Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Feeding the Hungry

People signing in for food boxes
Our first direct service to local people took place Tuesday and Wednesday.  Br. Craig and I helped with the local distribution of the government commodities in Grainger County.  This distribution only takes place four times a year and has tight economic rules on who can receive it or not. 
checking the tally

On Tuesday, Br. Craig was joined by several high school students from Washburn High School and several local folks who have helped with this program for a long time.  These volunteers unloaded the truck and made up the grocery boxes.  The folks were getting several can goods and some juice.  Wednesday, I found many singing the praises of Br. Craig.  The most common phrase, "What a nice and gentle man." 

Packing boxes
My task on Wednesday was to carry the boxes out to the cars for the people. When I arrived at 8 a.m. the line was wrapped around the building.  Distribution did not begin until nine, but people knew that the later in the day, the less food in the boxes.  The volunteers were great to work with.  Two of them came out of the line to help us once they realized that in the beginning there was only four of us to carry boxes to the car for people.  They worked very hard without complaining.  The people receiving the boxes were extremely grateful. 

One of the side  benefits, was many volunteers were curious about who I was and yesterday who Craig was.  Where will the church be?  How many Catholics actually live here?  There were questions of curiosity and interest.  Nothing negative was expressed or said. 

The local director of the program
In the end over 460 boxes of commodities were shared.  According the local director, that was the most in her experience ever given away.  She says the number of people receiving commodities has been increasing every time.

These two days were a great introduction to the some of the  people in Grainger County.  With God's grace maybe things may change in the future.  Either way, hopefully the smiles and warm greetings of Br. Craig, myself and the other volunteers lifted a few spirits. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

First Catholic Gatherings

Two fantastic gatherings of Catholic in Union and Grainger counties have occurred.  Thursday, August 25,  2011 twenty five people ranging from ages 11 to about 82 , attended the first meeting to begin to organize a new Catholic community in Union and North Grainger counties.  The spirit was wonderful and hopeful.  Many spoke about how the coming of the Glenmary missioners to begin a local Catholic Church was the answer to years of prayers.  Their spirit was upbeat and positive.  One of my frequent responses to their questions, was "you are the church, you will make those decisions in the near future."  Two of the folks in attendance were inactive Catholics. Several were near tears with joy.  We shall meet again this Thursday.  Keep us in prayer.

The second gathering was in Grainger county at the once a month Saturday evening Spanish Mass in Rutledge.  The priests from Morristown began this Mass several months ago after the Glenmary Mission Planning committee visited.  Just that visit, encouraged the people to request this Mass.   The Mass is held in the Agricultural Building, which has a nice meeting room and outside is the area for animal shows and competition.  45 people were in attendance.  Of course, in my anxiety, I arrived without my alb and stole.  I had all the items for Mass and all the items for the planning meeting which was to follow.  I even had a respectful homily prepared and Spanish songs sheets available.  But ... no alb or stole and it would be more than 90 minutes to return to my house and return.  Well thank God, Br. Craig came to the rescue!! 
My first Mass in Rutledge, TN

Br. Craig was at the  parish in Jefferson City, about 30 minutes away, speaking about the new mission.  So with the aid of  cell phones, he was able to bring an alb and stole and a valid and licit Mass was possible.  The spirit of the people is very positive.  These families have been living in the area for over 14 years and many of their children were born here.  They spoke of hope for a strong religious education program, a place to plan religious festivals, and the desire of having Mass every Sunday.  The next scheduled Mass is not until September 17, but those who are bilingual will attend the gathering of English  speaking Catholics on September 12th in Rutledge.  Also another group is planning a meeting of the parents to begin organizing religious education classes in the homes for this year.  There is an abundance of faith and enthusiasm here.

The ol' Mill dating back to the 1800's
Finally, on Sunday, Br. Craig and I joined the Union County Christian Churches in the first March against drugs.  I have heard estimates up to 3,000 participated in the March.  Who really knows?  The prayer vigil afterwards was lightly attended, but did give a sense of the style of prayer here in the county.  Most marchers had white t-shirts, so I stood out in my black Catholic priest uniform.  So I think many now know the Catholic Church is coming. We meet many very good people during the three mile march.  It was a very positive experience.

We are slowly learning the holy ground and the people who live here.  We are blessed and humbled to be sent here by God and Glenmary.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

First Mass and first Public Mass

View from the top of Clinch Mountain
Br. Craig and I arrived late on Friday, August 12, 2011.  We spent the weekend sleeping on air mattresses and shared weekend Masses at St. Albert the Great, Knoxville, which is most likely the closest Catholic Parish.  On Monday, August 15, the feast of the Assumption of our Mother Mary, we celebrated the first Mass in our house.  As far as we know, this was the first Mass ever celebrated in Union County, TN.  This is a very overwhelming feeling.  How many U.S. missioners are able to bring the sacrifice of the Mass, the power of Jesus in the body and blood of Christ, to a new area?  It certainly was an historic and spiritual day for us.

Then we drove to Mississippi and began collecting furniture.  First was hand made oak bookcases, tables and end tables.  Thank you so very much, Fr. Vince.  You served our country as a military chaplain and now are serving the folks in Mission Land, U.S.A.  Further furniture was collected from the Glenmary Residence in Nashville, TN.  So we now have a house with furniture.  It is a small step but important to feel like we are here to stay.

Since then we have been busy meeting neighbors and local business leaders.  It is amazing that in the most ordinary actions, we are sharing the love of Christ.  Br. Craig went to buy a fuse at the hardware store and spent fifteen minutes with the clerk talking about Catholicism and today at the laundry mart, I spent a good twenty minutes sharing with the local caretaker about faith and her faith in particular. 

Monday, August 22, on the Queenship of Mary, we had a small public Mass here at the house once again.  We invited three families that have done a great deal to welcome us here and have been praying for years for a Catholic Church in Union County and North Grainger.  After the homily I asked to pray during this Mass if the Lord was calling them to be founders of a new Catholic Church in Union and North Grainger Counties.  After Communion every one present, included a second grader, agreed and were anointed with holy oil from the Holy Land to be disciples of Jesus on mission here in Union and Grainger Counties.  This is just fantastic to have such dedication so early in this adventure.  There truly is good soil in this rocky ground.

This Thursday, will be the next big step.  We will hold our first gathering of known Catholics to discuss the beginning of this endeavor.  If anyone reads this, pause now, and offer a prayer for these efforts.

Saturday evening will be the first time I celebrate Mass in Grainger at the once a month Spanish Mass.  The good folks and priests of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Morristown have been doing this.  We are so grateful to build on their generous service.

As the seeds of faith are planted in this rocky earth, come on back and discover how God's power will be transforming the life here in Union and Grainger Counties of Tennessee.