Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Ministering to the Needs of a Parish: What to do, and What NOT to do in Watertown after the Boston Marathon Bombing
I live in Watertown, Massachusetts - normally a quiet, safe city slightly west of Boston.
All of this changed for one terrifying week, leaving all of us scarred in some way, whether we participated in the Boston Marathon or not, and whether we knew someone who was injured, or was injured ourselves. This week has left its scar on everyone in one way or another.
The Red Lentil, a local vegetarian restaurant, had a free brunch on Sunday to help in the city's healing. I left a note for my son so he'd meet me up there after he got up, then I headed off to church. Some of my friends know how difficult it's been for me to get to any church in the winter, plus I have my severe reservations regarding the Catholic Church (I was born and raised in the Catholic Church)... the appointment of Pope Francis has given me hope, although recent news indicates he may not change anything about the Church's exclusion of women and gays both saddens and infuriates me. Still, I thought I'd give my local parish a try.
So - I decided to give my local parish another try. Certainly, I was in dire need of community after the terror that all of us went through in the Boston area - those of us in Watertown especially... I woke up Sunday morning with a feeling, that I can best describe as feeling shattered.
My local Catholic parish, St. Partick's, is less than a mile away, but I underestimated the time it to walk there from my house, so I arrived a few minutes late. It wasn't too long before the priest began his sermon.
So - as everyone pretty much knows by now, I live in Watertown... which means only a couple of days before, after the terror of the marathon bombings, we lived through a complete shut down of the city, and had the added terror of the two, eventually one (since the older brother didn't survive after being run over by his brother) terrorist roaming our densely populated city.
Before Father Joe spoke (I asked his name before I left) I looked around, and wondered how many people had friends and/or relatives who had lost limbs in the bombing... or maybe they themselves helped in what turned into a virtual war zone.
I waited for some comforting words from the priest... only to hear the beginning of a talk about bringing in men for the priesthood.
No mention of the past week - as though it never existed.
Still, I waited...
Still, he continued in his animated talk about how to encourage young men to the priesthood.
Still, no mention of the violent and life changing week previous to this service. No mention of our shared terror. No mention of friends, relatives, loved ones who may have lost a limb or two, had their lives shattered, or even of the three who died. No mention of thanks to the amazing, brave, cohesive work by all the police, both from Watertown and the many other cities who helped, the FBI, Fire Department and so many others who worked around the clock to keep all of us safe.
Finally, I could take it no more, and rose to walk out. In retrospect, I wish I had the courage to speak up in this large church, but it didn't even occur to me. I was so upset I just stormed out, stopping to speak briefly with the two men waiting to collect donations. They were, in fact, as one of the older gentlemen told me, just talking about the previous week (of course they were - we NEED to talk of this!) I asked the name of the priest (My usual place of worship is St. Anthony's Shrine in Boston) and I briefly shared with them that this was the final straw for me - I intended to go to another church.
I walked over & took the 71 bus the short ride to the Church of the Good Shepard right off of Mt. Vernon St. here in Watertown. I only realized it was Episcopal after I walked in - at that point I didn't care. I previously had looked at their website, and remembered that it seemed to be very inviting. That was all I needed to give it a try.
What really matters is this: the priest, Pastor Amy (yes - a woman!! Hooray!!) spoke at length about the tragedy that we lived though. Their Bishop, the Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, also was there, along with two young women, parishioners who participated in the marathon and are physically unharmed. They had an enormous, delicious brunch right there after the service - it was to be a Newcomer's Brunch, which, Pastor Amy said, after the events of the past week it turned into an ALLcomer's brunch - because everyone needed it so much.
There's so much more I wish I could write, but this would go on forever - so I'll make it as concise as possible, hopefully without sounding as though I'm gushing (I am!) all over this church: the sign of welcome went on for what seemed forever, with no one making me feel odd or strange at attending a brand new service by myself (I entered late, too). In fact - I never felt so welcome in any parish before - and I can sense when greetings are put-on and not true! The welcoming greetings towards me, and towards people everyone knew, were warm, welcoming, and full of love. And the words of both Pastor Amy and Bishop Shaw were comforting and encouraging, and spoke of our shared experiences in the recent tragedy, on both a personal and larger scale.
Pastor Amy said, before communion, that all are welcome to receive either or both of the bread and wine in communion - or, if you prefer, cross your arms for a blessing. I eagerly took part in both. I have an aversion to drinking the wine at services, since my immune system isn't all that strong - but I compromised by dipping the bread (which was a homemade bread, closer to the reality that was shared during and after Jesus' time).
I cannot begin to express the joy I feel (granted, I ended up having TWO free brunches, hahahaha - but seriously, I'm not speaking about that). I have been waiting so long, determined to stand and fight in the Church I loved for so long.
If I continued to wait, I would be long in the grave before those serious changes actually took place - if they EVER do! There is so much, so very much I would miss. Instead - I am living my life, now, more fully - and with JOY!!
Thank you, Pastor Amy McCreath and the parishioners of the Church of the Good Shepard in Watertown for your sincere, warm welcome. It was truly a drink of water, living water I need so very much!
As for St. Patrick's and Father Joe's sad sermon on Sunday - I wonder why I'm even surprised. Let me first say that St. Patrick's parish does a lot of good - they have a food pantry in which anyone in Watertown can receive groceries twice a month. They help in other ways, too - I myself am so very grateful for how they've helped me in the past. However, this omission on Sunday was very serious, and cannot be ignored. (let me also add a little hint to Father Joe: the way to make sure you DON'T get anyone interested in any participation as a religious in any church, whether in the priesthood or in other any capacity, is to totally ignore the needs of a parish, a parish that needs a compassionate leadership to keep it from being broken from within).
The standard response by the Catholic Church to just about anything is to pretend nothing ever happens. This is what has been done with the continuing child rape scandal (now we know - there is proof - that it exists all over the world) - pretend it didn't happen and hope it will all just go away (it won't). This is how women are treated, both religious AND worshipers alike, are treated. This is how anyone, male or female, who asks for dialogue about disagreeing aspects of Church policy are treated - ignored - or silenced. And of course, this is also how the needs of our gay brethren are treated - again, ignored as though they are not valued and loved members of our Church - but since the standard ignoring doesn't seem to be working even with the generally clueless Church officials, it has, of late, been policy to demonize anyone who is lesbian or gay.
In other words, the words and teachings of Jesus are being ignored - which means that Jesus is being ignored. How sad, how alarming - but I'm not waiting anymore. I'm free and full of joy at my decision to leave, and that I actually found a church that truly welcomes both parishioners and visitors, and does all they can to tend to the needs of our little world around us. That's so little to ask - but isn't that what God's love is all about?