Iowa Cluster and Tennessee Mission Take Next Step in Adoption
Glenmary has always relied on the help of partners in mission—both individuals and parishes—who provide financial and prayerful support for its ministries. And those partners often want to do more.
In August 2014, for example, the Blessed Trinity four-parish cluster in eastern Iowa and Glenmary's Rutledge, Tenn., mission (Grainger County) took still another step in their journey as sister parishes, when eight parishioners and their pastor traveled to the mission area on a service trip. The result was a week of outreach, prayer and interactions between visitors and mission county residents-leading to new awareness, understanding and support.
The Iowa cluster had earlier adopted St. John Paul II mission in Rutledge in 2013 through Glenmary's Adopt-A-Mission Program—after research by Blessed Trinity social justice committee member Donna Weaver, parish discussion, and a small-group mission visit. This program matches a parish with a mission in a relationship involving mutual prayer, financial assistance, regular communication, and often an exchange of visits.
The cluster has made generous additional donations for the mission, county residents, Glenmary's Group Volunteer Program (also located in Grainger County), and Glenmary in general-including liturgical supplies, school supplies, children's books, baby layette sets, tools, building supplies and more.
But in early 2014, cluster parishioners and new pastor Father Joe Schneider were also discussing and praying about a service trip to Rutledge. "We have a responsibility to be involved in the Church's missionary work," says Father Schneider. "Two of our trip goals were to gain a better understanding of mission needs and to help meet needs through missionary service."
The majority of service-trip group members arrived in Rutledge Aug. 2, in time for weekend Mass at the mission and the chance to meet pastor Father Steve Pawelk, Brother Craig Digmann and mission members. The group was housed at the nearby Glenmary Group Volunteer Program site.
Most cluster volunteers spent the equivalent of two days at the mission's small storefront space, cleaning the area and its contents as well as painting the walls. As social justice committee member Jody Doyle points out, "Mission members use that building for everything." In addition, the volunteers took steps to prevent water leakage and helped organize faith formation materials.
The group also spent one busy half-day working at the area's large ecumenical food pantry. The local volunteers welcomed these "Catholics from the Glenmary mission."
Another volunteer option was to visit Kingswood, a Christian residential home for at-risk children and youth. As just two examples, a cluster parishioner who is a beautician cut hair for many kids at their request, while a retired elementary school teacher talked with and read to children. And the pair conceived the idea of sending birthday cards with personalized letters to each child and youth during the year.
Cluster volunteers also went with Brother Craig for a half-day tour of Glenmary mission counties (Grainger, nearby Union). "I help visitors experience what we do," he says, "and gain an insight into local people's lives and feelings about having Glenmary missioners serving here."
Father Schneider says "we got a real sense of the challenges people in the area face. I think the Glenmary staff are very good at their work and at reaching out to people."
Jody adds that "the Glenmarians are very well liked and respected. And they don't let anything get in the way of serving people's material and spiritual needs."
The cluster group finished work on the storefront space Thursday before celebrating a final Mass with missioners and mission members-and saying thanks and good-bye to them and people at the group volunteer site.
But as Jody says, "The end of our trip was just the beginning." Partly based on what the trip group learned, these are some ways the cluster has continued to help:
• On the cluster's behalf, Father Schneider made a contribution to support the mission's faith formation program and hopes to make more.
• Birthday cards and letters for Kingswood residents are being created and sent by the cluster's grade-school students throughout the year.
• The cluster gave an extra donation for expenses such as a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway for those in need, sponsored by a small, ecumenical emergency food pantry group in Grainger County (the mission is a partner).
• The cluster donated sports equipment for mission children with little or none.
• Trip participants created an audiovisual presentation about their experience, which they've been sharing with interested groups in their Iowa community.
• A tentatively scheduled second collection during a weekend of cluster Masses (early 2015) will help in supplying boxes of food to mission-area farmworkers' families in late February, a time of special need.
Father Steve and Brother Craig say they're "deeply grateful for Blessed Trinity parishioners' hard work, generosity, openness and willingness to serve."
After returning home, Father Schneider said "our experience was far beyond my expectations" and that he hoped to send another group to Rutledge in 2015. Now, plans are in place for a youth group from the cluster to travel there this summer on their own mission trip.