“If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it! If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.”
“Woe to me if I do not preach this Gospel.” These powerful words from St. Paul should be an inspiration to all of us. Hopefully, each of us takes into account and lives out this imperative to preach the Gospel in our own lives, every day. What I want to talk about today, though, is not just how we individually preach the Gospel, but how we do so as a parish.
A couple of weeks before I began as pastor here last summer, I drove up to Goshen to attend the annual calendar meeting, at which the staff sits down and goes over the entire calendar of parish events for the whole year. I was blown away. This was light-years from the sleepy, small town parish I thought I might find in Goshen, Indiana. I drove back to Fort Wayne afterwards slightly dizzy from trying to imagine how I would possibly be present for all of these different parish events, how I could guide such a busy place.
So far, it has been a crazy year. At times, I feel like I am barely keeping up, and I’m so grateful to everyone who has been patient with me as I climb a pretty steep learning curve being a pastor for the first time. Along the way, though, one of the most important lessons I have learned is that I do not have to do everything myself. When I step back from my own sense of business and, at times, being overwhelmed by this place, I see not just a buzz of activity, but some incredible people making everything happen.
One of the hallmarks of this parish is the way that we teach the faith. Last
ear, 208 children went through catechism classes and received their first Holy Communion. 59 young people were catechized and confirmed. Overall, our religious education program is catechizing about 600 children and young people each year. There are parishes literally four times as big as ours in terms of registered parishioners that do not have as many first Holy Communions each year as we do.
None of this would be possible without an extraordinarily dedicated team of catechists who generously give of their time to pass on the faith to these children. Some even come in on Friday evenings to prepare their lessons together and to continue their own formation in the faith.
Religious education also takes place in our parish school, where 161 children this year are receiving an education that supports and nourishes their Catholic faith throughout the school day, five days a week. Our school students receive a rich formation in the Catholic faith, with opportunities such as daily Mass and Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. They not only learn about their faith, but they get the chance to put it into practice by growing in virtue together.
Our parish school is also a center for evangelization. This year, two children from our school are catechumens, being prepared to be baptized. Many other non-Catholic families have come to appreciate the richness of the Catholic faith through their experience with our school.
St. John’s parish is also spreading the Gospel in unseen ways. I remember the first wedding that I celebrated here at St. John’s. The groom was from a non-religious family. His stepmother came up to me after the Mass with tears in her eyes and said, “I have not been in a church in over 20 years. Thank you for making me feel close to God. I will remember that forever.” That is a seed of the Gospel being planted. Every Sunday visitors and guests come up to me after Mass and express thanks for the experience of worshiping here. You would be amazed at how many people are coming through on a regular basis, considering whether this might be a place that they could call home.
Our parishioners are also incredibly devoted to helping the poor and the needy. Through our project CARE, we can provide support to those who need temporary assistance. Each week too people are receiving food from our food pantry, supplied entirely by the generous donations of our parishioners. Our parishioners take turns serving the homeless with the Interfaith Hospitality Network. Our pro-life apostolate is dedicated to working to save unborn babies and to help mothers facing unexpected pregnancies. Organizations such as the Welcoming Committee and Youth Ministry work to support the homeless and pregnant mothers. In December, the mittens on our giving tree disappeared and generous gifts for those in need returned quickly in their place.
All of this happens largely behind the scenes at St. John’s. It can be easy for us to forget just how much is going on. We can forget the 142 baptisms that happen on Saturday mornings, the 225 first Communions, the 59 confirmations, the 5 non-Catholic Christians who were received into the Catholic faith, the 22 marriages, the 23 parishioners being visited by our Ministry of Care, and the people from all over the area who receive ministry from St. John’s at Goshen Hospital, all just within the last year alone.
The generous people who make all of this happen do so because they, like St. Paul, feel the necessity of spreading the Gospel, not for any reward, but because the Lord has shown them the joy of serving Him. What would happen, though, if we could take all of these efforts and better coordinate them, providing all these volunteers with even more resources to make their apostolates even more effective? What if we could afford to take those Confirmation students on a weekend retreat to help them encounter the Holy Spirit they are preparing to receive? What if we could devote the same amount of attention and care to continuing to form the adults of our parish as we do for the children? And what about all the people out there in our community who are not practicing their Catholic faith, or who have never had the chance to get to know the Lord in the first place? What if we could develop programs to reach them and help them to encounter the Lord’s mercy? What if we could better reach the increasingly large number of Catholic students at Goshen College? What if we could afford to hire a staff person devoted to evangelization and adult formation? I am quickly realizing that I cannot do the everyday tasks of a priest (writing homilies, teaching in the school, counseling parishioners, managing our staff, responding to parishioner’s concerns) and at the same time plan for our future and execute plans for new pastoral initiatives. Two out of three is probably my limit unless someone can loan me one of those watches from Harry Potter that enable you to be in two places at the same time.
This is a parish that is going to continue to grow. Last year we had 142 Baptisms, 225 first Holy Communions, and only 17 funerals. We want to make sure that we are on a solid basis to be prepared for that future. To that end, about two years ago, Fr. Tony came to you with a request to consider how each family is contributing to the financial well-being of our parish, to re-evaluate the Lord’s generosity to each of us, and how, in light of that, we can work together to support the great work of our parish. The response was overwhelming. Our parish is now in a much stronger position to plan for the future.
This week you will be receiving a special brochure in the mail along with a commitment card to renew your financial commitment to support our important work at St. John’s. Next week will be our Commitment Sunday, where we will hear from a few of our faithful parishioners witnessing how we as a parish are continuing to serve our community. This week, when you receive that commitment card, I want to ask that you take the time to talk with your family about your sacrificial support of our parish. Each of us should be in the habit of re-evaluating and re-committing ourselves, so that our giving is not just a matter of habit or a scattered approach, but an intentional act of love for God by sacrificing for the good of His Church.
Thank you so much for all the ways in which you have generously supported our parish in the past, and thank you for considering how you will be able to support St. John’s in the year to come. If each of us works to together we can make even more incredible things happen to build up God’s kingdom here in our community. Thank you, and God bless you.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
V Sunday through the Year, A.D. MMXVIII