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!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Year Three -- Nurture

The next five blogs, which I hope will be weekly, will be a celebration of three years of the Glenmary Mission team's three years of presence in Union and Grainger County.   They will follow the five categories of mission that serve as guide for the Glenmary Home Mission Community.   I begin with "Catholic Nurture".
Bishop Announces "we are a parish"
The vestment of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is a gift from our St. Malachy Sister Parish


There are many dates to count three years:   If it is upon the arrival of Br. Craig and myself then the date is August 12, 2011.   If it is the first carport Mass then it is September 1, 2011 or the first Sunday Mass which was the first Sunday of October 2011 at the Methodist Church.  Or another possible date would be November 1, 2011 when we gathered for the first Mass in the storefront church located on Hwy 33.  Yet,  from this time forward the anniversary date will be September 5, 2014, the feast of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, when we became more than a mission, but a parish.

Carport Mass Sept. 1, 2011

This might seem confusing.   Yet, the stages of the development of Catholic Community when there is no sponsoring established church is three fold.  They are mission, quasi-parish and parish.   Each represents a stage of Catholic growth.   As a mission, the sense is that this community may grow to become a parish or it might not.   A quasi parish indicated that growth is happening and there is a sign that this community will be permanent but it is still not certain.   A parish means that the faith community is stable and committed to the growth of the church and will be here permanently.   Bishop Stika determined that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in three short years did not need to have the second status of quasi-parish, but was ready to become a parish.

Bishop reading the declaration as a Parish

This is a strong testimony to the faith and action of the believers of Blessed Teresa.  Last year at Easter 15 new members joined us through the RCIA process.   On September 5, 2014, Charles become our newest Catholic.   At the carport Mass in September 1, 2011 26 people gathered; on January 15, 2012 at the first Spanish Mass 18  people gathered.  On the first Sunday of August 2014 there were 102 present at the 9 a.m. English Mass and 115 present at the 11 a.m Spanish Mass.  This is incredible growth.

Confirmation and First Communion of Charles


Our faith formation program was directed by Fr. Aaron for two years.  Now a team of three -- MayPo, Sally and Santa-- are managing the program.   We have over 20 kids preparing for confirmation this year and at every class a few new students join us.   Currently we have five classes and each class has two teachers.  Again this demonstrates the on going leadership of our Catholics.
Adults ...
Children ....
youth ....
and teens on the first day of class.

We just finished our first major fund raiser to get ready for building our new church and social hall on the 24 acreas of land we own.   This event involved almost every family from both worship hours.  It earned over 12,000 dollars.
The Royalty Carnival of 2014


These are all signs of Catholic Nurture and Catholic Growth.   I, as the pastor, aim to provide spiritual growth through the Mass, including the homily and eucharist, through the sacraments, especially confession, and through direction and counciling.   Yet the other activies of socials, liturgy planning, education and evangelization are more and more in the hands of the lay faithful.

Royality court with Queen Vanessa, but minus Taylor
 (who was in the hospital that day)

This is part of becoming an adult church. 

Yet, through the title "mission" has been replaced by "parish" the work of the Glenmary Home Missioners is not yet done.   This is but the second stage of many more stages to come before Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is ready for a diocesan priest to be her pastor.  These other steps include building the structures to support a rapid growing Catholic faith community; developing lay leaders to serve both the parish and the boarder community; and becoming financially independent.  All of this will take more time.   Through we are doing very well financially, we are still  need  assistance of outside donors to remain open.   We will need a great deal of support from outside donors in order to build an appropriate worship space.
Representatives from our sister parish, St. Malachy, Genosis, IL

Therefore, we have achieved much, there is still more to go.   We praise God for what is and for what will be.
The Word Must be Proclaimed


Monday, August 18, 2014

Visitors

My brother Tim and Patty at lookout point in Grainger County.
Hospitality is one of the hallmarks of a Christian.  Going all the way back to Abraham when he hosted angels. (Gen 18:1 -15).  Jesus also tells the seventy-two, "Into whatever house you enter, first say, "peace to this household."  If a peaceful person lives there, your peace with rest on him;" (Luke 10:5).

We frequently have visitors here and are happy to receive them.  This last month we have had visitors from Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Carroll, Iowa, Blessed Trinity Cluster of Eastern Iowa, Glenmary first year students as well as family members of Br. Craig and friends of mine from Minnesota.   Each visitor brings something special.
Irv and Joyce from Holy Spirit delivering back to school supplies

Our adopt a mission parish from Holy Spirit drove school supplies for our back to school give a way.  We also received material from Blessed Trinity Cluster and the Youth Group of St. John Neumann of Knoxville.  The two members of the parish made a special trip to deliver these goods and close to hundred children were assisted.

Waiting for dinner
Blessed Trinity Cluster with their pastor Fr. Joe came and joined a high school group from Iowa staying at "Toppa Joppa" volunteer  house. They freshened up the inside of our church at St. John Paul II with new paint and did many other tasks as well.
Blessed Trinity Cluster and Solis High School, Iowa

Both of these Iowa parishes have an adopted mission relationship with St. John Paul II in Rutledge.  In September 5th we will receive visitors from St. Malachy in Geneseo, IL who have adopted Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission in Maynardville.

Another group of visitors were our first year Glenmary students and their director.  This is an impressive group from the U.S., Mexico and Kenya.  They brought a sense of joy, community and optimism.  We wish them well and hope more men will follow them to the joy of Glenmary missionary life.
Glenmary first year students with Br. Craig

Other visitors were members of Br. Craig's family and friends of mine from Minnesota.  Their son, Zach, is my godson.  There is a special joy to share our Glenmary family with family and friends who have known us before joining Glenmary.  It is like sharing your first born with your in-laws.    Also, their is great pleasure in sharing the life of these missions and people of these missions with other.  It is a demonstration of the Holy Spirit flaming love to all.
Minnesota friends ... they loved my chickens!!

We are grateful to provide hospitality in the spirit of Jesus Christ.  We look forward to future visitors.

A final note:  August 12 marked three years of the arrival of Br. Craig and myself.  Br. Joe joined us more than a month later.  Hopefully, the next series of blogs will reflect on the three years of mission here in light of what Glenmary Home Missioners refers to as the five categories of mission.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Catholics and Death

The Butterfly is a symbol of the resurrection and new life
During my vacation the patriarch of one of the leading Catholic families at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta died.  The funeral was on a Saturday before my return, but I was still able to accompany the family in their grieve by attending one day of the "Novena por Los Disfuntos" ... nine days of prayers held in the home of the deceased after the funeral.

Every culture, sub-culture and people honor the dead in different ways and with different customs.  Even among Catholics the rituals around funerals vary from one area to another and from one country to another.   The one thing Catholics hold in common is the Mass of resurrection, which is the funeral service that celebrates the deceased loved one hope of new birth into heaven.   Our funerals are not sad events, even through sadness is very much present.   We focus on celebrating the life on earth and more importantly on the New Life in Heaven with Jesus.   We recognize our personal separation and loss of the loved one, but in hope, celebrate the loved one new life free of pain and suffering.  As the book of revelations tells us, in the final days, there "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the older order has passed away."  (Rev. 21:5)

Yet, each culture and region has some rituals that are uniquely theirs.   In rural Minnesota, where I grew up, the wake was normally three days after the death and the funeral was the next day, almost always at 10 a.m.   The wake was a more somber event with visitations most of the afternoon and evening.   The evening would  close with either a rosary or short Scripture service held at the funeral home. If there is a eulogy it is normally at this event.  The next day we would gather at the church.   The coffin would be sprinkled with Holy Water remembering the baptism of the  person.   Then a white cloth, called a pall, is draped over the coffin much as one does a flag for a soldier's funeral.   This white cloth represents the new robe for a new life just as we receive a white robe or cloth upon our earthly baptism.   Alleluias are song.   Hope and comfort is preached to those gathered.   A Easter Candle is light, again just like at baptism.   Catholics view death as our baptism into every lasting life with Christ in heaven.

The funeral  is followed immediately by burial and then everyone returns for lunch prepared by the local chapter of the Catholic Council of Women.

In East Tennessee, it is a bit different.   Here the viewing and funeral are the same evening.  Most viewing and funerals are in the funeral home, with only a few in the church itself.   The next day the immediate family and close friends gather for the burial.

Now the Catholic Mexican tradition adds a few other things to the remembrance of a loved one.  For instance, once they arrive at the funeral home they will stay through the night and not leave until the funeral Mass.  Usually the funeral Mass is held at the Church.   Then in a more traditional burial, they would often lower the casket themselves into the grave and fill in the hole themselves.   This last act is a sign of love for the departed.   It is a last act of generosity and service to the person.

This is followed by the Novena por los disfuntos (nine days of prayers for the dead).  

The man who died was married for almost 60 years to his wife.   Eight of his ten children live here in Tennessee.   Every evening they gathered in front of a memorial altar (usually a photo of the deceased and flowers) for a half hour of prayers.  In this way, they share their grieve with each other and God.   Their mother is not alone.   She is surrounded by love, in this case, by the fruits of this love:  her children, their spouses, their children and grandchildren as well as neighbors and friends.   Two important supports are offered: family and faith.  With family and faith we can get through the  toughest situation.   On earth, not much is tougher than the death of a loved one.
An example of a memorial altar

Yet, there is no need to fear death if you believe that Jesus lived, died for our sins and rose on the third day.   There is no need to fear the death if you understand that it is a painful birth into new Life:   a life free of pain and suffering, surrounded by love and peace in heaven with Jesus, Mary and all the Saints.  The pain of losing a loved one in death is real and is really tough.   Yet, with hope, family and faith, we understand that our loved one is free from pain and that one day we will be reunited in heaven.

Paul writes:   "What will separate me from the love of Christ?  ... For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. " (Romans 8:37-30).

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Missionary Priesthood

Fr. Aaron final English Mass at JP II with Fr. Steve
This past month has been a deep reflection on the meaning of missionary priesthood.  I had the  privilege to celebrate 25 years of priesthood on May 20th. Fr. Aaron, after just two short years, is moving on to his next assignment. These two events combined have allowed a month to reflect on what it means to be a missionary priest in the community of Glenmary.
Sharing a moment together after the Baptism
Graduates at BTC

There are many aspects of missionary priesthood that appear the same as any priest:  we offer Mass, administer the sacraments of baptism, communion, confession, matrimony and the anointing of the sick. We accompany folks through all sorts of challenges and joys.   So what makes this missionary call different from others? It is where, how and what of sharing Christ with others
First Communion


Our missionary priesthood is shared in rural areas of the United States only.   Three years ago neither county had a Catholic worshipping community.   Three years ago, many of the people now regulars at Sunday Mass, were not even Catholics or were not practicing on a regular bases.  Three years ago, no one in Union County,TN would imagine that three ministers from other Christian churches and the Bishop of Knoxville would gather in the downtown park with over 200 quests to celebrate a Catholic Mass of thanksgiving.   Three years ago, no Catholic priest ate lunch with High Schooler's in Grainger County or Middle Schoolers in Union County.

25th Anniversay, Fr. Steve's Parents in front
Pastor Ryan and the Bishop at the 25th Anniversary
Fr. Aaron hanging out with the youth

The fact that two priests have been in two counties where a priest never lived before does make a difference even if it is for just a few people.
Fr. Aaron's Appreciation Day

The how of priesthood is very focused on the people.   Every one has a spiritual journey, whether Catholic, Baptist, or of no faith.   A missionary priest listens, encourages and where necessary challenges.  A missionary priests engages people in their every day lives, going to sports event, visiting people in homes, talking to folks in the stores and businesses.   Every thing is done with the hope that by your presence folks encounter a loving Jesus who wants to be not only their Savior, but also, their brother.
Sing to the Lord

The how means trying to promote the reign of God in the full community beyond the Catholic church walls.  Thus, time spent in helping feed the poor, promoting immigration reform, and searching for ways to help people avoid addictions, especially to drugs and alcohol are part of the life.  The how is any way in which being a friend, a guide or a healer for another can be done in the Spirit of Christ, we will try.

Food for those in need
What we bring is no different than what any one else brings, except for one factor.   We bring the Word of God and the joy of a life lived for Christ.   We share the sacraments and our Catholic tradition.   So, too, however, does every minister, lay, ordained or religious.   The one factor we bring that no else can bring is the  person.  I bring Fr. Steve and Fr. Aaron brings himself.  We are different individuals from different families, different histories, and different journeys.   The gift of who we are with our strengths and weaknesses is what we bring.   A friend once told me that they only common thread among Glenmarians is that there is no common threads.   We are a community of unique individuals, with strong personalities, unafraid to be ourselves, happily creative and willing to take a chance in order to give all we got for the sake of Jesus, the Kingdom of God and the folks we encounter.
Dancing with Mom
Texting Mom?

So I am very grateful for the gifts of missionary priesthood Fr. Aaron brought to Union and Grainger County.  Likewise, I am grateful for 25 years of service of priesthood in Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee as well as various places beyond.  I am grateful for the Glenmary community.   Most of all, I am grateful to Jesus Christ for loving me, dying for me, forgiving me and saving me.   Hey, what could be greater?