Unleash the Gospel Challenge volunteers go 'all in' on evangelization, want others to join

Unleash the Gospel Weekend volunteer Jane Gleason smiles as she hands out Unleash the Gospel challenge materials to parishioners at SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish in Sterling Heights. (Patrick Hodgdon | Archdiocese of Detroit) 

ROYAL OAK — In order to ignite the spark of evangelization in another person, one has to be on fire for the Lord themselves.

For the volunteers of "Unleash the Gospel Weekend," standing before the congregation – many times in a parish unfamiliar to them – and challenging people to step out of their comfort zones in a call to take on a bold, new challenge to spread the Gospel, such missionary zeal was evident.

“We were right there presenting, right after the homily, asking people in front of us to take the call to action right away, right then and there, and I think that caught people off guard,” said Jordan Beachnau, who presented the Unleash the Gospel Challenge at Our Lady of La Salette Parish in Berkley at the 4 p.m. Saturday Mass. 

During the weekend of Nov. 3-4, approximately 550 volunteers spread out across the Archdiocese of Detroit, speaking at every parish in southeast Michigan to introduce a bold, new call to spread the Gospel message.

By inviting parishioners to text “GOSPEL” to 484848 in order to receive a series of animated videos on Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, and its call for all Catholics to become joyful, missionary disciples, the missionaries began to experience the fervor of evangelization themselves.

“As I stood up there, explaining the videos and the reflections questions people would be getting the following week, I was trying to convey how it’s not about just preaching the pastoral letter, but taking an action we need to take, hoping the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with the Lord,” Beachnau said.

Jordan Beachnau (right) first read Unleash the Gospel while being involved with the Detroit chapter of Young Catholic Professionals. Beachnau said the YCP leadership team read the pastoral letter as a group, which inspired him to be an Unleash the Gospel missionary. (Courtesy of Young Catholic Professionals)

Beachnau is a recent convert to the faith, coming into the Church in 2017 — he calls himself a “spoiled Catholic,” having come into the Church at the same time as Archbishop Vigneron released Unleash the Gospel, Blessed Solanus Casey was beatified and Young Catholic Professionals, a group of lay Catholics who strive to bring the light of Jesus Christ into the workplace, launched its Detroit chapter.  

Beachnau is highly involved in YCP Detroit, saying the group read the letter together and discerned what the Holy Spirit is calling them to as individuals, in a group, in their parishes, and with their families.

“The letter is a call to every single person in the Church, from the priests themselves, to the laity and me, being single, to discern our vocation in this moment, asking ourselves, 'What does that vocation look like in the domestic church, in the family, in the given structure?'” Beachnau said. “What was laid out so well in that spectacular letter, with the Holy Spirit, is that driving force to change the focus of our Church, our world, to unleash the Gospel wherever we go. That starts internally with us and then it extends from there.”

Detroit Catholic illustration by Naomi Vrazo

The desire to receive and share the message of Jesus was felt by many of the Unleash the Gospel missionaries who introduced the six-day challenge. 

Kevin McCullough, a parishioner of the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak who presented at the 4 p.m. Saturday Mass at his home parish, spent a considerable amount of time after Mass showing parishioners how to sign up for the challenge and join the movement.

McCullough and his wife, Dominica, both presented at Shrine during Unleash the Gospel weekend because they both believe the Church could reach its full potential if every parishioner embraces his or her role as a full-time evangelist. 

"I signed up with my wife without knowing what would be the next step for us; we just read the letter and figured the next step would be good," McCullough said. "When we heard about the vision, I was excited about it." 

Kevin and Dominica McCullough both signed up to be Unleash the Gospel missionaries after reading Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s pastoral letter and discerning what it could mean for the church if more parishioners embraced their roles as missionaries. (Naomi Vrazo | Archdiocese of Detroit)

"I signed up with my wife without knowing what would be the next step for us; we just read the letter and figured the next step would be good," McCullough said. "When we heard about the vision, I was excited about it." 

That call for an internal conversion is what the Unleash the Gospel weekend volunteers hope really connects with people, inspiring them to embrace the movement and bring the Church back to the basics – preaching that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Redeemer of the World, and King of the Universe.

“God can do more than we would ever ask or imagine,” said Kathleen McCann, who spoke at the 9 and 11 a.m. Masses at St. Priscilla Parish in Livonia. “This is His work we’re called to cooperate in, but He ultimately knows where this is going, and I’m happy to trust what He is doing and it’s my job to do my best to help.”

Looking at Unleash the Gospel weekend in the context of the narrative of the Archdiocese of Detroit — from going through a year of prayer for a new Pentecost; the parish listening sessions in the buildup to Synod 16; the Mass for Pardon; Synod 16 itself; and the subsequent pastoral letter — then the Unleash the Gospel Challenge is another step in the transformation of the very foundation of God’s Church in Detroit.

“We’re prepared to take on this challenge, to trust God and have that joyful confidence, that we can handle this joyful mission,” McCann said. “First, we have to show up. Second, we have to be joyful and inviting. And I think, God willing, we will show a faith and confidence and joy that comes from knowing Jesus. 

“We need to make our faith attractive for others, not as a marketing strategy, but because it is attractive," McCann said. “We as a Church need to take courage, to believe in ourselves, that God will do great things through the work of Unleash the Gospel.”  

Vickie Figueroa, a missionary who spoke at St. Peter Claver Parish in Detroit on Nov. 4, said those in leadership positions in the Church are especially called to be a spark that encourages others to live their vocation as missionaries.

“I think it is very important for us as leaders in the Church to get involved in spreading the Gospel and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ; that was the mandate we were given by our Lord,” Figueroa said.

Vickie Figueroa volunteered to be an Unleash the Gospel missionary at St. Peter Claver Parish in Detroit after serving on the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and participating in Synod 16. Figueroa said she wants to contribute more to making the Church mission-focused. (John-Henry Keenan | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Figueroa serves on the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and participated in Synod 16, an archdiocesan-wide meeting of members from every parish in southeast Michigan about the need to evangelize, which led to Archbishop Vigneron's pastoral letter.

Figueroa read Unleash the Gospel when it was released at Pentecost 2017, and asked the St. Peter Claver congregation for their thoughts this weekend.

“I asked was if anyone read Unleash the Gospel, and one young women spoke up and said she read it and loved it,” Figueroa said. “I had an audience that was informed, and that was well and good. I think what they were looking for is direction on how to share the Gospel with the people, who are hungry for the Gospel message.”