Milwaukee adult ministry rises to the occasion

When a new ministry team in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee got together in 2011 to discuss the details of their first event, they thought they were preparing an evening of praise and worship for 50 to 75 people. It turns out they were aiming a little low: The first Arise Ministries evening ended up serving about 300, and it has grown from there. A recent event filled the pews in a church with a capacity of 1,000 and still there were people standing in the side aisles and back.

A missionary movement

Arise Ministries, which has grown into a thriving missionary movement with regular bimonthly events, is modeled after Blessed John Paul II’s call for a New Evangelization. According to its mission statement, Arise “seeks to help Catholics respond to Christ by renewing parish life, rousing apostolic ardor, inspiring intimate prayer and increasing sacramental devotion.”

More than a mere praise and worship night, Arise is a unique blend of the traditional and the contemporary, while at the same time spirited and reverent. It draws people of all ages and stages of life from throughout the 205-parish archdiocese. Each two-hour event includes Eucharistic adoration, Benediction, presentations, silence, oral prayer, music and reconciliation and concludes with a social activity.

The event is the brainchild of Executive Director Dominick Albano and Assistant Executive Director Talia Fehrenbach, who deny credit for themselves. Rather, they attribute Arise’s success to the work of the Holy Spirit and the dedication of the entire 11-member Arise team.

A powerful encounter

Albano and Fehrenbach met at a meeting organized for another ministry, but realized separately that they had completely different visions than the rest of the group. They sensed each other’s dissatisfaction and later met to share ideas.

Over the next several months, they developed the framework for what they believed the Holy Spirit was telling them.

“I think it works because the already evangelized were thirsting for an opportunity for very authentic, deep, prayer, while the unevangelized needed to see their faith in a new light,” Albano told Our Sunday Visitor. “When someone attends Arise, they can have just as powerful of an encounter, regardless whether they are daily Mass attendees or they haven’t been to Mass in years. That’s a beautiful grace God has given to our ministry, and one we continually seek in prayer and discernment.”

Changing lives

More remarkable than the number of people that attend Arise events is the way the ministry has changed lives. The team has gotten feedback from Catholics whose faith has been renewed and who have returned to the sacraments after decades away.

Fehrenbach tells about one couple having marital difficulties who were invited to Arise by a friend. They went even though they believed their marriage was beyond hope. While at Arise, they both felt called to reconciliation, during which they experienced Christ’s healing and love. Since then, the couple has repaired their marriage.

“I have always known that God has a plan for me — something potentially big,” Fehrenbach told OSV. “I never knew what ‘big’ meant; it’s such a subjective term. It can also sound really pompous, but being a part of Arise has given ‘big’ a new meaning. I get to see the Holy Spirit working in big ways in the lives of hundreds of Catholics.”

Growth mode

Because of its popularity, Arise now offers full parish missions, composed of two nights directed specifically for the host parish and culminating in an Arise event that is open to all in the archdiocese.

All of this takes time, energy and money. Arise depends on donations for its existence (see sidebar), as each event has its costs. All team members have full-time jobs and volunteer for Arise outside of work hours. They hope that will soon change.

With its recent classification as a nonprofit organization, Arise looks forward to giving tax benefits to contributors. Ideally, the directorship and the assistant directorship will turn into full-time, paid positions. Having paid positions will better allow the Arise team to serve the increasing demands of running the rapidly expanding ministry.

Blending styles

Among the most noticeable aspects of Arise Ministries is its unique blend of traditional and contemporary in the music. Arise Music Director Paul Vogrinc bases his music selections on a line from St. Augustine’s “Confessions”: “O beauty, ever ancient and ever new…” Under his direction, the Arise band perfects their renditions of traditional hymns like “Tantum Ergo,” “O Salutaris,” “All Creatures of Our God and King,” as well as music from contemporary artists such as Matt Maher and Audrey Assad.

“From where I stand, I am amazed at what God is doing,” Vogrinc said. “I remember at one of the events, it was so packed that I couldn’t see the altar because people were standing in front of the band to go to confession. I was so overjoyed because I knew the fact that so many people were going to confession that God was ultimately winning.”

A wealth of support

Arise’s missionary spirit has caught the eye of Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki and Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hying, both of whom have officiated at Arise events and now support its mission.

It also has gained the support of the diocesan Vocations Office. Father Luke Strand, vocations director of the archdiocese, is the spiritual director of Arise. He, too, sees the ministry’s value.

“I agreed to serve as spiritual director for Arise because the apostolate is concretely answering that call. It is teaching people how to pray and inspiring them to be disciples of Jesus Christ,” he said.

Father Strand brings a group of vocation candidates to each event because he sees special value for them.

“I love inviting vocation candidates to Arise because they are called to truly listen to the voice of God through adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the sacrament of reconciliation,” he said.

New Evangelization

For the Arise team, answering the New Evangelization call means ministering in a way that is markedly Eucharistic. Peter Burds is the director of evangelization and oversees all of Arise’s programming, developing its presentations and pastoral direction, thus helping to guide the ministry’s vision.

“We wish to respond by helping parishes revive their zeal for their Catholic faith by facilitating an opportunity for intimate prayer that hopefully increases Eucharistic devotion,” he said. “Our greatest hope is that people fall in love with the Eucharist.” 

Marge Fenelon writes from Wisconsin.