Thursday, September 22, 2011

Buildings ...

Searching for worship space among the beauty of God's creation
One of the first questions people ask me when I introduce myself and tell them why I am here is, "Where is your church?"  It has surprised me how important a physical location for worship and outreach is.  So for the last several weeks, our focus has been on trying to find a building for worship.

In Maynardville, TN we formed a property mission team.  We are not forming committees because they do not speak of the Holy Spirit.  We are all on mission and every structure of our community is sharing in this mission.  Therefore, we are forming mission teams with various focuses.  Anyway, this team has looked at several locations that might house a Catholic faith community.  Unfortunately, because of the poor economy, there have been many buildings to investigate.  Yet, they narrowed it down to two and will be making a recommendation tonight for one of the sites. 

The Carport Masses
On Wednesday, Br. Joe, Br. Craig and I attended the Wednesday morning men's prayer meeting at the Revival Vision Church of God.  Here they joined us in praying that God would help us find the right location.  They themselves are building a new sanctuary.  This gives me a lot of hope.  They have been in the county about nine years and are currently building a sanctuary to seat 280.

 Also, during the month of October, Millers Methodist Church has agreed to allow us to begin Sunday worship in their sanctuary.  We will have Mass beginning October 2, 2011 at 8:30 a.m.  We hope in sharing their building to build a strong relationship for fellowship and outreach with them.  These are all encouraging signs of the Holy Spirit working here in Union and North Grainger.
People after Mass getting ready to enjoy fellowship
In Rutledge buildings are also part of our focus.  Yet, the ecumenical spirit is not as evident.  Br. Craig and I went out one Saturday to introduce ourselves to the Spanish speaking people in one of the trailer parks where many live.  Knocking on doors at the same time was a team of Jehovah Witnesses.  Apparently they have been visiting for some time.  Their church is in the neighboring county and they have hired a bilingual man from Florida just to do outreach to the Spanish speaking people.  I did introduce myself to him and we had a very pleasant visit. 

Br. Joe visiting with the teenagers after Mass.
Despite this reality, last Saturday for my second once a month Spanish Mass, 108 people attended.  This is just amazing.  Thus, this Friday their property mission team will go with me to look over three possible buildings.  The Lord is building His Church.  Now we just need a place to house them in.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Where is the Spirit?

The last two days, Br. Joe, Br. Craig and myself, took some time to go to Nashville for prayer and reflection on what is happening in Union and Grainger Counties.  Fr. Wil Stienbacher, long time Glenmary missioner guided us in this reflection.

Even through Br. Craig and I have only been here for thirty days, and as Br. Joe says, he was here for barely thirty hours, it was still time to take a moment for deep reflection.  One of the truths is that no body brings Jesus anywhere.  Jesus is already present everywhere before anyone arrives.  Therefore, one of the early tasks is to pause enough so our eyes, ears and hearts can be open enough to perceive how Christ is already working through the Holy Spirit here in Union and Grainger Counties. 
The view from our front door.  The Spirit of God is in the beauty.

To gain this insight, we have to acknowledge our biases, our prejudices and  preferences, and seek the signs of the fruits of the Spirit.  One guide for this is from Paul's letter to the Galatians "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (5:22).  In the anti-drug March on Sunday, August 21 and last Sunday's prayer in the court house for grandparents days, the Spirit was singing.  The communal style of prayer, where everyone prays at once out loud at the same time, was different from other communal prayer experiences, but the fervour and the desire was uplifting.

In our local gatherings of the Catholics, now both in Union and Grainger Counties, we have heard stories of faith, of struggle and of belief.  Many have expressed our coming here to begin a Catholic Church in Maynardville and in Rutledge as answers to long offered prayers.

In the various social agencies we have touch based with, a care for the poor and those on the edge of life is present.  God's grace is already here.  Our task is to discover it, embrace it, nurture it, and go with it.  Yet, that all takes discernment and prayer.  In the midst of the Holy Spirit blowing over these counties, the reality of sin also exists.

In the guidelines of service as written by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, states, "Don't be afraid to smash idols and don't be afraid to bow in reverence!!"  There are idols of false worship in all places also.  The sins of each of us three missioners can limit the Spirit's work.  The sin in the Catholics and other Christians can hinder the clarity of God's love around us.  Social sins often are left unconfronted because we are part of the social fabric that creates them. This prevents the reign of God emerging more clearly.  However, before idols can be smashed or altars be reverenced, we need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the eyes of God which can only come from prayer and discernment.

Therefore these last two days began opening us up to be more reflective, prayerful and discerning about God's presence within us and around us, before us and behind us.  The Lord has put much in motion.

The Spirit is flowing all ov'r this land.
The Union and North Grainger counties are meeting in mission teams searching for rental property, developing prayer ministries, seeking membership promotion and considering resource potential.  Our next Mass and Meeting will be September 22.  Grainger County (Rutledge) met Monday with 32 in attendance.  They will meet again Saturday, September 17 one hour before the Spanish Mass there.  All of this are signs of God's grace.  Yet, each step requires prayer and discernment.

The Spirit is here.  May we be open enough to allow her to guide us.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Carport Mass

Today I have been here in Maynardville, TN for one month.  Also, Br. Joe will arrive in the afternoon completing the team with myself and Br. Craig.

The first BYOC Mass (bring your own chair) was celebrated Wednesday, September 7, 2011 in the carport of our rental home in Maynardville.  I was uncertain what type of response we would have.  On Monday we had record rainfalls, followed more days of rain, drizzle and dampness.  Yet, twenty six people came ranging from ages 7 to 88. 

Now twenty six people may not sound like many people to some.  Yet, in the two counties of Union and Grainger that already has us larger than most of the Methodist congregations in the area.  This is a very heavy missionary and primitive Baptist area.  There is an even higher population that does not attend any church.  So all of us were thrilled with this turn out.

In many ways it reminded me of the early church gathering in homes to pray and worship.  "Every day they devoted themselves to meetng together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes." (Acts 2:46).  There was singing, praying and rejoicing.  This new and budding community were bonded in fellowship through the grace and power of the real presence of Jesus Christ through the sacrifce of the Mass.  The Body and Blood of Christ was really present and consumed by the faith community, the other Body of Christ.

At the offertory, not a single dollar was given ... because not one dollar was asked for.  Instead, they were asked to write on a card how much time they will dedicate in prayer, especially prayer for the establishment of a Catholic Worshipping community here in Union and North Grainger Counties.  These cards were placed on the altar and left there during the consecration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  Now they sit on the Glenmary mission prayer space in our house.  Eventually, dollars will be needed to establish this faith community.  Yet, the spiritual foundation is far, far more important.  If we lead with spiritual confidence and sacrifice, the funds will follow. "Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. ... But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and these things will be given you besides. " (Matt 6:25,33).

After the Mass we decided to meet again on Thursday, September 22, for another carport Mass.  The property mission team updated on the progress of finding a place for worship.  Finally, the community was encouraged to bring suggestions for a name at the next meeting.  The guidelines were a name that would speak to people in an evangelical culture, a name that no other Catholic Church in the diocese of Knoxville already has, and to trust the Holy Spirit to inspire them in a creative choice.

Of course, after this brief meeting, we ate, laughed and shared with one another.  This group of worshippers, though have lived here for a number of years, have been going to over 5 different Catholic churches outside of the county.  Thus, this social time is important for us to bond as a community.  We had the opportunity to celebrate one birthday in our midst and congratulate another couple who just became that very day, great grandparents.

There is no question that the Holy Spirit was with us.  We left encourage, excited and humbled by what God is doing in our midst.
Group photo after Mass
This natures cross was seen growing out of the gutters of our garage.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Positive Experiences of Church

The youngest and oldest and a few in between
"A sense of Belonging" was the first response to the question "What factors lead to a positive experience of Church.  Thursday, September 1, seventeen Catholics gathered for the second time to continue planning for the formation of a new Church here in Union and North Grainger County.  The focus of our prayer and discussion was about what helps us encounter Jesus Christ in Church.  Four themes emerged through this sharing.

First, was the "sense of belonging".  Jesus traveled with twelve disciples and several women who supported him financially.  The early church gathered and "had everything in common." (Acts 4:32) The joy of the Catholic Church is that all are welcome and any one who desires can belong.  The challenge as human beings with our limitations is that we may have some prejudices, likes and dislikes that might keep some from feeling that this particular Catholic Church, this unique worshipping community of believers, really has room for everyone to belong.  Yet, with this desire stated publicly, all of us gathered are committed to create this space. 

The second theme is closely related to the first -- A church that is open to others, to the world, and to everything.  Jesus shares a parable in Luke's Gospel which concludes, "Go out to the highways and hedgerows and make people come in that my home may be filled." (See Luke 14:15-24)  The challenge for the church to be open to everyone and everything that is good is easier in theory than reality.  Our world tends to label and separate people.  This local church most likely will include people with many forms of spirituality, some which may be difficult for others to understand.  People of different races and different classes may attend.  At the very least Republicans and Democrats will be under the same roof.  If we are to be open to everyone, we will need to put aside the way of the world which tends to judge and separate others. Instead we need to embrace the vision of God whose love and compassion embraces all His children.  Only the Holy Spirit alive in each member will aid us to overcome our human inclinations and be a reflection of God's kingdom.

Enjoying Br. Craig's apple crisp
The next two themes deal with the experience of worship.  These are good music and good sermons. In small communities "good music" is a matter of judgement.  This new community does have a piano player and that is a wonderful start.  The community did agree it is more important that we all sing and sing with joy than have a choir that is beautiful and talented, but does not encourage all of us to sing.  One of our saints, once said, "Singing is praying twice".  Church is one place where we can sing regardless of talent, because we sing to praise Jesus with our heart and soul.

Good sermons, however, become my responsibility.  The only promise concerning sermons I could make to the community was to be well prepared.  This means to be rooted in prayer and work everyday in preparation for the Sunday homily.  In the sharing about "good sermons" two points seem to register with folks.  The first was "we do not need homilies about hell."  A possible re-interpretation of this remark might be, "We know about hell, please help us get to heaven."  In general Jesus' stories, teachings and parables tend to be uplifting and hopeful.  His strongest and sternest comments are aimed at the Pharisees and Sadducee's, that is, the religious elite of his time.  The other point, was for the homily to offer some historical and theological context and NOT to go around and around, repeating the same thing over and over.  I am humbled by this challenge.  It reminds me of the importance of the homily in the spiritual life of the people.  Like John the Baptist, it will be important that I might decrease so Jesus might increase.  Again, it is only the Holy Spirit that can guide me to offer a sound homily based on the Scriptures. Furthermore, it is only the Holy Spirit that can open the heart and souls of the listeners to receive what God wishes them to hear.
Mother and daughter have been praying for years for a Church in Union County

Therefore, as we continue to take steps closer one at time, the hopes are becoming clearer.  This Wednesday will be our BYOC Mass, that is Bring Your Own Chair.  Check back with this blog to see how that goes.