Friday, December 28, 2012

December Celebrations

I had hoped to blog several times during the month of December, but what can you expect from a priest still hoping to finish mailing his Christmas cards as he sits in front of his computer on the feast of the Holy Innocents?

Home Altar for Rosary in preparation for Guadalupe
December was a month full of joy and celebrations at both churches in both counties.  At Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission we began the joy of Advent with nine days of rosaries before the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Between 50 and 100 gathered every night until the 12 of December at various homes or in the church to pray and prepare for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Those who received people in their home also provided a meal for all who attended.

Cast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Drama
Dancers from St. Mary's during the Procession
 On December 7th a unique situation happened:  We celebrated three titles of Mary at one Mass.  We  held the vigil for the Immaculate Conception, we held the rosary for Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it was the night to remember the the Virgen of Juquila, important to the people of Oaxaca, Mexico.  We anticipated the feast of our Lady of Guadalupe with a full celebration the Sunday before,  and held our first Mananitas on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Blessed John Paul II and the Mass was held at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Maynardville.

Dance of los viejos at BTC

Live display of the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe at BTC

After Guadalupe, we moved into our advent communal soup and penance services and the nine days of the posadas.  Soup and Penance has been a terrific experience at both churches.  Coming together to enjoy savory soups, fresh bread and fellowship before reconciling ourselves to one another and God is fast becoming a new tradition.  The Posadas again took place for nine days in various homes and in the churches prior to Christmas.

Fr. Aaron and friends at Soup and Penance
The two highlights of the Posadas was on the 19th in Maynardville and the 23 at Blessed John Paul II in Rutledge.  On the 19th one group of folks went out caroling and another stayed at the church for the Las Posadas.  The Posadas is a Latino tradition where one sings an ancient song about Mary and Joseph trying to find a place to stay.   On the final verse they enter into the final home.  We pray the rosary and then there are treats for everyone and candy for the kids.  At Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we concluded with the pinata and at Blessed John  Paul II on the 23 we held a Nativity play.
Godfrey and others in the cast of the Nativity Play at JP II

Christmas celebrations were filled with joy.  With the help of Fr. Aaron, we held Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses in both places.   All Masses were well attended, but we were surprised by 102 folks to celebrate the birth of our Lord for the Christmas Eve Mass at Blessed Teresa in Maynardville.

Fr. Steve with this year's "baby Jesus"
So as we approach the New Year with one more Sunday of joy in  2012, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to each and every reader.  May your December end with as many blessings as I have witnessed every day this month.  As Tiny Tim would say, "God Bless you, everyone."
Godfrey, Fr. Steve, Fr. Bruce and Fr. Aaron wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A child shall lead them ...

Fr. Aaron signing Amanda and McKenzie
On the feast of Christ the King, five individuals between the ages of 12 -17 where signed with the cross in making their pledge to prepare for initiation into the Catholic Church.  On the first Sunday of Advent three children recieved the grace of the sacrament of Baptism.  Therefore, we closed the liturgical year and opened the new one with signs of new life for Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Missions.

Fr. Steve blessing the two new catechumens
What is happening with the two individuals in Rutledge at Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission is unique and amazing.  Last Lent during our first youth retreat, McKenzie and her grandmother stopped by surprised to find a Catholic Church in Rutledge.  It had been a number of years since her grandmother had been to church.  So while I spoke to her grandmother, McKenzie joined the youth retreat.  When I had finished visiting with her grandmother, McKenzie asked to stay for the day.  At the end of the day she asked about becoming baptized as a Catholic.  This fall, with the arrival of Fr. Aaron as youth minister and director of faith formation, McKenzie began bringing friends to the church and to classes.  On the last Sunday of November, the feast of Christ the King, McKenzie and Amanda, both 17 years old, took the next step towards Baptism.  Amanda's sister is also very interested in joining as is another teenager.  All of these individuals grew up in Grainger county as well as their families.  This is a wonderful blessing.
Welcoming Alonzo into the Catechuminate

In Maynardville at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission, Alonzo, whose father as a Baptist desires his children to be older before making their decision on religion, and Lydia and Houston, whose grandmother is a member of our church, are also preparing to be recieved into the church at the Easter Vigil.  Along with these three youth, two spouses of Catholics will also be confirmed into the Catholic Faith.  What great gifts of faith we are recieving here in our small missions.

Welcoming Lydia and Houston
Finally, on the first Sunday of Easter three children were baptized as their parents have recently returned to active practice of their faith. 
Our Three New Members and their families

All of this reminds me of the Isaiah verse used so often during Advent: 

"Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together with a little child to guide them"(Is 11:6).

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cycle of Life

On Tuesday, Jessie, an older man was buried and on Wednesday, Riley, now five months old, came home from the hospital since his premature birth at six months.  The cycle of life is always flowing in the missions of Eastern Tennessee.

Since my last blog, this cycle of life has been witnessed in various ways.  Fr. Aaron celebrated his first baptisms; we had our first Quinceanera (15th birthday for Latina women) at Blessed John Paul II and we had one newborn presented in church.  At the same time, we have had the sad news of two parishioners being diagnosed with cancer.  One for the first time and one discovering her cancer has spread despite treatment.  This cycle of life beginning and life ending is the norm of parish life.  Yet, going back to Jessie and Riley, we discover the "Glenmary factor" at work here.

Flowers presented at Quinceanera
Jessie, originally from New Orleans, never entered our church, not even his body upon his death.  Br. Craig met Jessie in the Nursing Home during his weekly visits.  He mentioned that Jessie would like to see a priest.  Then we discover that Jessie is in a coma in the hospital.  Fr. Aaron and Br. Craig went up to see him and anoint him.  They both visited frequently and came to know his friend Patricia.  Jessie and Patricia were not married but shared life for a number of years.  Upon his death, again Br. Craig and Fr. Aaron, accompanied Patricia through her grief.  As they planned the funeral they discovered that that no one would be Catholic attending the funeral, yet she knew that Jessie would like to have a funeral Mass.  Thus a number of parishioners took time out for their Thanksgiving preparations to attend the funeral which was held in the funeral home.  Who knows what the impact of this Christian witness and strong loving support will do to help people grow in their faith in Jesus Christ.  Yet, this is the heart of Glenmary evangelization, ministering to everyone in the county regardless if they have faith or no faith.

Similarly, the story of young Riley, is another example.  Here just under five months ago, Br. Craig and I drove to Knoxville just before midnight to anoint Riley's mother before the emergency delivery with her just entering her sixth month of pregnancy.  Two days later, I was there to bless little Riley who was born 1 pound and 10 ounces.  At that time, I gave them a Padre Pio medal that I purchased at his shrine in Italy and that was blessed by Pope Benedict XVI which they placed at the foot of his bed.  Yesterday, I enjoyed my Thanksgiving day meal with his extended family.  His father, Chris, who is not Catholic, assured me as I blessed Riley again, that the Padre Pio medal I gave him remains at the end of his bed where it has been since I gave it to them.  The depth of Catholic devotion in miracles through the intercession of the Saints has become meaningful to this young man.  God moves in His own way at His own pace.  We just respond where grace, hope and mercy are needed.

Community Thanksgiving service in Rutledge
Thus, at the ecumenical Thanksgiving gatherings I participated in, I was able to offer genuine thanks for the Glenmary mission team that the Lord as sent here and the opportunity to introduce the Catholic way of life in Union and Grainger County, especially where inactive Catholic and non Catholics life intersect.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Happy Anniversary

Our newest members, Janet and Chuck
November 1 and November 4 each  marked the first Anniversary of  worship in our rental spaces for both Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed John Paul II.  In between we had some other special moments as well.

Alls Saints Day Altar, BTC
The feast of All Saints Day marked the first anniversary of worship in the storefront building for Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission Maynardville, TN.  This year we created a little All Saints Day altar.  Included were our patroness Blessed Teresa and the primary patrons of Glenmary, the North American  Martyrs.

Prior to this Feast Day, we held a Trunk or Treat which was a true joy and a wonderful outreach to the boarder community. 
Those happy tricksters

Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission marked its first anniversary of offering Mass every Sunday on November 4th.  We marked this anniversary in the best way possible --- we added two new members.  Chuck and Janet were members of the Anglican Church, but became dissatisfied over decisions about the qualifications of Bishops.  After attending our little mission, they found a great welcome and peace.  They joined the choir and now they are full members of the Roman Catholic Church. 
Inviting the Holy Spirit

All Soul's Day Altar
Of course, prior to that we did celebrate our first All Soul's Day and had a small altar with photos of our deceased loved ones to remember those who have gone before us.  Every Sunday during the month of November a small book with the names of the faithfully departed will be placed on the altar.

So despite the cold weather setting in, we find ourselves warmed by the love of one another, gratitude for one year in our worship space, and the Love of Jesus through His Blessed Sacraments.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mother Teresa, Blessed John Paul II and Retreat

Lake Junalaski, NC
Starting last weekend, we had an inspiring display on Mother Teresa, celebrated the our patron Pope John Paul II and then I left for retreat. In others words, I have been inspired from every direction.
Display about Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Saturday and Sunday of October 20 and 21, we received, and opened to the public, a traveling display on the life, spirituality and message of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Through we had a small response from the boarder community, those who attended benefited from the experience. Also, any petitions written will eventually be placed on Blessed Teresa's tomb. This gave all of us a chance to understand more deeply the life of our patroness and reflect on how we may better honor her in our daily works.

Feast of Blessed John Paul II
The feast of Blessed John Paul II was October 22.  On Saturday, two of our parishioners with polish heritage prepared special food for everyone after Mass.  On Sunday, we had a special potluck with everyone to celebrate our Patron.  There is always a beautiful spirit when people from both Masses are together for an event.  We continue to get to know each other and food does not need a language.

A full church with full stomachs
After this very blessed event, I was on retreat for four days with the priest of the diocese of Knoxville.  We stayed at Lake Junalaski outside of Maggie Valley, North Carolina.  It was truly a beautiful and serene experience.  Our retreat Master mentioned on the first evening that our demons like to travel too, but we should just send to another room for the week.  I like that image.  It was easy to avoid the demons when walking amidst such beauty.  The color of the leaves, the serenity of the water, or the movement of the fowl, all gave me a sense of God's grander of love and mercy.  Believe you, me, ... I am deeply grateful that God is more merciful than just and loves us just as we are this moment!!
Reflecting the Grander of God

So today, I feel renewed, blessed and loved.  What more could I ask for!!  God is good ... All the time.  All the time ... God is good.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Full Life

Godfrey, Fr. Aaron, myself and Bishop Stika at JP II
If time passing quickly is a sign of a full and happy life, then I am living one.  I cannot believe a month has passed without a new blog.  My life is full of joy.  The Holy Spirit is so active, that I find every day full and in the evening I am a happy tired.  So let me share with you two sides of ministry here.  One being parish and pastoral responsibilities and the other realities of individuals in our mission.
2012 First Communion and Confirmation Group of JP II

Parish event wise, Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission in Rutledge celebrated Confirmation.  This was an incredible event.  Four people made first communion and 22 others were confirmed, with some of them also making their first communion.  The Bishop also blessed the homemade altar.  Over 190 people were present, with many standing outside under the tent or by the front entrance.  Afterwards was a terrific meal with a Bluegrass Band featuring one of our parishioners followed by a Mexican Band featuring other parishioners.  It was a wonderful day in the life of our mission.
Mike and his Bluegrass group

This was followed by the start of faith formation under Fr. Aaron's direction in both parishes.  We also had an information booth at the Luttrell Bluegrass festival and sold tamales and fried pickles at the Heritage Festival.  Both events were great exposure for Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission of Maynardville.
Luttrel Blue Grass Festival

In between, I traveled to St. Malachy Parish in Geneseo, IL who has adopted us in Maynardville.  The Brown's also traveled with me.  We were meet with great grace.  We are very thankful for all they are doing to support our budding mission. Also, I traveled to Cincinnati Headquarters to speak at the President's Dinner for some of our Glenmary Home Mission donors.  This too, was a real pleasure.  I meet several family members of some of our deceased members.  Their stories were edifying to me personally.
Speaking to President's Dinner
Bishop Stika

In the midst of this, Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission has held several meetings concerning purchase of possible land for a permanent church.  Keep us in prayer over this matter.

On the level of parishioners, there are many personal stories happening.  We just had a funeral last Monday.  We have a woman with cancer who is having a hard time getting to her treatments. Another has had her mother die in Mexico and neither her or other family members are not able to travel to Mexico for the burial.  This Sunday six members will be confirmed at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

Thus, in the midst of the planning and activities of the mission, individuals need pastoral care and support.  Now you know why my life is full.  I thank God for allowing me to walk with those in sorrow, plan for a future growth, and be present those affirming their faith through the Sacraments. May God continue to shower us with His blessings and allow our Glenmary mission team to respond with grace and joy.

Monday, September 10, 2012

More Missioners

WELCOME Fr.Aaron and Godfrey
Two more Glenmary missioners have joined our team here in Grainger and Union county.  Fr. Aaron Wessman just was ordained in May.  He will serve as our associate pastor overseeing in particular the youth ministry, religious formation and assisting with the music ministry.  Godfrey Musabe is a Glenmary novice who was raised in Uganda and has been with Glenmary for two years.  He will be with us for five months.

After each of our Masses a welcome social was given.  Both men seemed to enjoy themselves and their was plenty of good food for them.

One of four great meals
It may seem strange that two rural counties with less than 1% Catholic now have four full time Glenmary missioners and a student.  And it is!!  This is very unusual, but it is a huge blessing.  Our geographical territory is large with Clinch Mountain in the middle.  Each Catholic community has two Masses one in English and one is Spanish.  The level of poverty and social needs remain high.  So more missioners are very much welcomed.

Fr. Aaron
This really is a huge blessing is possible because we belong to a Universal Church.  In Union County there is only one other full time minister that I am aware of in the whole county.  In Grainger, I only  know of three.  Most ministers are bi vocational (that is they work during the week and preach on weekends). These congregations, often averaging about 40 people can not afford a full time preacher.  The expense it takes to support five missioners is a result of being part of the Roman Catholic Church.  It is made possible by the generosity of Glenmary Donors around the United States, a number of parishes and individuals that have adopted our missions and missioners, the generosity of the diocese of Knoxville and the contributions of people of these two communities and beyond.  It is one of the great things about being Catholic.

Yet, with this blessing, come huge responsibilities. We hope to spread the Good News of Jesus to every hill, holler and valley.  We aim to bring healing and hope to those who are distant from Christ. Together in partnership with other churches, agencies and civic groups we hope to help establish the Reign of God more clearly in these two counties.  So the more missioners, the more we can accomplish for the sake of Jesus and His Kingdom.

Confirmation Retreat at JP II
Just in these short two weeks that our new missioners have been here, outside of the two Weekend of Masses, we had a Labor Day Wedding, the celebration of our Patroness Blessed Teresa of Calcutta on her feast day , and the Confirmation Retreat.  We meet with the ministers of Rutledge and attended the dedication of the new church building for Revival Vision Church of God in Maynardville. 

La Boda--The happy couple and the Glenmary Missioners
I am so excited about how these new men will add to the Glory of God and the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am grateful to ever donor who has sent money or prayer on our behalf.  I am grateful to our parishioners who have embraced them and are reaching out to others. I am grateful to those who have supported us in any way. Most of all,  I am grateful to God for allowing me to part of this experience.  God is doing so much, it just amazes me. 

The joy it brings me is beyond telling and only leads me deeper to prayer.  Thank You God!!  Thank You Glenmary!!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!!.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Social Outreach and Evangelization to the Unchurched

Fr. Steve and Jerry at Heritage Festival
This morning Br. Joe and Br. Craig are unloading a truck of food.  Four times a year, Douglas Cherokee distributes government commodities to folks in need.  Since February they have been using our little store front church in Rutledge.  This is one way in which we are making a small effort to help establish the Reign of God through social outreach.

Commodity Distribution at the old location
We began early on volunteering with this program since they stated they could use help.  Around 400 or more families will be given a box of food.  When Douglas Cherokee relocated, they needed a new space for the distribution.  This will be the third time it will happen from our building.  This little relationship has lead to beginning of a food pantry sponsored by the three downtown churches, Rutledge Methodist, Rutledge Baptist and Blessed John Paul II.  Another small project is that "Team Dad" uses our building for parenting and job training classes.  These are first steps in our attempt to engage in social outreach and establish the Reign of God more clearly in Grainger County.
God's Reign will flow

God's cross of hope can be found anywhere
Br. Joe and Br. Craig have been the lead forces in social outreach.  I belong to I-Care for a drug free Union County, but outside of a once a month meeting, this is not a great effort.  Br. Joe has worked on two remodeling projects with local families, including fixing a toilet.  The couple had been using buckets since the toilet broke and they did not have funds to repair it.  Br. Joe is also a frequent visitor to the Narrow Ridge Community in Grainger County.  This community has a strong commitment to the environment.  Many of these people are deeply spiritual, but not necessarily church goers.

Br. Craig is involved in Bingo Calling at one of the Senior Citizen Centers and one of the Nursing Homes.  He also is a weekly greeter at the school which allows him to make new connections.  Finally, he is also teaching literacy to one adult in the Washburn area.

The vastness and beauty of the mission awaits
These efforts are significant in our first year, but we hope more will happen.  The Glenmary Founder, Fr. William Howard Bishop, wrote about "catholicity" or the idea that Catholic Spirituality and the Reign of God need to be prompted in our areas whether this leads to anyone joining the Church or not.  This type of social outreach I like to say is that we hope the community is more Christian for Glenmary being there than before we came. 

This has been a good first year, but far more needs to happen.  Yet, we are still building trust and are still listening to the local folks about what they need.  This too involves us learning from them on how to proceed once a need is identified.  So we will continue to go slow and go where we are invited.
John returns to the Church and makes his first communion
Another category of importance is "Evangelizing to the Unchurched".  It is estimated that Union County as about 60% unchurched and Grainger considerable less than that.  Yet, so far, we have not done any concentrated efforts outside of advertising.  I have plans of visiting the trailer parks where many unchurched folks live.  In year one, we did have two converts and many inactive Catholics return.  Yet, this will be a major goal of the years ahead.

Sarah upon her conversation into the Catholic Church
We have accomplished alot with God's help in our first year, but as today's reflections demonstrate, we have a lot more ahead of us.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ecumenism -- First anniversary, part two

Methodist Church where the first Sunday Mass was offered
An important aspect of being a Glenmary Home Missioner is to engage in ecumenical activity, that is to develop relationships with other Christian churches and ministers.  The ease in which this has happened in Union and Grainger County as been one of the biggest surprises.

Pastor Frank, one of the members of the men's prayer group
When we arrived in Union County preparation for the first ever ecumenical event was underway. A large march against drugs and alcohol abuse followed by a prayer service in the park was scheduled.  We took an active role in this march.  Also, we attended the next two prayers at the court house that followed.  This allowed us early on to meet some of the local Christians and pastors. 

Around this same time, we received an invitation to join the men's prayer group on Wednesday mornings at Revival Vision Church of God.  Pastor Jim is the only other full time pastor in the area that I am aware of us.  For one year now, Br. Craig, Br. Joe and myself have joined this group for an hour or so of prayer each week.  It has been a wonderful blessing and means of support.

Pastor Ken of Miller's Chapel UMC
Then in October 2011, Miller's Chapel United Methodist Church opened there doors for us to begin offering Mass on Sunday mornings in their building.  This led to the first ecumenical Thanksgiving service where Revival Vision, Miller's Chapel and Blessed Teresa joined together to give praise to God.  It was a wonderful time.  This summer Miller's Chapel United Methodist Church and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission joined together for a Bible School.  So the Lord is slowly building relationships here that may lead to a deep conversion of the citizens of Union County where almost 60 % are unchurched.
Joint Bible School with UMC

The other activity that continues in Union County is the every third Saturday prayer against drugs.  This rotates from Church to Church.  Whereas, I am unable to come to these sessions very often due to the Saturday evening Mass in Rutledge, Br. Joe and Br.  Craig have been very faithful in their attendance.  We will host this event in November.

Pastor Jim from Revival Vision
In Grainger County, events have moved forward in a different but exciting way.  I meet the Methodist minister, Pastor Ryan, within my first couple of weeks in the area.  In late September and October he opened up his church to allow us to hold organizational meetings there.

Then in November we were invited to be a part of the Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service.  A good number of our folks attended.  During the planning session, concern about drug and alcohol addition arose.  Therefore, I helped organize a program for ministers which was held at Rutledge Baptist church on the issue.  This was well attended and lead to some other gatherings.

Christian Group at Outdoor Ecumenical Prayer Service
Yet, the greatest blessing that emerged was Pastor Ryan, Pastor Chan of Rutledge Baptist Church, and myself gather every first or second Thursday of the month for mutual support, prayer and a meal.  This has been a great gift to me personally.  Furthermore, it has lead us to begin a community food pantry which is slowly getting started this month.

Pastor Ryan from Rutledge Methodist Church
Also in Grainger County, Br. Craig leads a bible study about once a month at the Senior Citizen Center.  Through this ministry, he has meet several other pastors in the area.

Thus the dream of Jesus as stated in John 14, that we may all be one as He and the Father are one is moving forward.  Where these relationships will lead remains the work and mystery of the Holy Spirit, but a great foundations has been established.