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In celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary, after having enjoyed a beautiful family weekend with their children and grandchildren at the Red Lion Inn and the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, MA, my parents and I travelled recently on a wonderful tour of Philadelphia, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Early in this trip, we spent a day in the Amish country of Eastern Pennsylvania. For anyone who has ever experienced even a small bit of the Amish world, one recognizes their culture to be simple and wholesome, based on clear values of hard work, family and faith. From their perspective, anything from the outside world that threatens those values is to be avoided.
As our tour bus was navigating a corner in a small Amish town, our local director pointed out an interesting item in a home driveway: a grey trailer. While we were unceremoniously gawking out the window, she asked us, "Any ideas what that grey trailer is doing there?" After entertaining some outlandish responses, she finally explained: "Those folks are hosting church this week." Indeed, the Amish people do not worship in church buildings but in homes. Inside that grey trailer were the simple items needed for their church service, as well as benches and tables for the meal afterwards. Imagine feeding Sunday dinner for 250 of your closest friends!
I have found myself thinking about that grey trailer these past few weeks, as I begin my ministry in the Vicar General's office here at the Pastoral Center in Braintree. As Catholics, we are blessed with a deep and rich faith, as well as beautiful churches in which to celebrate that faith. Yet we are still learning how to take meaningful and appropriate ownership of our faith, and to recognize our personal responsibilities in developing and strengthening our parish communities. One of the joys of working at the Pastoral Center is interacting with the many wonderful clergy and lay leaders in our archdiocese, who oversee the numerous and vibrant ministries of our local church. There is so much good happening within our great archdiocese! Yet, during these challenging times for our Church, there is also conflict and even division. Certainly, the secular press loves stories that pit the laity against the hierarchy and the little guy against the corporation, as every difficult issue is presented through the prism of competing camps, pithy slogans and irreconcilable differences.
At the end of the day, our faith -- and this beautiful Roman Catholic Church -- is a gift, not a possession. In every local parish, the fullness of the Church is present and alive. All of us, laity and clergy alike, have a responsibility to build up the faith, to encourage honest and respectful discussion of our differences, to expect transparency and accountability from our leaders, and to support each another on our faith journey, while remaining faithful to the sacred teachings handed on to us. We must never forget: it is not our Church, it is God's Church, established by Jesus Christ as a means for grace and the salvation of the world. As baptized Christians, all of us have a sacred responsibility to love this Church, support our local parishes, work together, and hand on a lively faith to the next generation.
I am not advocating parking a grey trailer in the driveway of your local Parish Pastoral Council member's driveway, or expecting weekly Sunday dinner for 250! We have enough challenges. But God bless those Amish folks for taking responsibility for their own faith communities and supporting each other, even though they must at times experience difficulty and disagreement within. As Catholics, we can learn from their sense of responsibility for their faith, their love and support for the community, and their high yet fair expectations of one another.
Father Bryan Parrish is Assistant to the Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia.