Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Services

Getting ready to give thanks
Last week there were many reasons to give thanks and many services to provide the opportunity.  Both our small churches, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed John Paul II held Thanksgiving Day Masses.  The attendance was wonderful. 

Pastors Ken and Frank in conversation
On Tuesday in Maynardville we helped sponsor the first ever Community Thanksgiving Services.  Every other placed I served had a long history for an ecumenical Community Thanksgiving Services.  Often the primary purpose behind these services is to raise money for a community fund to help transients and the local poor.  This was the case for the service in Grainger County.  In Union County, however,  I discovered they did not have a Community Thanksgiving Service. Therefore, I approached the two churches that have shown so much welcome to me personally and the newly forming Catholic Community. They both agreed. So Miller's Chapel United Methodist Church offered their worship space.  Pastor Ken welcomed us and lead us in the opening prayer.  Pastor Jim from the Revival Vision Church of God and his choir provided the music.  I provided the message.

Pastor Jim practicing before the service
 It was a very rainy evening and I thought we would have a small turn out, but I was wrong.  Members from each of the three churches arrived as well as one minister from another church.  The Spirit from the praying and singing was very upbeat and a true sense of unity developed.  The fellowship afterwards was terrific.  People spent time talking to each other and mingling.  One idea that emerged was the idea of starting a quilting club among the three churches.  I hope it happens.  I truly am grateful to these two ministers and their congregations.  I certainly hope we will find more ways to work and pray together.

Three folks visiting each from a different church
On Wednesday night we gathered in Rutledge.  We had a 5:30 Mass and drove together, English speakers and Spanish speakers, to Southside Baptist Church to pray with two other Baptist Churches and one Methodist Church.  Again, we felt connected and welcomed. 

Then on Thanksgiving Day after the 9 a.m. Mass in Maynardville, Br. Joe, Br. Craig and I went to enjoy turkey and all the fixing with two different families.  At one place they had over six pies, including pumpkin.  When we arrived home the three of us were more stuffed than the turkeys.  It was a very festive day.

Personally, I am so grateful and had so many things to give thanks for this year.  I am grateful for my priesthood and for the community of Glenmary.  I am grateful to my family and friends for all their support.  I am deeply thankful to the members of these two Catholic communities and humbled by their participation.  Life is good and God is even Better. 

Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, thank you.  Thank you, too, my faithful readers.  May you be blessed as we begin this Advent season.  May every day be thanksgiving for you!!

Thank you Jesus!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Open House

Sunday afternoon was our open house at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission in Maynardville, TN.  This was our first major event.  Many folks were involved in the planning.  Over a 150 invitations were sent out including important political figures and religious leaders.

Window preparations
During the week, the final details of preparation included putting up our new sign, finishing the windows and getting the food together.  None of us were sure how it would turn out or who would respond.  We were delighted with the results.

Getting the food ready
Most of the members of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta arrived early and stayed until the end.  Each did there part.  Br. Craig gave a wonderful talk on the History of the Catholic Church.  There was also a talk on who is Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  The day ended with a prayer service of thanksgiving.  Here the music was provided by a 14 year old with her flute and an 81 year old with his harmonica.  This was truly wonderful.
Follow up questions after Br. Craig's talk

Over forty visitors were present beyond the current membership.  This included two ministers, several business people, many friends of Catholics and a few inactive Catholics who visited for the first time.  The spirit was joyous and friendly.  Of the many blessings were the opportunity for our small community of Catholics to spend an afternoon together with good food and begin to become deeper friends and bond more as a new faith community.

The joy of day
We give praise to God for this beautiful success.  We hope that we will be able to reach out to those most suffering, most lost and most in need of Christ.  Like our namesake, we hope to demonstrate the dignity of each individual by our actions in service to them in the name of Jesus.

Finally, typical of any event, the official crucifix for the church did not arrive in time for the event.  This is the way of life, always some detail is not complete.  Yet, no one notices.  However, this crucifix has special meaning for me since a donor purchased this in memory of my nephew Tyler who died many years ago at the age of 23 months.  Another crucifix identical to this one was purchased by the same donor for Blessed John Paul II in Rutledge in memory of my other nephew, David, who died at 19 years of age several years ago.  They arrived today, one day after the event.  Why?  They were ordered from a company that makes them in Peru and they got tied up in customs.  Yet, the event was a success and these images of our Lord Jesus Christ will welcome people in these churches for many years to come.

In memory of nephew, Tyler

Monday, November 14, 2011

Can we do it?

The Congregation of Blessed JP II from the priest's view.
Today's blog is dedicated to Fr. Larry Goulding, who died Saturday evening.  I lived with him for three months as a student, three years as his associate and four years as his housemate during his retirement. Fr. Larry served his country as a marine in Korea and his church as a priest in the rural areas of the United States. He told me many times over the last few months, how going to Union and Grainger County where there has never been a Catholic Church was what Glenmary was all about.  He prayed for our success. I was privileged to have known him and be missioned with him.  May he enjoy the rewards of heaven for his faithful service on earth.

Can we get it done?

Donna cleaning the door
Tuesday, November 1st, I signed a two year rent agreement for our newly established storefront church under the patronage of Blessed John Paul II.  Saturday, November 5 we cleaned the building and had Mass that evening.  Then we had Mass again on Sunday, November 6 at 5 p.m. in Spanish.  I was so excited this was to be the first full weekend of services.  We were up and running in both counties.

Br. Craig and help building the confessional wall
Yet, for the first Mass in this worship space, folks had to bring there own chairs. We had a second hand table for the altar, no curtains, and just the basics for the Mass.  Was I being foolish?  Was I trying too hard or moving too fast?  The ten people who attended that Mass were excited!!  The music was guitar and fiddle which filled the room with joy.  Yet, how would such a small congregation manage the rent?

The faithful few
At the Spanish Mass, we had only 24 people.  Before Mass a long discussion took place about the wisdom in having our own space?  Through the potential for Spanish speaking worshipers is close to 150 or more, would they come?  When they had Mass only once a month, it only cost them 50 dollars.  Could we afford to be in this space?  Yet, we spoke again at the end of Mass and the attitude changed.  Yes, we can do it!!  They began planning Guadalupe and organizing faith formation.  Yet, I was full of doubts.  Should I have moved slower?  Should I have had more conversations with the Spanish speaking population?  Was I truly listening to God and doing God's will?
First Spanish Mass in storefront chapel

So Tuesday, November 8th, I receive a call from a lady in Rutledge.  "I hear there is a Catholic Church in Rutledge.  Can I join?"  The person on the phone began to explain for how three years she has been studying about the Catholic Faith and been listening to tapes produced by Lighthouse Catholic Media.  She suffers from M.S. and is homebound, but she said, "I think I prayed y'all here."  Then I knew, even if it was only a handful of folks, it was right to begin with so little.  The faith is what matters.  Thursday of the same week was our first bilingual Mass.  The group in attendance was both English and Spanish speaking and the interaction was full of joy. They want to be one community of believers.

So what happened last weekend?  Attendance at both Masses more than doubled.  We had twenty people at the English Mass.  This was followed by a surprise birthday party for Br. Craig.  They discovered it was his birthday around noon and by 5p.m. they had every thing ready for him. 
Br. Craig's birthday party

Also Saturday we purchased twenty five chairs.  No more than fifteen minutes later, a Spanish speaking parishioner arrived with ten more chairs-- the same as we just purchased.  Wow, God was at work.  Then Sunday evening at 5 p.m. by the start of Mass every chair was filled.  We put back out the chairs people brought the weekend before and they were filled.  Over fifty folks were present. 

So I join doubting Thomas in seeing the Lord who helps my unbelief.  The Lord is in charge, not I.  Once again, He humbles me and calls me to trust more deeply in His Way.  Fr. Larry used to say, "Anything worth doing, was worth doing poorly."  In others words, if  it needs doing, then start doing,  and leave the rest to God.  May I only be aa good as a missioner as he was.

I do not know if we can get it done, but I am learning, once again, God will get it done!!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Not a numbers game

Back at Bemidji State University, Fr. Jerry Rodgers said, "The Lord never said to count the sheep, just to feed them."  This wise saying has remained with me ever since and has served as a good reminder of Glenmary's rural missionary ministry.
First English Mass attendees in Rutledge, TN

This week, on Tuesday, we signed a lease for worship space in Rutledge.  The community will be known as Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission.  The Saturday night before we held the first Mass and ten people were present.  Furthermore, last Saturday only 45 attended the Spanish Mass that followed.  Yet, even through I was disappointed at the low attendance at the Spanish Mass, I was thrilled at the ten people who attended the All Saint's Day Mass in the home of a parishioner. So it is not about the numbers, but about  providing the Sacrament to those who are present.  If anything, these small numbers compared with the potential of Catholics and unchurched in the area indicate why Glenmary's ministry is needed.  We will see what happens this weekend when we hold the first Masses in the newly rented storefront.

All Saint's Day Mass in Rutledge
At Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission in Maynardville, we thanked Miller's Chapel United Methodist Church for their kindness and hospitality.  Then on November 1, 2011, on the feast of All Saints Day, we held our first Mass in the worship space on Hwy 33.  We had a 90% attendance.  This might be one of the highest ratio of attendance for a Holy Day in the diocese.  Of course, that translates into 38 people.  So it is not about the numbers.
Appreciation Plague presented by Fr. Steve to Rev. Ken of Miller's Chapel
On All Soul's Day, November 2, we held our first Spanish Mass in the history of Union County, TN.  Twelve people were in attendance.  I was thrilled.  After Mass we visited and decided that every Wednesday night Mass will be bilingual followed by faith formation K- Adult.  The Adult classes will be held in English and in Spanish.

Now that we have a physical location and a patron Saint for each place a new phase of missionary development is about to begin.  We do not know how many folks will be worshipping with us.  Yet, whoever comes will be feed. 

Pray our missionary team will not spend time counting the sheep, but remain available to feed the sheep as the Holy Spirit directs us.

Inside of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta