Thursday, March 5, 2015

See New Blog: A missionary heart beat

I have just posted my new blog.  It is titled "A Missionary Heartbeat in Union and Grainger Counties.  You may go to or find it on my facebook page. 

After three and half years of being in Union and Grainger Counties, I felt the word "beginnings" no longer fit.  Thus a new blog with a boarder range of content will follow.  Currently, there is but one blog posted but more will follow by the end of next week:  March 20.

Hope you follow the new one as you did this one. 

Thanks for being a follower and supporting the Catholic Missionary Beginnings of Union and Grainger County.

Fr. Steve Pawelk

Friday, February 13, 2015

Part Five: Connections with the Universal Church

Full House at St. John Paul II Catholic Mission
Parish life between two communities is wonderful.  Yet, I am finding it more and more challenging keeping up with this blog.  Currently between the two churches and the four Masses almost 300 people are present every weekend.  Also, we have close to 100 people at both churches for faith formation on Wednesday night (BTC) and Sunday Night (JPII).  This has keep me happily busy.

One of our faith formation classes
So finally, the five part series I started in the fall of 2014 to celebrate our third anniversary of being in Union and Grainger County concludes with this blog.  The fifth Missionary category of Glenmary is "Universalism."  It is related to the Catholic concept that the local parish is a cell of the local church which is the diocese which in turn is a part of the Universal Church under the Pope known as the Roman Catholic Church.  One the cool things about being a Catholic is that we are connected to every Catholic Church in the world.

  This concept is often hard for people in our missions to grasp when the majority of our neighboring Christian churches are Baptist and Pentecostal where every church is independent.  For the most part, they determine their own believes and hire and fire their pastors.  Each one is autonomous from one and another.  At best they might form an association. 

In this way, we try to make connections by having parishioners participate in diocesan event and pilgrimages.  When Fr. Aaron was here, folks traveled to Gethsemane, KY and visited the Trappist Monks and to Hansen, Al to experience Mother Angelica's community and other religious interests. Both parishes attended last year's Eucharistic Congress in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Diocese of Knoxville.
The trip to the Eucharistic Congress

St. John Paul II has begun a chapter of the Catholic Council of Women.  Our Youth Groups have participated in Search and other diocesan and deanery events.  Currently both churches are sending representatives to the Hispanic council for the Diocese of Knoxville.

For two faith communities started in November 2011, we are slowly, but steadily making the connections to the universal church.  Yet, I hope in the future to increase these opportunities.
Watch what blooms this spring

Now a note to my faithful readers:  I will be posting one more small blog soon.  I feel the Catholic Missionary Beginnings stage is over.  There still is a great deal more of missionary activity in these two counties and among these two faith communities.  Yet, we are beyond what I feel is defined by the word "beginnings". I am searching for a new title and fresh way to express what this next stage of development in the missionary journey here in Union and Grainger County might be.  Please check back in soon and discover with me the new direction.

Monday, December 29, 2014


Part five -- the universal church will just need to wait until next month.  Instead allow me to share the joys of December 2014 with my faithful readers.
Altar of honor of our Mother Mary

The people of St. John Paul II Catholic Mission in Rutledge truly embrace the month of December.  They began on November 30th with the first of nine rosaries, one recited each night, in honor of the Immaculate Conception, which turns out that she is not only the Patroness of the United States but of Oaxaca, Mexico as well.  These rosaries are normally hosted in people's home or hosted by a family in the location of the church.  Anywhere between 45 to 100 people will attend.
JP II Choir leading songs of praise

Once these rosaries are completed we just continue with the nine days of rosaries in preparation for Our Lady of Guadalupe.  This year for the first time, the people of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Parish engaged in the nine days of rosaries known as novenas.

Our Lady of Guadalupe leads the way.
Then on December 12, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a procession, play, Mass, traditional dance, and food.

the play with Juan Diego and others
This image was in nine different homes

Dance of the Viejos

 On December 13 we held the festival in Rutledge beginning with the procession on our land and a procession to the Agricultural Center.  Close to 200 people participated, our largest feast to date.
Procession begins of the land of our future church
Our Lady in procession
Dance of joy
Altar designed by Nancy
The actors of JP II
Fr. Neil joined us for the Mass

Then the community at St. John Paul II took a day off and began the rosaries known as the Posadas in preparation for Christmas.  The Posadas is the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay.  These celebrations include song, prayer and candy and fruit for the kids.  This year the Toppa Joppa sponsored an evening with volunteers from St. Xavier in Cincinnati.  This ended with the Posada party on December 23rd, including a special nativity play known as the pastoralias. Here the devils try to keep the shepherds from going to Bethlehem.  They lose!!
The nativity play including the drummer boy
This crib set visited nine homes

The children's party at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was held on December 17th which included a visit from Santa Clause.  They held one day of Posadas after the Sunday Mass on the 21. We also celebrated a Quinceanera, a young gal's 15th birthday.
BTC Children's party with Santa

Justin getting ready to hit the pinata
The Quincearea
The highlight remains the celebration of Christmas.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  It really is amazing that God accepted all the limitations of being a human person to demonstrate how much He loves us.  The humility of the Creator to become the creature is incredible.  How blessed we are to be saved by God, who was human like us.  The miracle of Christmas is truly worth singing about.
Blessing of the crib at Midnight Mass
The Word became Flesh

Merry Christmas!!! 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Part 4: Improving the Social Order

Among the many things I am grateful for, is the financial and physical security I enjoy.  I have a house, food, clothes and gas for my car.  I do not live in fear of gun shoots or bombs taking my life or of those who I love.  I get up each morning and Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord

Yet, this is not story for many people in the world.  Part four of this extended review of three years in mission focuses on what Glenmary sometimes refers to as improving the social order or building the Reign of God.

Here a great deal of the work that has happen in Grainger and Union county is managed by Br. Joe Steen, Br. Craig Digmann and the Glenmary Volunteer Program, affectionately referred to as "Toppa Joppa".

Br. Joe has engaged in home repair work since his arrival.  This has increased with the help of the Glenmary Volunteers and an outside donor who financially supports this ministry.  The same donor makes it possible for Br. Joe to assist many families with rent, utilities and food each month.
A House Joe worked with

Br. Craig is on the board for the Grainger County Senior Citizen Center.  He teaches Bible School there and volunteers with the Union County Senior Citizen Center as well.  He is also involved with the Nursing Homes in both counties.  Now several volunteers from Blessed Teresa and St. John Paul II also visit the Nursing Homes.
Br  Craig visiting friends

The mission team early on, supported the distribution of government commodities (food) in both counties.  Since then, the Glenmary Volunteers are now regular helpers.  Our parishioners at St. John Paul II, which now hosts the commodities, also provides lunch for the volunteers.   The Glenmary volunteers, Br. Craig and parishioners are helping with two local church sponsored food pantries in Union County. 
Joe and Sarah preparing food deliveries

In Grainger county, three churches joined together for Hands of Christ Food Pantry with helps in emergencies.  For the last two years turkey breasts were given to people during the November commodities.
2014 Turkey Give-a-Away

One of our parishioners, along with Br. Craig, assist with the Mobil Clinic in Washburn on the first Wednesday of every month.

I have been involved with I-Care and other efforts to prevent drug and alcohol abuse.  .

Outside groups and churches have sent us quilts, knitted blankets, hats and scarfs, new underwear and many other valuable items. These are given to the elderly, migrants, and those in need of a extra boast to get by each day.  This included many donations that allowed us to help with school supplies this year for the second year.
2014 winter preparation day

All of these efforts address the immediate needs of people.  In two counties, both above 20 percent poverty line, these service are a gift to so many. They represent a helping hand up-- not just a hand out.  Yet, concerns for changing the social order that creates poverty and dependency is also necessary.  

Br. Joe is on the board of Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Council, a group dedicated to environmental friendly living.  Sr. Mary Dennis, a parishioner, is dedicated to the peace movement.  I have taken active steps in lobbying to bring about immigration reform.  Both our churches have participated in Pro Life activities.  These are efforts to change the systems to reflect gospel values.
Sr. Mary Dennis

This is a large part of what Glenmary missioners and the people we serve are about. It is not just starting a church, but reaching out to everyone to have a more fruitful life, materially and spiritually. With God's help, we can bring about a more just and peaceful world.  We do this by addressing the immediate needs of the people and striving to change the systems that cause poverty, inequality, and injustice. 
St. Malachy's First Visit

I am grateful for the many groups, churches and individuals that allow this to happen through their support of our efforts over these last three years.  With God's grace we can help His Kingdom to shine more clearly here on earth as it is in heaven.
A new World will come

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Year 3 - Evangelization

Prayer at Union County Court House
In Union County, TN over 60 percent of the folks are labeled "unchurched".   That is a lot of folks you do not claim any church home or attend any church on a regular bases.   One aspect of our mission focus is the evangelization of the unchurched.

The first few years, this was fairly easy.   Many inactive Catholics found their way home.  Others who were deeply searching found us quickly.  Now, however, we are three years old and no longer the newest thing on the block.   We do suspect that once we are able to move out of the store front into a church building on the property then another movement of growth will occur.
2012 Games at Grainger Co. Tomato Festival

Our efforts over the first three years was a true team accomplishment.  The  missionary team wrote letters to any known Catholics, announced events in the paper, and were visible at various festivals.   The most intentional activity of mine has been the column "Come to the Water" which Fr. Aaron shared with me for two years.  Now I am the solo writer.  This is currently published monthly in Grainger Today and the Union Shopper.

2013 Art on Main
2011 Union County Heritage Festival

Trunk and Treat 2012
Fr. Aaron for two years engaged in evangelization efforts by having lunch with the students at the Grainger County High School his first year and  last year by having lunch with the students at Union County Middle School.   Br. Craig has visited every person on the original list of Catholics receiving the East Tennessee Catholic Newspaper based on the zip codes. 
Fr. Aaron with Youth

Br. Joe's evangelization efforts are more indirect.  When he is doing home repair they know that he is a Catholic minister.  Opportunities to share faith emerge from this.

A home Br. Joe has worked on
Both counties have sponsored "Curious about Catholic" courses.   These allow any one regardless of faith or denomination to come and ask questions.
Fr. Aaron giving instruction

I did attempt to form an evangelization committee but did not have much luck.   They meet once, but there was no follow up.  I am thinking of renaming it since the word "evangelization" is sometimes intimidating to folks.
Blue Grass Festival, Luttrell 2014

 Often times when people here this word they think door knockers and flyers.   Yet, really it is relationship building and service in areas where few folks are active in church.   The Catholic way might include some of the traditional ways, like Br. Craig's home visits.  Yet, it really is just simply being a witness to Jesus Christ in all circumstances.  It is finding places and ways to serve those who are not active in any church.  It is seeking out those who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in any meaningful way.  It is sharing your faith story humbling with others.

One idea that I hope to implement next year is to go to several trailer parks in our area and sponsor an ice cream social.   Just serving the cool connection of Christ y meeting people where they are.

A little ice cream in Blaine, TN
A church is not a country club with exclusive membership and inviting others who are like them.  Rather are church is more like a street or block party where all are welcome to enjoy the abundance of God's soothing love.  The greater the variety of folks to more true to the gospel it is.

You do not need to be in Maynardville or Rutledge to engage in evangelization of the unchurched.  Every reader can do this wherever you be.  Pray for our efforts here, but also join us in spreading hope, faith and joy through the good news of Jesus Christ right where you are.
Surprise Lillies

Friday, October 3, 2014

Year 3 -- Ecumenism

Beauty rises from the Mountains

As I continue to celebrate three years of mission development in Union and Grainger County, the blessings of our relationship with other Christians is deeply appreciated.   Glenmary considers ecumenism ... building bridges with other Christian denominations... as an important missionary principle.

Pastor Frank visiting with Br. Craig
In Union and Grainger county, not only have bridges been built, but also friendships.  Within one month from our arrival, we began praying with the men of Revival Vision Church of God.  The pastor has changed, two members have died, another has moved away, but the group continues. Our prayer together is one of the highlights of my week.  Currently, we are doing more scripture sharing and personal sharing.  These are men I trust as much as my blood brothers.

Pastor Ken receiving a plague of appreciation from Fr. Steve
In October of 2011 we celebrated the first Sunday Mass ever in Union County at Miller's Chapel Methodist Church.   This one month of services led to many levels of fellowship.  For three years we have held a joint Bible School.  Their choir has sung in our church and we in theirs.   They even have formed a joint choir and have sung Christmas carols together and have sung together at the Nursing Home.
Joint Bible School in Maynardville

Both of these churches with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta have formed a Community Thanksgiving Service which will be in its fourth year.  We have prayed in all three churches together and have shared preaching responsibilities.  Our hope this year is to expand this with more churches joining in.

Pastor Brian to offer prayer at Fr. Steve 25th anniversary
Br. Craig and Br. Joe also have attended regularly once a month Saturday prayer services for the reduction of drug and alcohol abuse in our community.  We have hosted this event twice.

The relationships between members of our various churches are a beautiful reflection of the Body of Christ becoming more and more unified.

Pastor Ryan praying at Catholic Church with Pastor Chan about to preach

In Grainger County a strong relationship has been built between Rutledge Baptist Church, Rutledge Methodist Church and St. John Paul II Catholic Mission.  The two pastors and myself, or my two close friends, (it is the same thing) meet once a month for conversation, shared reflection, prayer and lunch.  We currently have formed a Community Food Pantry.   We have done charitable acts distributing with food, cloth and toys as opportunities have arisen.   We aim to support one another both personally and in our ministry.

Baptist Choir singing at Methodist Church with the Catholic Priest about to  preach
 Last Spring we held a joint revival rotating each night between preachers, choirs and host churches.  It was a bonding experience for our congregations and has lead to us planning a second one next spring.  This summer we held our first joint bible school which was a huge success.  Currently four members of Rutledge Methodist attend our adult bible study.  What a blessing this is.

Joint Bible School in Rutledge

Friends at the Methodist Church now attending Bible Study at JP II

Also,   Br. Craig has taken on a special ministry.  Every Sunday after the nine o'clock English Mass, he visits another Christian Church.   He has been invited to about 92 of them and has visited 30 or more so far.  Often times he is the first Catholic every to attend these churches and in some cases, is the first Catholic the folks have meet.  These build deep relationships.

Br. Craig and Pastor Ryan representing the joint food pantry
In this summary, I have not mentioned everything that might be called "ecumenical" that is happening with us.   Yet, this aspect of our missionary activity has born great fruit.  Who knows what the Lord will do with these friendships in the future.  Certainly, this is a light of what can happen in the world.  We can live together and be One Body of Christ.
Christians United reflects the colors of God's love!