Our Renewal brochure proclaims We Are Changing Lives! This is what I want to tell you about this morning.
I start with this question: Why am I here at St. Ed’s? I used this question to start my reflection, to remember why St. Ed’s is such a valuable place for me, and why that has been true for nearly 40 years. I will tell you parts of my personal story, my faith journey, to help explain how St. Ed’s has changed my life. I have also heard some life-changing stories from other parishioners that I will share briefly, too.
In the early years of our marriage, Leah and I were not good Catholics. Even though we both had 12 years of Catholic education, we rarely went to church. Easter, maybe Christmas – for several years, that was it. But, as time went on, this absence was bothering me more and more. I guess the Holy Spirit was tugging at me. In Advent of 1979 we talked it over and decided we should reconnect. I called the parish office here at St. Ed’s and asked to make an appointment to sit down and visit with the Pastor, to find out what we needed to do to get ourselves “reinstated.” I was told we could meet following a Communal Penance service one weekday evening.
Leah and I went in to the office and met with Father Bill Whittier. I told him that we had been away from the church and wanted to come back. He began, “Well, we just had a communal penance service here tonight…”
I interrupted and said, “Father, we attended that service.” Father Bill said, “Well, very good. Welcome Back!”
Welcome Back! I had been so nervous going in to that meeting, not knowing what to expect. Father Bill was so kind and caring. Leah and I were happy and relieved as we went home from church that night. We did become regular Sunday mass attendees after that. Our two young children were a bit confused about this change in our weekend habit, but soon they were going to faith formation classes. I am happy now when I recall that both of them received four sacraments here – Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation and Matrimony.
A few years after that meeting with Father Bill, I began my volunteer work here, starting with teaching 6th grade faith formation. Later I taught confirmation classes, participated in the stewardship committee, became a member of the parish council and a trustee, and then a Stephen Minister.
But the resume is unimportant as compared to all of the people I met along the way. Very many of our good friends today go back to connections we made through participating in multiple activities here at St. Ed’s. People from whom I have learned a lot, things that have helped me grow in my faith. It was through a couple of fellow parish council members that I learned the real meaning of Christian Stewardship, that I give money not because the church needs money, but because I am to make a sacrifice in response to the great sacrifice that Jesus made for me. Everything that I have comes from God, and I am to return a portion of what I have received back to God.
Through Stephen Ministry I met the late Vern Paul who became my spiritual director for several years. Vern made a big difference in my life. He helped me to better understand my relationship with a loving God.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to meet individually with four of our pastors. In addition to Father Bill, I have had a chance to get to know Father Marty, Father Mike and Father Brian. Each of these pastors has their own unique strengths and gifts, and knowing all of them has enriched my life.
In preparing this talk, I asked for others to share their experiences with me. I know that mine is hardly an unusual story. I heard from many, and can give you only a few quick phrases here.
Lois Johnson told me, “St. EDs has always been there for us. My mother in law’s funeral when she did not have her own church. For our grandson’s baptism, our son who lives in Hawaii brought him here because it not just the brick and mortar, its home. Our daughter s wedding could have been in New York, but again was here because it’s home.”
Another said, “I enjoyed having so many opportunities for creative collaboration with other volunteers. Those experiences formed me; they opened the door to my relationship with the Holy Spirit”.
A former staff person and still a volunteer says, “St. Edwards impacted my life in so many ways – an awareness of what true commitment means, a sense of dedication to the Gospel message above all else, a belief in the wisdom held within all ages, the meaning of having a spiritual home, and a sense of communion of faithful witnesses.”
A choir member told me, “…through the music I was also spiritually nourished and fed. And I found that I really needed that strength and nourishment when my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer and endured years of chemo and several surgeries, and eventually succumbed. I believe it is the music–and the Scriptures that most of it is based on–that helped sustain me through all of that. Father Mike was there for both me and my husband.”
Several people reminded me of the wonderful work many parishioners do through our Social Justice commission. Sue Kellet has led many to Nicaragua to experience the life of our sister parish, to share our caring and some material aid, as has Ann McGuire who with others has helped and camped with the poor girls at Teresa Toda mission in the Dominican Republic. Many more help every week bringing meals and other services to the poor right here in Bloomington. I know that all of these parishioners learn much from the people they serve.
Finally, another woman shared a story similar to mine, saying, “I had been away from the faith for almost 20 years before it all caught up with me. As I walked in that first Sunday morning, I was very nervous; it had been so long. I found a place in the back, got on my knees and looked up at Jesus. In that moment, all that I had been carrying came to the surface, and in that same moment an overpowering sense of being home had come over me. I found myself in the very presence of God. There are no words to describe what St Edward’s means to me. It is the place where I met my Savior and my loving Father for the first time on a personal level. It is the place that has changed my life, provided me a sense of purpose and inner peace that can only come from our Lord.”
She continues, “Thank you Dc Jim for your support and loving spirit, thank you Fr. Brian for sharing the very light of Christ each and every week, and lastly, I thank God for His great mercy and leading me to the Church of St Edward.”
She, like me, heard that wonderful message of “Welcome Back!”