they felt “this is a way I am building my faith and serving Christ; and I want to do more.”

Even if nothing else is achieved, this at least achieves “I stuck my neck out and it didn’t hurt that bad?”

That is exactly right, it builds a level of confidence to talk about Jesus Christ and His Church to a perfect stranger.

Prior to this, how much evangelization experience did you have?

A lot.  I was a FOCUS missionary and I’ve done this quite a bit.  Even cold calls and door-to-door.  It was not new to me and I was very excited in doing it.

What is most difficult about it or what could you offer to someone who doesn’t have all the experience you have?

It’s easy! Just do it!

Speaking to a parish who wants to do the Emissary Program, who would you recommend to play the role you played?

Select the best possible candidate.  Find someone who has experience in evangelization like FOCUS or NET or St. Paul’s Outreach.   Someone who would probably come at this naturally could be a Knights of Columbus Insurance salesman.  You need someone that is excited about being with people, loves Christ and wants to share Him with people.  There is a sales aspect that some people are going to come more naturally at.

Any trouble areas or things that could have gone better?

No, I really don’t believe so.  We were prudent, we weren’t pushy and if the sign says “no soliciting” we didn’t solicit.  We wanted to leave the buzz around town – especially when we were hitting big neighborhoods and we were sending out twenty or thirty or forty emissaries at a time – we wanted that buzz to be “hey did that person from the Catholic Church to stop by?” and we didn’t want a “I hope they never come by again.”

Any advice or final comments?

Its a great program.  It is going to build the emissaries’ faith.  The number one concrete fruit is that it is building your relationship with Christ because you are sticking your neck out for Him.  It involves pushing yourself and getting out of your normal comfort zone.  Catholics need to lead the way in this effort.