By Tony DeGol
Mention the word “survey,” and some people might yawn.
The heartfelt responses to an appraisal of season one of ARISE Together in Christ, however, are anything but sleepy.
“I get a lump in my throat reading them,” admitted Chris Ringkamp, a member of the diocesan ARISE team.
The overwhelmingly positive reaction from participants of that inaugural season last fall is propelling hopes for an even stronger season two this Lent.
The theme for the new season is “Change Our Hearts.”
ARISE is a series of small group faith sharing that aims to spiritually renew the faithful of Altoona-Johnstown by drawing them closer to God and strengthening relationships among fellow parishioners.
Most parishes in the diocese are embracing the opportunity. Catholic schools, religious education programs, college campus ministry programs, pastoral care facilities, and prison ministry programs are also engaging in ARISE.
According to Ringkamp, an estimated 8,000 people experienced the renewal initiative in season one. He volunteered to compile the responses from the participant surveys.
Based on the feedback, he stated, those who partook in ARISE are more engaged in the sacraments, participating in parish ministries, talking openly about their faith, and reconciling with relatives with whom they had not spoken in years.
To read participants’ comments, please visit the diocesan website and Facebook page.
ARISE is not an adult faith formation class, Ringkamp stressed.
“It’s an opportunity to share personal reflections of what the scriptures of that particular week mean to that individual,” explained Ringkamp, a member of Saint John the Evangelist Parish in Altoona, where he is also an ARISE small group leader. “Those personal reflections are helping others in those small groups strengthen their faith because there are a lot of marvelous testimonials. People have such a deep faith life that we don’t realize until we’re in these small, intimate settings. It really has motivated a lot of folks to put their faith into action.”
One would get no argument on that point from Lonnie Rietscha, a parishioner at Saint John Gualbert Cathedral in Johnstown.
Rietscha was so impacted as an ARISE participant in season one, that he decided to be a small group leader in season two.
“During the fall sessions, the group I attended shared many wonderful experiences together that resulted in a sense of family bonding – parish family bonding to be precise,” he recalled. “The personal reflections we shared helped each other to realize our lives may cross different paths, and the personal life experiences may differ slightly, but for the most part, we all have similar struggles, hopes, dreams, and joys in this life and are here for one another.”
Rietscha views ARISE as a way of getting back to the roots of our faith.
He said spiritual growth arose when he and his fellow group members each had the opportunity to reflect upon the readings for the week which led to the invitation to act.
“This personally for me was the most awesome part of the whole experience because you never knew where the Holy Spirit was going to take you, but you knew you had a sense of awareness that He was working in your life and bringing you closer to Him,” Rietscha surmised.
Season two of ARISE Together in Christ begins in most parishes the week of March 3 and will continue for six weeks. It is not too late to register for this renewal opportunity during the upcoming Lenten journey.
“God really does work through us even though we may not notice,” reflected Rietscha. “ARISE helped me to understand just that.”