It’s Time to Be Attractive!

 

We have been blessed with a parish that grows every single year. We have also been blessed by a parish that has a demographic that most churches would love to have! With an average age that is below 50, and a population of children that grows every single year and a volunteer base that is also growing stronger with every month! We also do a large number of baptisms every month and our weddings increase every single year, too! Our incoming PREP/CCD Classes are the largest ever and our Preschool has surpassed yet another milestone this year with its fall incoming class! We are openly innovative, liturgically traditional, socially progressive, and radically welcoming! Wow, huh?!

That is way every single year we evaluate and reevaluate all the major activities of the parish. We actually (Yes, literally!) sit down with the ministry and lay leadership teams and decide what stays, what goes, what needs revamped, and what ‘new’ must come in! From Small Groups, to Fellowship and Outreach, to Mass Times, to Social and Fund-Raising Events, to Stewardship and budgets, to the needs to the ever-changing parish dynamic, every major aspect is revaluated annually to ensure we are never stale and always a needed part of your lives!

In the words of a good pastor, mentor, and friend of mine, many parishes find that they are only critically needed and embraced when someone is dying, someone has died, or someone thinks about dying! Not at Saint Miriam. While so many clergy open churches in garages or back rooms for the photo-ops, we continue to build a place that actually is a church, a relevant and needed place, that swings wide its doors to open the love of God to everyone who wishes to taste and see the goodness of the Lord, not a place where clergy get to play dress-up. We are relevant because you and your family are always first on our minds and the backdrop of every decision is the love of God and warmth of a welcome that can only be found in the One whom we follow, Jesus. But, we need your help, too!

So, besides your own attendance and giving, how can you help us? By inviting someone to church! It really is as simple as that! You see, there are four main ways to get people to start attending a church: (1) Advertising, which produces a result of less than 2%, (2) An invitation by me, as a pastor, which is a little more effective at 6%, (3) Any organized visitation, event, or outreach has a resultant expectation of about 8%, but a personal invitation from a friend like you? Ready for this?? A whopping 86% effective rate! That’s correct! One of the most effective ways to welcome new faces into your church is to have them brought by a face they already know! A friend, neighbor, or co-worker, a person they run into when in need like YOU! You can provide what I can never offer: a level of comfort and the easing of that awful sense of isolation that so often comes when entering an unfamiliar space for the first time, even a church as wonderful as ours!

Passionate people like you are what made Saint Miriam so special, and it is passionate people like you who are willing to invite someone they know to church that will help us grow into a place that welcomes them, too!

Folks, it’s Time to Be Attractive!
 
 


A Church of Belonging, Not Just One of Welcome.

 

This past week we had a family come by to visit us and I had the opportunity to visit with them for a few minutes. They told me how they have been going to another local Catholic Church but have been unsatisfied. They began by telling me how ‘strict’ they have become and how they claim they are the ‘one, true Church’ and that all other traditions are ‘flawed’. They also were emphatic that the recent issues are due to gay men in the church. Another flawed and sad conclusion of diversion. Further, to make matters worse, their children have been attending their CCD/PREP Program only to find that the teachers instructed them that if they should ever go to ‘any other catholic church, they would be damned to Hell’.

It is almost an irony that in light of all the recent troubles the church has had publicized that anyone would continue this line of attack. After all, should you not have your own house in order before demonizing someone else? And, it is a further irony that I just added a “Snapshot” of who we are at our parish website!

On paper Roman Catholics and Old Catholics have much in common — liturgically they are difficult to tell apart, except to the trained eye. Yet that emotional conflict overshadows the whole relationship, as a vocal minority of Old Catholics tends to be very much against any further rapprochement with Rome, while some Roman Catholics like to take potshots at the Old Catholics.

I could go on about the more Orthodox approach we have to the Eucharist, and our understanding of the sacraments as holy mysteries not needing any further explanation, or how the global church is set up, much like the Orthodox Church, as a communion of autonomous national churches, each headed by a metropolitan or bishop; these bishops then join together in the International Bishops’ Conference, with the Archbishop of Utrecht serving as primus inter pares, much like the Ecumenical Patriarch does in the Orthodox communion.  But, rather, I would like to emphasize how the defining characteristic of Old Catholicism is, as I believe, a stronger emphasis on the concept of the church as a community of all believers that practices as great a hospitality as possible. In other words, we are a church of belonging, not just one of welcome.

I think that is why I left the Roman Church. Where Rome tends to have a highly hierarchical and legalistic view of the Church, we, as Old Catholics, tend to view Mother Church as more a mystical community of love, avoiding things like excommunication or legal punishments, or any placing rules and regulations above people.

Now, don’t get me wrong! We are a people of tradition, too, it is true. And, dare I say that we follow a more orthodox model of the church so maybe we are the realchurch! (N.B. read as humor here, please!) I maintain there is a real beauty to be found in our traditions; one that may not propel us forward in the sense of quantifiable progress or change, but moves us forward as human beings in life, wisdom, understanding, and emotion. Indeed, aside from its function to pass on the values, morals, customs, and culture from one generation to the next, tradition also teaches us something about life, where we came from, but most importantly, who we are.

In the end, things change. Improvements are made. The world evolves. But, the essence of who we are as humans – our struggles, our fears, our needs and desires – remains the same. Tradition is our subtle reminder of this, heightening our awareness of self and others, cultivating a sense of belonging and stability, and acting as a guiding force in our lives and society. We believe all of this, just like our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. What we don’t believe is that we are better than any other tradition, or that we have a ‘lock’ on God, or God’s grace.

“Without [tradition],” says the character Tevye in that famous story of a Russian family forced to flee their homeland, “our lives would be as shaky as…a fiddler on the roof.”

Maybe that ‘other’ catholic church needs to shore up its own roof before poking holes on ours?

 



No, I am Not Normal; I Know That.

 

When I was a young boy, I never seemed to fit in. I was awkward around both boys and girls whom I did not know. I was overweight and always felt out of sync. I was never good at sports. I had acne. My mom did her best, but the store brands she chose made it harder. I was made fun of by my peers, and many of those wounds were so deep that they are still present today. I was always chosen last at gym class, and no one ever once wanted me on their team. I was – in a very real sense – a misfit. Perhaps that is why King Moonracer was one of my favorite cartoon characters. I knew, or at least I hoped, that if all else failed I would have a home on his island.

Later, as I grew up, I never dated much due to my being shy around girls. I wasn’t a ‘jock’ and my good schooling ability turned out to be a detriment in the end to any success I would have dreamed of in the dating arena. I was never asked to my Junior Prom, and my Senior Prom date, someone I ended up falling in love with and contemplated getting married, later left me when I admitted struggling with my sexual identity. I later found my calling to seminary, was abused by a priest, rejected again. I was left alone and fell into my first real bought of depression.

I excelled at academics, graduated early from school, became a businessman, made my parents proud and then made a stupid mistake and ended up in jail. Again, I was an outcast upon my return and taken advantage of and discarded a few times, too. My family, depression, and my dog were my only true companions.

I fought hard to make my way back to seminary, did well, was rejected for ordination twice, but finally made it. Became a Trauma Chaplain by happenstance (Or, perhaps by God’s design?) and landed a good career that held close to my vocation at three of the nation’s largest trauma centers. I was at the height of my career when God called, and I left chaplaincy for parish ministry. It was on my last day at Einstein, that I was I was diagnosed with a brain tumor; now without health insurance, I thought it would end my life. It didn’t, but my depression grew worse, yet I stayed put and did my best to build Saint Miriam even as so many others abandoned the water when it got too high.

After my recovery, I thought things would be better, then I lost my dad and my world changed again. My depression, my weight, all came rushing back. I was blessed to find CrossFit and my life became stronger with the support of those athletes who – this time – didn’t make fun of me, but rather embraced my determination. I will never forget one, Bobby, who chose me to be his partner in a “Partner WOD”. It was the first time in my life that someone chose me to be on their team for a sporting activity first. His friendship had remained a deciding factor in my trying not to end of my life that year, but to make it worth living once again.

Soon after, one relationship morphed into something different, grief matured me in ways never imagined, and a new one began. Life got better, things became more normal for the first time in my life. Then, this past week, I silently struggled emotionally as I received the call from my doctor that my latest blood work was cause for alarm again. My PSA was off the chart and I am now back on the emotional roller coaster that only a cancer survivor could ever appreciate.

This past week, a friend who had been a priest for some nine years left ministry. He sent me a note that read he ‘just couldn’t take it anymore’. He was always there for everyone, and no one ever came to care for him. I know of what he speaks, but I also remember my calling. Perhaps it is why I am still a priest and haven’t fallen into becoming so jaded as to walk away from where I am called like so many who reached a breaking point of no return.

A fellow parishioner tagged me in a post that summed up my life pretty well. It reads, “I have fed mouths that talked shit about me. I’ve wiped tears off the faces of the people that caused mine. I have picked up people that tried to knock me down. I’ve done favors for people that can do nothing for me. I have been there for people that have not been there for me. Crazy? Maybe…but I will not lose myself in hatred of others, I am who I am and it is my nature. Life isn’t easy, but even after all the bullshit…I will still be here, being me.” I sure hope so, because – despite those who continue to tell me how terrible a person I am, I believe I do some good by being just that – me.

So maybe my being a little abnormal, a misfit, is why I worked so hard to create a place where others will neverfeel like me. Sick or well, odd or loved, depressed or enthusiastic, alone or companioned, gay or straight, rich or struggling, ex-offender or pillar of the community. All are welcome here. All are treated the same and loved as well, too. No, here there are no misfits, well except just one…me.

So, that is my lot in life. Perhaps God wanted me right where I am, broken and unsure, not always well in mind or body, teetering at the edge, uncertain and fraught, so that I never stop trying to make this almost perfect place a bit better for others to find and worship a God of unconditional love. Maybe as we gather back for “Homecoming Sunday”, we should all take stock of who we are, what we created and why we do what we do. It is a good time to pause and give thanks for all we call Saint Miriam.

Author Michelle DeRusha once penned the words I used for my image today, “I am His BelovedMisfit.” I pray I so. One day, I hope to believe it, too. 

Maybe, just maybe, one day, I will be home here, too.

 



The Meanness of People.

 
I have blogged and preached lately about depth of people’s pain, the attention to those who may be depressed or thinking of ending their own life, the loss of a pastor’s life by his own hand, and the way the world has become so callous; so unfeeling, uncaring. I believe it is rapidly becoming the meanness of people.
 
Perhaps, it is the rhetoric of the current Administration, or the exhaustion of those who are in poverty and struggling, the marginalization of those who are different, or the increase of social media in what I call ‘keyboard courage’, but whatever it is at its root cause, it is harming the fabric of society, the church, and us, as living human beings. We are becoming a mean people.
 
This past week I was given the middle finger and shouted at by a guy who almost struck the side of my car while turning. I lightly tapped my horn to warn him and got vulgarity in return. Our home, too, was struck by a car who did severe property damage but decided to ‘hit and run’ without a note or leaving any information. I was also told once again how awful a person I am because of a single mistake that landed me on the wrong side of a set of jail bars some 30 years ago! I have atoned and made up for this one transgression many times over, but apparently all that I have done that is good, will forever be outweighed by that one lapse of judgement. I, too, cannot let myself off the proverbial hook and every time I think I am finally close to forgiving myself, another person is mean. This time, it was a fellow priest who knows not that I know, but I do, and I hurt and I am shaken. Finally, this week, as well, a friend posted on Facebook how the meanness of others and the horror of gossip was hurting her. She wrote, [my paraphrase] “Do not judge me…you don’t know me and do not talk about me unless you have actually talked to me. My back is not a voicemail.” How powerful. How sad. How true. Yes, we are a mean people.
 
There was a video I stumbled across that asked the important question, “What if people wore signs”? In other words, if everyone had a sign above them, or on them, that told us what they were going through, would we be kinder, gentler, compassionate, nicer?
 
My question is, why do we even need the sign?
 


I Love Fall! Time to Get Ready!

 
I love fall! And, I often try to find ways to get back into the swing of things! So, while it began as an exercise in futility, it quickly became something unexpectedly cathartic! I asked our web manager, Christine, to help me simplify all the emails I have been using since the founding of the parish. We began with one “Pastor@” account almost five years ago and quickly, over the years, almost imperceptibly, they grew and grew and grew! Almost every facet of my life had an email associated with it, including a very old AOL email! (I know, huh!?) Personal emails numbered four, university emails were an additional two emails, the Diocese has two, and the parish…well it had six! So, enough was enough! I asked for help, and almost like an addict, I needed some guidance and support. Christine was it.
 
We spent a few days looking and evaluating use and prominence and need. Then, we cut. Once we paired it all down, I then applied those same rules to my iPhone, iPad, and iMacs at work and home and voila! My life is simpler.
 
Now look, I am under no grand illusion that just because I deleted or combined or abridged my email life that my life will be so much simpler (or happier). But, what I am saying is that sometimes even the most minor of changes toward that goal have meaning. My once oh-so-cluttered listing of nine email accounts in one device are now down to four! When I click now on ‘Check Email’ I see only those few accounts, with their simple abbreviations, and within seconds the task is done. Fact or illusion? It matters not. My life is a bit simpler.

So, what does this have to do with life and ministry? Well, everything. I use my new-found time to improve myself, pray, look for opportunities to grow and become a better person. I use it to help those who call me, and I talkmore to people! Yes, I actually speak to them, rather than just click on a smart device. My reduction in the maze of email accounts has made me better at communication, caring, and self-care.

I will use this newly discovered extra time to better myself. I will spend more time with people, friends, the loves and friendships that make my life better and more complete, and I will – God willing – become a better person and more committed Catholic. This is my time to return to all things of life: church, family, school, a routine and a rhythm that will, in the end, find myself more complete and happier. I pray Saint Miriam will be part of that effort for you, too.

I also will have more time for God. I only pray He has some more time for me. He knows I need it. So, come on back! Bless one another and God’s holy Church! We gotta lot of work to do and a lot of fun to have!

 



The End of a Pastor.

 

“In case you wonder how some of us deal with our vocation; it’s time for people to realize the depth of our pain at times. Rest well Andrew and love to your family.”

These are my words to a prelude post on my Facebook page yesterday that addressed the suicide (Yes, I said suicide) of 30 year old Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California. He attempted to take his own life last Friday, August 25, 2018, but despite being rushed to the hospital and placed on life support, he died this past Saturday. Andrew leaves behind his wife, Kayla, and three beautiful children, along with a grieving church he once called home and found so much joy in serving as pastor.  

This past August 13th, after a four-month sabbatical from ministry, Stoecklein and his wife openly stated that he had been struggling with depression and the couple was deliberating whether or not to continue in ministry during this sabbatical. “He didn’t want to stop. He would have kept on going and going and going and it probably would have cost him his life,”  Kayla said. She was right. He is now gone, and people are dumbfounded.

I have battled depression for years and I must admit that it has become worse during my tenure as a pastor. It was never this bad, even as a Trauma Chaplain. The horrors I witnessed in the Trauma Bay are often nothing compared to the emotional roller coaster I am daily bombarded with as a pastor.  I am rarely ‘right’ on anything, people leave for the slightest of reasons, I almost never receive any praise for doing a good job or for keep the parish going, but almost routinely get admonished for whatever perceived slight. I miss every holiday with my family and even lost my dad while I was trying to get home after Christmas Mass. My own insecurities and personal demons of inadequacies are heightened, and I have thought about, and even once planned, my own demise. So, I relate to Andrew. I get it.

This past week, as I labored to cover several weddings for a priest who decided to abandon his ministry without any notice, I was deluged with calls, emails, and voices raised at me. No, it wasn’t my fault and the easiest thing for me to do would have been to refund their deposits and walk away. But, I didn’t. Why? Because we are better than that, I am better than that, and ministry and service are more important to me than walking away. It was founded within the vows I took now so long ago as a priest at my ordination. This is the primary reason I chose not to end my life that day last October. But, I fault not Andrew, because I came close and I know what he dealt with his life as a pastor. And if you think him or even myself as weak, let me put this into perspective for you: whatever he was dealing with, whatever he was feeling, it was horrible enough for him to leave his wife, three kids, and a church founded by his own father. Yes, despite him being a wonderful pastor, full of warmth, wit and compassion, the pressures and life as a pastor were simply too much. In the end, anxiety and depression won. Again, I get it.

I have been on the recipient end of hatred often in my life. Some when I was younger and overweight. Later when I was trying to understand my own sexuality. Then, during the ordeal to become a priest and the hardships, and horrors, of a process designed to break you and often even abuse you. And now, as a pastor when so few realize I have feelings – that I am human, too – and cry more often than they will ever know or understand. So, that is why I pray for Andrew and all the Andrews out there like me who sometimes cannot find their balance because every time they do, someone decides to throw water on them and blame them for their lot in life when all we do is serve and give and cry and wonder if it is all worth it.

After my plan late last year and the resultant scare, I  went back to therapy and through the grace of God found my balance by having the constant love and friendship of Sean, finding David Lee and Manayunk CrossFit and then, Katelyn, who accepts me and loves beyond measure. But, I also know that even with all of that on my side, just like Andrew, I could one day fall of the edge and not return to balance. So, we added to our website links to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and a direct link from the navigation bar to take someone right to the Contact us page where the suicide prevention information is listed. You see, I don’t ever want anyone to need help and not find it. Life is too precious, even the life of a pastor.

As in this and every tragedy, we encourage anyone who is hurting emotionally to ask for help. If you or anyone else is struggling, the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255) is a potentially life-saving resource. I also offer a link by Clicking Here on why pastor’s struggle. Perhaps it will help all of us find the grace of God again to be compassionate to others, and yes, even ourselves.
 
Andrew and his dad, David, are together again. Perhaps, just maybe, their legacy will live on in helping others to live on, too.
 

 



True Joy is Always in the Journey!

 

It has not been a good week for the greater Church. Scandal has rocked the foundation of Peter. Over 301 priests abusing over 1,000 children in one small state alone. It makes one wonder what the real total of harm has been worldwide? Then, this week, two additional priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia were removed from ministry as being found ‘unsuitable‘. Really? That is the word they use? And, to make matters worse, yesterday, a 30 year-old Allentown Diocesan priest was arrested for being inappropriate with an underage girl and sending salacious material to her. Truth is, he sought her out and then molested her in the church, but the harm was done with the very first text. The shepherd once again became the wolf.

The church has lost its way, and even the hierarchy has turned its back on this terrible epidemic and done very little. Even the Pope took two full days to release a tepid response until being forced to say something more. But, the truth is, the church has been losing its way for years, decades even. The mission was somehow circumvented by greed and a lifestyle so lavish that even kings would fall into jealousy.  We – as a people of the church – must regain the mission and the focus that Jesus intended. Today, I grieve for Jesus, too, as well as every child and every person harmed by Mother Church. No, we are not perfect, we are all broken, it is true, but none of us have ever been this broken. None of us have ever been that broken where we harmed a child. 

As a parish pastor, I have learned that knowing and embracing a clear mission is critical to any organization – especially the church. Even the Sacred Scriptures give us clear guidance about the purpose of the one, holy, catholic (universal ) Church, and each individual parish must interpret that purpose in its own context. Our mission at Saint Miriam can be summarized in one word: Welcome.  As people who have been reconciled to God through Christ and forgiven of our sins and transgressions, we exist to glorify God and participate in reconciling the world through a strong and fervent welcome and inclusive stance. There is no limit to our love.

In light of the recent scandal that has once again returned upon the Roman Catholic Church, I thought it a good idea to set down, as a reminder, a vision of our core values, and that our Saint Miriam Covenantare all built on this radical inclusive welcome. We have derived our core values over time and they serve as a strong foundation, like stepping stones on which we build and organize our work of building God’s Kingdom. Perhaps Our Vision Statement says it best, “Touch those who don’t know God, embrace those who do, and welcome the marginalized and the forgotten in a way that you wouldn’t expect!” We have made great strides in making such a place – such a parish –a reality, but, there is more work to do.

We have been blessed by maintaining a safe place for all to worship, learn, engage, and enjoy. We also have learned that some will embrace our radical nature of Jesus’ love, and others will reject us out of hand. Some will come and remain, others will stay for a time and then depart. But no matter what, we must stay driven and in concert with our core mission and values. We are a place of welcome and we are always joyful.

To be joyful, you must first know and understand who we are, what we believe, and why we do what we do! If you are a parishioner, a long-term member, or a guest who attends on a Sunday morning, I encourage you listen to the messages via our website, our online sermons, watch our Livestream, engage our social media platforms, talk to fellow parishioners, take home a weekly newsletter and announcements, and engage the materials that are displayed throughout the parish and administration areas, so that you will know this stuff firsthand! Why? Because this is who we are!

During these next few weeks of 2018, as we journey toward the return of autumn and school days and cooler weather, let us work together to honor all the good gifts that God has so freely given us. Let us all pause and reflect how grateful we are that Saint Miriam is a safe place filled with love and hope and inclusion; and, that it even exists at all. Then, let us get back to the joyful work of building and working in union with our Creator: a God who loved us so much that He gave us His only begotten Son, and a place like ours to be good stewards of.  Is there anything more valuable, anything where your dollars and effort should go, anything or anyone more deserving of being placed first in your life?

Yes, God has richly blessed us here. Let us take stock of that and then give thanks for all we are, and all we will one day be, as we remain faithful to the call of being radically loving and true to our mission!

Saint Francis often said to his followers, “What a man is before God, that he is and no more.”  With great humility, Francis had often applied these words to himself. I pray we will always, as well.  So far, we are doing a really good job because we have learned the truth, that true joy is found in the journey together!

 



So, What Do Friars Actually Do?

 

When I tell people I’m a Franciscan, one of the main responses I often hear is, “So what does a Friar [Franciscan] do?” Usually I smile and say, “Well… it’s not so much a matter of what we do, as it is who we are and what we give.”

As a Religious brother, we do many different things. Some of us are ordained priests, some brothers, some work in the world or volunteer to make others and their lives better.  Some of us serve as pastors, retreat directors, teachers, professors, missionaries, nurses, administrators, chaplains, campus ministers, social workers, carpenters, cooks, writers, artists, and many other things! But, if pressed, I would have to say our unique and oftentimes overlooked vocation is to be a certain kind of person in this world.  Let me explain…

You see, all of us – as the ‘baptized’ – have been called to a life of holiness and to give witness to Christ in our lives. Whether one is married, ordained, single, or a religious, each person expresses that universal call of baptism in a particular way. For religious, living the vows of poverty, charity, and obedience give witness to the life of Christ, and to the future resurrected life of all humanity in the heavenly kingdom. Consecrated religious are called to be a light within the Church, just as the Church is meant to be Christ’s light in our world!

Therefore, Religious priests, sisters, and brothers all partake in this kind of witness, but each in our own way. We are to remind the Church that we are all sisters and brothers in Christ with the same Father in Heaven, no matter our Order, or even our denomination. Women religious, too, offer their unique gift of sisterhood and make known the feminine experience of God and the reality of a life in Christ. Brothers, as men who live in community, similarly are witnesses to fraternity in a world that is so often divided and in which human relations at all levels are breaking down. Just as religious sisters bring to the Church their unique gifts as women, so brothers, with a somewhat more masculine perspective, offer their gifts to the Church as men devoted to the Gospel.

Herein lies, I think, the distinct perspective that the brotherhood vocation offers. A Religious brother or sister lives out a calling to service in ways that the world does not expect from human beings in the world today. We are not always parent or pastor and some not even a priest, but our mutual vocation is not defined by what we are, but rather who we are and what we give.

At Saint Miriam, we are fortunate and blessed enough to have three Religious Priests, a Religious Deacon, and a Brother Friar, (First Order) almost ready to profess his Solemn Profession. We also enjoy 10 Secular Franciscans, (Third Order), who also live their poverty in sacrifice to others in the world, as First Orders do so within the Church itself.  Together, we also make Saint Miriam and the School and Cemetery run well!  We set up for Masses, prepare for Liturgies, mow the lawn (Yes, we cut grass!), tend to the Angels of Assisi Pet Memorial Garden, set up for Saint Miriam Café’ every Sunday, clean, straighten the pews, order and stock supplies, meet with those in need, run a vacuum now and again, help do routine maintenance and chores, lead Rosary, and yes, we even take out the trash! All of these mundane tasks serve the greater glory of God and God’s holy Church because we serve and do so joyfully and with an attitude of service, not expectation! Oh, and yes, we give financially and generously, too, to help support this wonderful place, because we could not imagine our world without it…could you?

Imagine a world where each of you did the same? Where you came to this place, not wanting anything other than the Lord’s Presence in your life. Imagine giving something – some small task, an extra donation, some hour of volunteer service – some moniker of expression of your joy found in this place of love and God’s abundance of gifts to you. What would the next day look like for you, for God, and for Saint Miriam?

Whatever I “do” as a brother Friar, I hope that I will do it sincerely as one called to be a brother to others, a family man in the Church, and that upon my rest, someone will miss me, not for what I was, but how much I gave…

 

 



Come Early, Stay Late, if Not Forever.

 

This summer has allowed me some down time to think. I know what you are asking yourself, “He needs time to think?!” Well, actually I do!

You see, a parish our size is busy, even in summer, but just in a differentway. Unlike those parishes who are operated out of garage or a living room, we have actual facilities to manage, a campus to care for, people who depend on us for their livelihood, volunteers to welcome, and many more visitors who are stopping in as they travel and seek a place of worship, summer camp for the school, increased maintenance and renovations for cemetery and classrooms (when less people are around and in the way!), and making it all balance when funds are lower due to travel and vacations. Heck, even I take my annual vacation every July, so I get it, but it doesn’t negate our responsibility to keep things here for your return this fall. And, yes, summer also gives me a little more time to read, to pray, and to think.

Yesterday, I was excited about all of the new visitors who have come our way this summer. We were excited, too, because the majority have registered already as parishioners and three have their children already registered in PREP/CCD! The parish, as a whole, is growing and we all have much to be proud of. But it also occurred to me that some of us still dwell on those who leave us from time to time.

Let me segue for a second! I will be the first to admit that I am hurt every time someone decides we are no longer the right place for them. Sometimes it as a result of our growing and adapting to that growth, other times it is their own stuff, or the needs of their own journey, and every once in a while, admittedly it is our fault. We simply failed them somehow. Luckily, those times are very few, and more often it is simply this: We were called to be part of their journey for a season. The length of that season is between them and God, but I am ever so grateful that we had the opportunity to be there for them, no matter the length of time.

Back to my original thinking! So, as I pondered this ‘newcomer becoming a parishioner’ ideal, it struck me: every single one of these people who become a member here, leave some other church! In other words, there is out there somewhere a pastor and a community that mourns their loss, just like we grieve our members who leave, but also who celebrate new people without ever thinking much about the journey from someplace else! Every new person here, came from some other place out there

It takes a lot to run a parish. We cannot possibly be everything to everyone. And, I might put it into your thinking that if we ever did try and accomplish that, place one person’s needs above the community as a whole, we would surely perish. Those who love this place, love it for all it is, not for what it could be just for them. Many of our parishioners come early and enjoy breakfast before Mass in the Undercroft or stay after services to enjoy a warm fellowship with tasty food, too! But most of all, every one of them is here because of you: those who make this place so wonderfully different from other catholic parishes. A safe place where all can stay for as long as they want, or until their journey begins anew.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

Let us all celebrate the community we have, instead of tearing down those parts that are not quite right for our own agendas. Let us be willing to sacrifice a little for the greater good, rather than fall prey to our own human pettiness and selfishness. Let us, too, find a way to build up the great place we created and named Saint Miriam.
 
Yes, we have so much to be thankful for and maybe that should be in all of our thoughts as we look to the fall return? After all, we are here to stay!