“Everybody has talents; the person who greets others at the back of church, the person who empties the trash can, the person who bakes the cookies for the event; we are to be stewards of our talents,” says Amy Lins. “Don’t wait for someone to ask you. The Holy Spirit is moving you. Listen to what the Holy Spirit is asking of you and telling you to do.”
“If you see a need, fill it,” adds husband Alan Lins. “If you have the talent and the time, chase it. I encourage that spirit of volunteerism not just in the parish but in the community as well.”
“Your Faith is like anything else,” says Amy. “You get out of it what you put into it.”
And both Amy and Alan are all in. They were all in from the very beginning, but each of their beginnings couldn’t be any different and began hundreds of miles apart.
Alan grew up the oldest of three siblings on the family dairy farm. They were faithful Sunday morning Mass-goers, observed all holy days of obligation and were very involved in volunteer works at church. In his formative years and while studying at UW-La Crosse, Alan remained devoted by attending Mass at St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral. After college, he eventually moved back home to continue operating the family farm. It was around the year 2000 when Alan had a deeper awakening into Catholicism. “One of our former pastors encouraged me to enroll in the Lay Formation Institute. It was a very positive experience for me because I realized what I didn’t know about the Catholic Church and how much there was still to learn about it. I devoured all the documents about Vatican II. That was very educational and enlightening for me, and I’ve been on a path ever since, trying to expand my knowledge and passing it on to the youth in our parish confirmation program.”
Rewind a few years, and Amy reveals that her story is a little more complex. She was raised in a rural community in Texas. Amy’s mother was baptized Catholic as an infant but raised Episcopalian. Then, for familial reasons, Amy, in her formative years, was raised by her grandparents and also grew up as a practicing Episcopalian. Amy’s mother later reverted back to Catholicism and read and studied more about the Faith. This change and growth in her mother was actually a big influence on Amy’s own faith journey, even though she was living with her grandparents. “As a kid in high school, I read a lot of her books and documents, even though I wasn’t Catholic.”
As a very active Episcopalian, Amy led youth groups, taught religious education and was an active volunteer. Going against stereotypes for a young person, she always went to church, sometimes even attending a Catholic Mass because it was closer to Texas A&M, where she studied. As an adult, she moved to Houston for work. It was at this point that she was looking for a new church home but was not really finding it. “Houston is really big, so there are all these coincidences that really aren’t coincidences. I had some cousins who had gone to a Catholic church that was very near to where I ended up moving, and my mother was giving persistent nudges to give the Catholic Mass a try.” So she went.
“That was it” she says. “I walked in the doors and I had the Holy Spirit moment. I had what I believe in the Catholic Church is called an inter-locution, where I heard the voice say, ‘You’re home!’” Amy signed up for the RCIA program the next day.
That was 1992. Amy was 25 and became Catholic that fall. She also became heavily involved in social justice ministries like the food pantry and resale clothing store. She was a member of the parish council, young adult group and taught religious education. “That’s my personality,” she says. “I’m just going to be involved.”
Alan Meets Amy
So Amy and Alan were living out their Catholic Faith in different states and climates. Amy was 38, Alan was 42, and they met in what was at that time a rather unconventional way through the dating website Ave Maria Catholic Singles. They were both committed to seeking an active, practicing Catholic spouse and found that in each other. They talked early on about what their long-distance relationship would look like going forward. Amy traveled extensively for her job so she was able to come to Wisconsin for in-person visits fairly often. They talked about extended family and the small herd of cows that was integral to Alan’s small farm-life living. They decided it would be much easier for Amy to move to Wisconsin as she was able to work from home before working from home was common. They got engaged on Christmas 2004 and were married the following August. Amy says, “I bought a down coat from Lands’ End that looked more like a comforter and wore it in a ‘frigid’ 40 degrees while others were merely wearing a light jacket or sweatshirt. In hindsight, I know I looked ridiculous. I was cold the entire first year I lived here!”
Alan and Amy went to Italy on their honeymoon and planned to meet Pope Benedict XVI their second week. On the second night of their stay, Amy slipped down some stairs in a rural town where no one spoke English. She broke her ankle and had surgery in a rural hospital, which is where they spent the first week of their honeymoon. At week two, they had tickets to see Pope Benedict XVI in the Sposi Novelli (newlywed section) at the Vatican. Alan pushed Amy in a wheelchair over the cobblestone streets and sidewalks. Being in such a condition, they got waved to the front of every line and avoided timely metal detectors. They were ushered to the front row and got to shake hands with the Holy Father. “You know you’re married to the right person when you spend the first week of your marriage crying your eyes out because you ruined your honeymoon by breaking your ankle and on day two, your husband says, ‘It’s the best honeymoon I’ve ever had!’” laughs Amy.
Starting married life a little older, they were both realistic about their chances of having children. As a young adult, Amy experienced familial chaos and personal loss but established a clear sense of self, surrendering to God’s plan early on. In his easy-going voice, Alan adds, “I was comfortable with whatever God’s plan was. I just rolled with it.” Amy says, “We have more time maybe than some other families who have children or other responsibilities.”
“I’m motivated by agape love,” says Alan. “I can just see things that the community needs and I/we have talents that we can share. You’re supposed to share those talents with others around you.”
At their beloved life-long parish, St. Mary’s in Keyesville, Amy coordinates the religious education program, does sacristan work, arranges the flowers and handles the bookkeeping. Alan teaches confirmation class, handles building maintenance and repairs and also volunteers outside of parish life. He was on the public school board for 12 years and currently is part of the Richland County economic development committee. Alan is also quick to point out that if there is a need in the parish, they can reach out to someone in their church community and it will get done. They have a network of willing helpers, so they know they are certainly not doing their services alone. “There are guys with their four-wheel drive trucks and snow plows, and they plow the parking lot. There’s guys that mow the grass. They just take care of it. Everything gets done,” says Alan. Amy adds, “We have great volunteers in our parish.”
Recently, during the COVID lock-down of 2020, they had to figure out how to livestream from Facebook with Amy’s IPad and connect it to audio. They had it up and running in a week. They also made plans for getting palms out to people during Lent and converted “Donut Sunday” into a parking lot “drive-thru” so that people could still feel a sense of connection and community. For Advent, they made take-home kits with candles and wreaths and they structured their Faith Formation classes over Zoom. “We went all out trying to keep everyone connected to the parish,” says Alan.
“I look at what we do for the church as, ‘that’s just what we do’. God gave us all talents and to whom much is given, much is expected,” says Amy. “I want people to see that being Catholic is a good thing and not a negative stereotype. I want our parish to see that there will be a spirit of volunteerism, of time and talent and treasure … stewardship of all three. You do you, and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.”
Story by Marcy Stenstrom
Published in the March/April 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine
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