Good Shepherd….Good Plumber
“The Lord is my plumber. That is not what you expected me to say, right?”
Fr. Thomas, well known for his short Homilies, had his flock captivated. He went on to explain that since he had not seen any shepherds out and about, it goes without saying that we need to find another person more relatable to our times.
Good nurse. Good farmer. Good teacher. Good boss. Good mechanic. Good janitor. Good garbage man.
During His ministry, Jesus used parables as a teaching tool. In this Sunday’s Gospel reading He reminds us, “I am the gate for the sheep.”
What tools are available to us today, as we face the challenges of a shrinking church? Drawing most members from our retired population, we appear to have come out of the pandemic leaner than we would have year after year in “normal” times.
With the closures and merges of churches across the country, most of us have been displaced in one format or another. For some, the demographics of our communities have changed. I know for me, after 23 years in one parish, the thought of change traumatized me.
But if I was honest, the parish my heart yearned for was only in my memory.
Then one asks, if I am not growing with my community, do I need to look for a different gate?
Recently I moved to a new parish: Mary, Mother of God. Going in, I knew they had recently completed their “Renew My Church” process. Renew My Church is the movement employed by the Archdiocese to address the challenges being faced in Chicago as Mass attendance dwindles.
I came from what is considered a diverse parish. I have visited many diverse parishes, but never have I felt as a powerful welcoming force as I have at Mary, Mother of God Parish.
On Easter Sunday, Fr. Robert Cook wished us all a Happy Easter in 11 languages (English, French for Francophone Africans, Vietnamese, Lao, Tagalog, Spanish, Yoruba, Edo, Igbo, Tigrinya [Eritreans], and Polish). Looking at the reactions on the faces of those in the pews next to me, I could see how this was received with a warm embrace of togetherness.
Beyond languages spoken by those present that day, Mass is celebrated weekly in English, Spanish, and Viet/Lao. Monthly Masses: Eritreans (Ge’ez Rite) and Burmese. The pastoral council has representation not only from all the groups, but also from the churches that were part of the mergers and other churches that were closed.
Seeing a diverse group of people continue to attend Mass together week after week is extremely encouraging. The pastor has been extremely intentional in fostering a sense of belonging for everyone who walks into the church, including our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness, who often come for a cup of coffee after Mass.
One would think all of that was enough to tell me I had found my home parish. When a group of us reached out to Fr. Bob about reactivating the Society of St Vincent de Paul, little did we know what a perfect fit this would be.
The parish has an outreach ministry, Canterbury House, “which feeds the soul, and relates to feeding the body through the soup kitchen and food pantry. It is a Eucharist community in service to the parish through prayer, outreach, fellowship, and Catholic social thought.”
This is where we as Vincentians have found a new home. We find ourselves part of a group that opens its doors every Monday from 1 – 5 pm, and invites people living outside to come in as our neighbors. It’s a reverse Home Visit — but so enriching.
I have learned more about accepting the other during these Monday afternoon visits. Been overcome by the beauty of friendships being created. Seeing them embrace Canterbury House as a place where they are not shunned, but rather, are family. The beautiful experience is the brainchild of James Murphy, who is the full-time live-in community member of Canterbury House.
At Mary, Mother of God I have found a community full of Good Plumbers.