Tuesday, May 10, 2016

South Jersey Parish Mission

Tuesday greetings from South Jersey, Swedesboro, NJ, to be exact.

I have been here since Saturday morning. Over the weekend, I offered a reflection at five Masses here at the Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit, as a kick-off to the parish mission. This area of farmland and new homes here in the suburbs of Philadelphia once had three different Catholic parishes. About seven years ago, the parishes were consolidated, which resulted in the retention of two worship spaces, combining to create Holy Spirit Catholic Community, which is served by two diocesan priests. This is the Diocese of Camden, NJ.

This is the interior of the worship space in Mullica Hill.

I offered the reflection here at the 4:00 P.M. Mass on Saturday. Then I drove to the other worship site, located about fifteen minutes away in Woodstown. They use the original country church for the 6:00 P.M. Mass on Saturday, and their large multi-purpose space for a Mass on Sunday morning. Here is a photo I took of the exterior of the church.

The music in both spaces is led by a number of parish musicians. The singing in this small church was just splendid. It is amazing how being close together in a small, beautiful space can lend to the singing of the assembly.

The space includes some beautiful stained-glass windows, all depicting various saints. It was pointed out to me that just after the turn of the 20th century, this church was built and the saints windows installed. Someone must have had a premonition, because all of the figures depicted in the windows were indeed saints, except one:

Notice the"S" and "K" in the window. These letters stand for "Saint Kateri," who obviously would not be declared a saint more than one hundred years later! Very cool.

Sunday morning was interesting. I offered my reflection at the Mullica Hill site at 8:00, and then left quickly right after the reflection in order to be shuttled over to Woodstown for the 9:00 Mass. After offering the reflection there, it was back in the car to head back to Mullica Hill for the 10:30 Mass. I certainly began to appreciate the reality of parish consolidation. The parish staff told me that it was not the easiest of processes when the parishes were combined. There had been a third parish church in the area, a very small parish serving the rural area. It was decided that that small church and parish needed to be closed and the parishioners consolidated with the other two, forming the new parish. In this area, with a long history of Catholicism, naturally there were hard feelings among the parishioners. I was told that at the time of the time of consolidation, parish giving dropped nearly 50%. It took time and lots of strong pastoral leadership to bring the folks together and it seems to have worked quite well. Parishioners are a mix of suburbanites of Philadelphia (there are some huge homes here, built on farmland), and farmers. This is one of those areas where the famous "New Jersey Tomatoes" are grown and harvested. As I drove through the area, I noticed field upon field of tomato plants; The plants are now about three to four inches tall. I would love to return in July or August to taste these tomatoes right off the vine!

The parish mission began on Sunday night in Mullica Hill, with a focus on Baptism. The size of the crowd was a bit thin because it was Mother's Day. Last night's mission session was held in the larger space in Woodstown, with a crowd about twice the size, where our focus was on the Eucharist. Tonight we return to Mullica Hill to focus on the sacrament of Confirmation, as well as what it means to be missioned into the world.

I have so enjoyed my time here in South Jersey. Tomorrow morning, before heading to the airport, I will stop in Camden where I will visit my friend and colleague Brother Mickey McGrath. I am looking forward to a tour of his studio; I have wanted to do this for years. I'll be sure to take some photos to share here.

I hope this final week of the Easter Season, as Pentecost looms on the horizon, is a joyful one for you.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

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