One of our priests gave a rousing homily on the Prodigal Son on Sunday. Priests love to preach on this one, he said–you got your prodigal son, your pharisaical son, your all-forgiving father–there’s so much to work with! But then he remembered this weekend was the parish ministry fair.
How to tie these two together?
The ministry fair is the day you’re supposed to sign up to contribute your time to your parish through acts of service–lectoring, cantoring, ushering, feeding the sick, knitting prayer shawls.
He took a stab at making the connection for us. We, like the father in the parable, have been tasked with keeping the doors open here at our parish church, with making sure there’s always someone here to welcome the wayward soul or the lifelong parishioner. We, my fellow Catholics, are the ones who must kill the fatted calf and throw the party. We must serve the donuts and coffee.
You’ll say you don’t have time, he said.
Really? You don’t have an hour or two once a week?
You’ll say you’re not worthy, he says. Well, I’m not worthy either. None of us is.
He recalls that famous James Joyce quote from Finnegan’s Wake–Catholic means “Here comes everybody.”
This is a dirty job, parish life. But mostly it’s a boring job, and somebody’s got to do it.
I am–suprise–not a joiner, but this year I’m recommitting to parish life out of desperation for community Up North (they capitalize that here. Point of pride.). Plus my oldest child is old enough to be an altar server, and she IS a joiner, even though almost everything we join ends in tears and drama and bitter disappointment, because her imagination outpaces her experience. (Future writer.)
In the parish hall, some dear soul has set the table with balloons and fruit salad, but even this isn’t enough to attract more than the usual coffee and donuts crowd. There’s not really a “Here comes everybody” feel. More like a “Here come a few elderly parishioners and the families who need to sign up for First Communion.”
The Ministry of Music
I stick out my hand and introduce myself to the music director. He stares at me blankly.
“And you’re….” When he doesn’t answer I lean in to look at his name tag to see what his name is. I tell him that my daughter would be interested in the choir.
“We don’t have a children’s choir,” he says.
I want to clarify that I meant the bell choir, and I know there are children in the bell choir because I have seen them with my very own eyes at Christmas Mass, but the world’s tiniest elderly woman has approached me with arms outstretched. I am tall and wearing heels–so I’m like Nadia Bolz Weber tall–and I have to bend in half for her to reach me. She gives me a big hug and exults: “Are you joining the choir?!” She is beaming. “Thank God,” she says. “Now I won’t be alone!”
I sign my name on the sheet.
The Ministry of Altar Servers
There are three altar boys sitting behind the table in their vestments, staring into space in three different directions.
Hey guys, I say, is this where my daughter signs up to serve?
I write her name on the list.
The New Priest’s Table
The new priest is lovely, warm, gregarious. The new priest smiles and chats. The new priest has been engaged by two older parishioners who are telling him the history of the universe. The new priest will not be available to speak with me until well into the October.
The Ministry of Funeral Luncheons
The guy at this table just smiles warmly at everyone who walks by him trying not to make eye contact.
The Children’s Ministry
The children’s ministry table has two baskets full of Smarties, which my son immediately discovered and began devouring while I was waiting in line behind the elderly parishioners at the new priest’s table. It has exactly one calendar of the faith formation meeting dates, which I am not allowed to take because I have already received it in an email. The youth minister knows I received it because she is my friend. *Glare.* I take another roll of Smarties.
The Ministry of Men
This table is empty.
And that my friends, is a parish ministry fair.
And that my friends, is why we have this blog.
I’m not just being snarky, though it’s true I’ve never found a great sense of community in my parishes and that’s one big reason for Sick Pilgrim’s being. Unless you love playing bingo or you knit prayer shawls, I know it can be tough to find your people here.
But my priest’s homily was good and right. I toggle between the pharisaical entitled son who has been slogging it out in my father’s house every week and can’t understand why there’s still no place for me and the wayfaring son who has been salivating over the delicacies of the secular world’s pig troughs. But I can sometimes, maybe, hopefully, be that welcoming father–the one who opens the door wide and says, come on in, the sanctuary candle is still burning, and Jesus is here somewhere, somehow, and there’s a place at the table for me and for you and a roll of Smarties with your name on it.