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.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

One Year Review--Nurture

First Public Mass in Union County-2011
One year ago, on the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the first Mass ever in Union County, TN was offered.  Br. Craig and myself were the only two in attendance as it marked our arrival together at this mission.  Br. Joe arrived about a month later.  Therefore the next few blog reflections will review our first year in these two new Catholic missions.
First English Mass in Grainger County 2011

Spanish Mass Social at Agricultural Center- Sept. 2011
Glenmary Home Missioners often promotes five areas of missionary activity.  These are Catholic Nurture, Ecumenism, Evangelization to the Unchurched, Social Outreach, and Universalism.  These categories will guide my reflections.

Obviously, the largest amount of activity this year has been Catholic Nurture.  Prior to my arrival, I received a list of Catholics who attended interest meetings and a list of those who receive the Tennessee Catholic Newspaper.  Thus we invited those in Union County to attend a meeting at the Senior Citizens Center for two information meetings in August. Our first public Mass was a" bring your own chair" Mass under our Carport on September 7, 2011.  The first Sunday Mass was held October 2, 2011 at Miller's Chapel United Methodist Church.  The first Mass in our rental building under the name of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Mission was All Saint's Day, November 1st.  Our first Spanish Mass was for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, 2011.
Planners of the first Spanish Mass in Maynardville - 2011

The beginnings in Grainger County were different.  Once a month Saturday evening Masses in Spanish were already being celebrated at the Agricultural Center with the priests from St. Patrick's in Morristown conducting them.  I took over the responsibility on the last Saturday in August.  In September we had a huge gathering for the feast of St. Michael the Archangel with 108 in attendance. On November 6 was the first Sunday Mass in Spanish in our new building with only about 30 people in attendance.  The English Speaking community gathered in the American Legion for our first meeting in September with 34 in attendance.  We struggled finding meeting space and physical location in the months of September and October. In October, Rutledge Methodist Church opened its door for our planning sessions.  We managed to offer our first English Mass on the last Saturday of October with 11 people in attendance.  These were our humble beginnings at Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission.

First Guadalupe Festival in Rutledge--2011
From November until now the growth in both missions has been incredible.  At Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we now have Mass in both languages every Sunday.  We average around 50 folks in attendance at both hours, but they both can have much higher attendance as well.  We have had one adult confirmed into the faith and six young people make their first Holy Communion and another eight are preparing for Confirmation in October.  The boy scouts won awards at their first diocesan gathering and we have sponsored several socials with great success.  We even managed to have a Bible School. 
Scout Sunday - 2012 at BTC

This Saturday a group of men will begin remodeling the expansion unit.  Yes, we are now renting the storage unit between the office and worship space, so there will be room for socials, additional classroom space and counseling area.  God is doing something amazing here.  The Holy Spirit is alive and moving.

In Grainger, we have had a fantastic year.  Our Saturday evening English Mass continues to grow even through we remain small.  We have gone from an average of 18 people to 30.  On Thursday evenings for our midweek service, we averaged during the school year about 30.  We had 18 children make first communion in June and 24 youth and adults to be confirmed in September.  We have formed a mission advisory team and mission resource team (similar to parish and financial councils). Adoration is available every Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.  We have regular socials. We held an under the tent Bible School.  Last week 38 people attended the English Mass and 89 the Mass in Spanish.  So we continue to grow under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

First Communicants at JP II - June 2012
First Communicants at BTC- May 2012(plus one)
One important factor has been the home visits of Br. Craig.  He continues to visit homes weekly, discovering new Catholics and talking to ones not yet coming.  Through his work, our homebound list for communion as grown and most likely will continue to grow. 
Bible School at BTC- August 2012
Let the Holy Spirit Flow

Who could have predicted such a beautiful start to these two missions a year ago?  I am humbled and blessed to be a part of God's gracious work among such wonderful people.  Together with Br. Craig and Br. Joe we are excited for year two!!