The Catholic Church in North America is facing a crisis, as the rates of baptisms, sacramental marriages and weekly Mass attendance have dropped significantly in recent decades. Never has been the mission of the Knights of Columbus to strengthen the family and build up the Church been more relevant.
“The Knights of Columbus will rise to meet this challenge. We will take up our essential and irreplaceable role,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in November, addressing the midyear meeting of state deputies. “We must become again a Church that evangelizes — a Church that evangelizes its children and families and at the same time reaches out to those who do not yet know Christ.”
Recent K of C initiatives provide tools for this mission of evangelization, beginning with welcoming and engaging new members. Online membership, for example, has made it easier to enroll recent recruits, while the new combined exemplification of charity, unity and fraternity, announced at the midyear meeting, likewise makes membership more accessible. The Faith in Action program model focuses Knights’ activities on four essential categories of Faith, Family, Community and Life and lays out a clear path to get involved, grow in faith and practice charity.
“We must find new ways to bring the men we need — and the men who need us — into our Order,” Supreme Knight Anderson said. “We cannot shrink from the crisis around us. We must meet it head-on, with firm reliance on our faith and in each other.”
The state deputies have taken to heart this message. With assistance from their state leadership teams, these dedicated men of prayer and service are working tirelessly to grow the Order and serve the Church in their respective jurisdictions. Last month, Columbia spoke with three such state deputies, who shared with us how they have transformed challenges into opportunities to put their faith into action.
State Deputy Dale Hofer of British Columbia and Yukon joined the Knights of Columbus in 2005 and is a member of St. Teresa Council 12202 in Coldstream, British Columbia. Now retired, he worked in information technology and later owned a winemaking supply store. He and his wife, Dianne, have three children.
Why I am a Knight: Joining the Knights of Columbus totally changed my life. I never prayed much before becoming a Knight, other than going to church on Sundays. Now I pray daily. A big part of it has to do with the people I now surround myself with.
Keys to membership growth: The keys to growth have been trusting relationships and hard work, while also having fun. I call a grand knight, district deputy or someone on the state team every day in order to build relationships in our jurisdiction. Districts and councils are willing to work harder if that relationship is there.
New initiatives: I like to think of the new program model as “Faith and Family in Action.” With many of these new programs, we can promote family involvement more easily. Any time we can use the word “family” in a presentation, I feel we are opening up our Knights of Columbus world. Younger families especially love the faith component. They don’t want to join the Knights just to flip pancakes; they want prayer and fellowship.
We have had reasonable success with online membership as well. The remote areas have embraced it the most. The key to getting new members connected has been following up after the membership drive.
Responding to challenges: Accepting some of the recent changes has been a challenge, particularly for some of the older members; it’s human nature to resist change. Fortunately, the state team loves the changes and is working on promoting them in the jurisdiction. These changes have proven to be for the good of the Order.
Another challenge in British Columbia and Yukon is the physical size of the jurisdiction. We travel a lot. We also communicate with brother Knights by making a video each month. The videos have helped make the messages more personal and engaging.
Advice for brother Knights: Build relationships and think outside the box. Sometimes it makes sense to keep things the same, but most of the time, I am looking for a better mousetrap. Change can bring challenges, but it can also bring excitement, anticipation and new opportunities. My motto is “Live, Laugh and Be Happy, all while doing God’s work.”
State Deputy William Chasse of Michigan has been a member of Richard Council 788 in Lansing since hejoined the Order in 2006. He has run his own construction remodeling business for the last 25 years. He and his wife, Marybeth, have been married for 33 years and have three sons.
Why I am a Knight: I joined the Knights of Columbus after someone explained all of the charitable work of the Order. Being a Knight has made me a better Catholic, as well as a better husband and father.
Keys to membership growth: We emphasize the importance of communication and a positive attitude. Getting buyin from all members is a must. We talk about the importance of recruiting Knights for the good of the whole Church — the more men join the Order, the stronger the Church will be. We also ask our members to invite someone they know who doesn’t attend Mass on a regular basis back to church and bring them out to breakfast afterward.
New initiatives: The Faith in Action program model has been very positive in recruiting. It gives new members ways to grow in their faith and practice what they believe, while belonging to a fraternal organization that wants them to become stronger men of God.
Online membership has been a great success in Michigan. About half our new members in December initially joined online. It helps the new member belong without committing to a certain number of hours until he is ready. In our busy technology-driven world, online membership gets men in the door. From there, they learn what we do and hopefully become active members in a council.
Responding to challenges: The biggest challenge is time — men feel they just cannot do one more thing. We have developed cards with questions like “Do you have time to put a coat on a child during the winter months?” and “Can you help us just two hours a year to collect money for people with intellectual disabilities?” All the cards end: “If you can do that, you will be a great Knight of Columbus.”
Another way of working through the challenges is repeating the reason to recruit — to strengthen the Church.
Advice for brother Knights: The time is now. We must show pride in being Catholic and ask all brother Catholics to help us rebuild and protect our Church. We must act now. If we don’t, who will?
State Deputy Mark Jago of Pennsylvania has been a member of the Order for 37 years, and belongs to St. Patrick Council 4057 in Carlisle. After a career as an Army paratrooper, including service during Operation Desert Storm, he worked in state and local government and then as a K of C field agent. He and his wife, Janis, have three daughters and eight grandchildren.
Why I am a Knight: A fellow officer invited me to join while I was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. I had no knowledge of the Knights at the time but was curious and wanted to learn more. I became involved and began to take on leadership roles.
Keys to membership growth: The first step is to pick good men to serve on your membership team, and the key to success is good communication. I have daily contact with our excellent membership director, and our team has monthly teleconferences to review our goals and strategies.
To further promote growth, I attend exemplifications and visit councils throughout the state to present Star Council Awards. I never miss an opportunity to explain why bringing in new members is vital to the life of the Order and the life of the Church.
New initiatives: The new Faith and Family programs have made a dramatic difference. They remind us that everything we do as Knights is rooted in our Catholic faith. People no longer view the Knights as just another service organization but as lay leaders helping to build up the domestic church.
Online membership has proved to be an extremely effective tool to attract new members, especially younger men. Through programs like the Everyday Heroes video series, the Supreme Council is also doing a great job of conveying what it means to be a Knight.
Responding to challenges: Supreme Knight Carl Anderson delivered a message to the midyear meeting of district deputies in Pennsylvania, where the abuse crisis has hit the Church particularly hard. He highlighted the serious situation in which the Church finds itself and emphasized our need to evangelize. A major way we can evangelize is through the example of our Faith in Action programs.
We also must continue to bring in younger men in order to continue our legacy of charity and service, mentoring these new members so they can lead future generations of Knights.
Advice for brother Knights: Keep your trust in God and let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit and by the example of Father McGivney. Leaders must also have the courage to be open to new ideas and approaches to problems. Give clear objectives and guidance, and then stay out of the way. Above all, let all of your actions be motivated by love.
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