'Slow, Substantial Progress' Marks Glenmary Ministry, Discernment

Brother David Henley, Glenmary vocation director

April 2014

"It is not rapid and spectacular growth that will be desired, but slow, substantial progress, building solidly on each new advance, never going into a region without the determination, with God's help, to conquer it for Christ."Father William Howard Bishop, Glenmary founder

The first time I read these words by Father Bishop, I wondered what was wrong with "rapid and spectacular growth" in the missions. Rapid and spectacular seem to be descriptions of good qualities. And in the U.S. culture, rapid and spectacular things seem to be the ones that make the news. Being a culture that celebrates the rapid and spectacular means that Glenmary's mission ministry must be countercultural—or maybe it's just more natural. I know my own personal growth and change during Lent has not been rapid, but more of a transition or process. As a matter of fact, I hope to continue my personal growth in many areas even after Lent is over, as we move into the Easter season and beyond.

As I watched two new videos produced by the Diocese of Knoxville that focus on the Glenmary's missions in that diocese, I thought of the above quote from Father Bishop. These short film clips from Union, Grainger and Unicoi counties in East Tennessee give the viewer a general profile of the missions. They also allow the Glenmary priests and brothers in these counties to share their enthusiasm about serving in the missions and their hopes for the future. They speak about growth as substantial progress, and about hope as a sense of excitement regarding the future, but they do not use the words rapid and spectacular.

For those not familiar with Glenmary's ministry, these videos may be shocking because the scenes from the mission churches are not what we typically see or imagine when we think of "church." There are no large cathedral-sized church buildings in these videos; instead, Mass is celebrated in house basements and storefront churches.

These small churches represent missionary beginnings. Glenmarians don't serve in large established parishes in inner cities, but instead they go to places where there is no Catholic presence. The missioners call Catholic communities together, evangelize the unchurched, and reach out to those in their mission counties who are in most need. Eventually, as Father Bishop said, "when the parish is able to stand on its own, it is returned to the bishop and the home missioner moves on to another no-priest area."

Glenmary priests and brothers are the first Catholic ministers to live in these rural areas of Tennessee. Starting a church from "scratch," as mission pastor Father Steve Pawelk says in one of the videos, has many challenges but also has plenty of rewards. In both videos the missioners speak about growth, hope and the future. The viewer can sense missioners' excitement in being a part of this mission effort with the people living in these regions. But the videos are able to provide only a glimpse into our missions and missioners' work in Mission Land, USA.

For a closer look, you have to be there in person. If you feel called to be part of Glenmary's mission ministry, the next step is to come and see if this work is a good fit for you. This summer, Glenmary will be hosting various Come & See mission-trip  opportunities for men discerning a vocation. Contact us or check out our Web site to learn more about and register for these events (one trip for college students and adults, ages 18-46; another trip for high-school-aged students, ages 15-18 [permission of parents/guardians required, and parents/guardians welcomed and encouraged attend]) and reserve your spot.

Like mission growth, our own discernment process may not be rapid but should be a slow and substantial, leading us closer to where God is calling us. We do not jump at every whim, but we take to prayer our new insights and reflections and we continue to grow and develop. We cannot expect to discern and change overnight, but we do not want to wait too long to begin the process. Only after looking back on our growth after years of work may we say it is something spectacular. After 75 years of home mission ministry, Glenmary has established more than 150 missions, which is spectacular, but the need in many other parts of Mission Land, USA, still exists.

Glenmary's own video, Walking Together in Mission, is a DVD that provides an overview of Glenmary's mission and ministry from the perspectives of missioners and students. Please contact us if you would like to receive a copy.

You can also read previous columns by Brother David on the Glenmary Web site.