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Discerning the Diversity of Gifts

October 21, 2016

St. Camillus of Silver Spring, MD embraces its identity as a multicultural parish in one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the DC Metro area.  The Franciscan Friars who staff the parish see themselves as, “blessed by diversity,” and blessed by an abundance of diverse gifts and charisms ready to be called forth in the service of the Kingdom.

Father Mike Johnson, OFM, pastor of St. Camillus (who will be stepping down this year after eight years of leadership) has seen fruit born of their efforts to discern the gifts of the laity and put them into action.  The challenge, as Father Mike describes it, is thinking how to use what seem like ordinary gifts in ways we wouldn’t at first expect.  Ministry does not always easily fit into the categories or roles that too often become programmatic or narrowly defined.  The contemporary reality calls us to expand our imagination about what might be possible if we place our trust in the Holy Spirit.

One catalyst in parish life occurred in January of 2015, when St. Camillus Parish hosted Brother Loughlan Sofield of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, an expert on gifts discernment, counseling, and pastoral planning, for a parish-wide workshop.  The event, which drew a cross-cultural and cross-generational crowd, was meant as a launching point for further reflection and mobilization of spiritual gifts in the life of the parish and the world.

Many parishioners expressed interest in continuing the conversation about how their spiritual gifts may be put to work.  Responding to this hunger, the community of friars at the parish increasingly offers on a voluntary basis time where individuals, new and long-time parishioners alike, can sit down and share their background experience, passions, and talents.  During the course of discussion, people experience the challenge of articulating their own sense of mission and acquiring greater clarity about what direction they are called to go.

Some training is probably necessary when it comes to the discernment of spiritual gifts in others, one of the reasons the workshop with Brother Sofield was of great value.  But perhaps the most natural and effective way of calling forth gifts in people, Father Mike suggests, isn’t a particular expertise, but simply involves being in a context of serving and worshipping in a multicultural community.  Often our latent and most surprising gifts do not easily manifest themselves when we are consistently surrounded by those who look and think similar to us.  Gifts discernment rises to a new level with the recognition of what experiences I bring to the table that are uniquely mine, yet of primary benefit to others.

In this way, the discernment of gifts is itself a fruit of a parish that sees itself as blessed by diversity.

By Evan Ponton

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