During a recent family vacation, we were blessed with the chance to celebrate Mass in a tiny rural mission parish: St. Helen near Charlotte, NC. We were led here by our son who was living in the area for the summer. What a gem! What makes this parish so memorable is not the building or anything extrinsic – but the faith & vitality of the people.
The building itself was nothing fancy; just a small brick building. So small, in fact, there was no choir loft, no cry room, no bathroom, and from what I could see, not even a sacristy. There were structural issues and repairs needed. But there was no need for repair of the Spirit we experienced. The music was memorable – a great combination of Catholic, negro spiritual hymns. The beauty was in the simplicity – the only “instrument” used was a tamborine, yet it was some of the most lively & uplifting Mass music I ever recall.
At the end of Mass, there was an invitation for guests to introduce themselves. Surprisingly, even with so few people (less than 50) we were not the only visitors. Then following the recessional hymn, they lingered outside visiting and reaching out to us and the other guests. As much as it is awkward to be singled out, I think it is even worse to feel invisible. And over the years, I’ve come to realize this is an area as Catholics we have a lot of room for improvement.
Our family was given a gift: the priority of focusing on people. The parishioners of St. Helen’s gave witness to us of the importance of relationships. So often, we try to improve our parish by adding something external; implementing the newest “program” or the most trendy music. Yet, without a solid focus on relationships, we continue to fall short. The first and most vital relationship is that with Christ, which can not be separated from our relationship with others.
By Dan Kitzhaber, Director of Marriage and Family Life