By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Since the mid-19th century, when Catholics first settled in the rural landscapes of Western Burlington and Ocean Counties, scores of parish picnics have brought faithful together for worship, fellowship and food.
But the picnic that followed Mass Sept. 24 on the rolling fields around the Church of the Assumption, Wrightstown, was one for the history books.
Photo Gallery: Assumption, St. Andrew Parishes host Mass, picnic
With rides and games for children, folk dances by the Hispanic community, food and a tent in which to socialize, the catered affair drew 150 communicants of Assumption Parish, New Egypt, and St. Andrew Parish, Jobstown, together for their first shared Mass and social.
“This was the first thing we wanted to do as a planned, shared event to bring everyone together,” said Father Joseph T. Farrell, who since May, has been serving as pastor for both parishes.
Linked since July 1 under the Faith in Our Future initiative, the two faith communities are on their way to merging next July. When it came to marking the official beginning of that journey, Father Farrell said it seemed that Mass, followed by a picnic, would be the way to go.
The faith communities gathered in Wrightstown church, the worship site of Assumption Parish, as Father Farrell celebrated the Mass that was concelebrated by Father Raphael Ramos, a retired priest who helps out at the parish. Readings and sacred music in English and Spanish complimented the multicultural nature of the liturgy.
In his homily, Father Farrell drew from the parable in the day’s Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus, citing that workers who grumbled over what they saw as unfair wages, proclaimed “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
Humans, he said, “love to compare what they have with what other people have,” but love is not a matter for comparison.
“Love is not a gift you get or a wage you have earned. Love is freely given, not to compare but to lift up each of us,” Father Farrell said, highlighting the importance of focusing on what one does with the love received.
After Mass, Father Farrell shared his joy in seeing that the “three groups of the flock” – Assumption and St. Andrew parishioners and the Hispanic community – were taking an active part in the Mass and picnic. Other scheduled joint events include the annual dinner dance, in which members of both parishes will be honored, and a joint mission.
The events, he said, are a way for the parish communities to get better acquainted. “St. Andrew’s has 600 families and Assumption has 1,600, and what we want to do is form a steering committee to guide us as we go along.”
Father Farrell noted that programs and organizations at both parishes already tend to complement each other. In addition to Assumption Parish’s Knights of Columbus and St. Andrew Parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society, both have Altar Rosary Societies, and their members are talking to each other. The religious education programs meet at different times, giving families a choice of which is most accessible.
The churches are also coordinating English and Spanish liturgies, and Father Farrell celebrates Mass at least once each weekend in St. Andrew Church.
Breaking Down Barriers
During the picnic, children and adults in colorful costumes performed traditional Mexican dances, while others enjoyed bounce houses and games. There was also typical picnic fare ranging from hamburgers and hot dogs to pulled pork.
Many in attendance said they appreciated that they had been given time to plan for the merged parish’s future.
Among them were Celeste Grant, a member of St. Andrew Parish for 11 years and coordinator of religious education. With children drawn from area communities including Columbus, Jobstown and New Egypt, where Assumption Parish’s office and chapel are located, coordination is a must, Grant said.
She and her assistant, Geri Reilley, agreed that the “long heads up” from diocesan officials enabled members of both parishes to, as they put it, “get comfortable with each other” as they work through the merger.
“It’s good to have this time. It’s a smart way to get the people to make the accommodations that will make for a unified parish,” Reilley said. “This way, all the families can have a say.”
Pano and Marbella Arias, who choreographed and coordinated the traditional Mexican dances, said the crowd seemed receptive. “It was a good opportunity for everyone to get to know each other,” said Pano Arias, whose daughter was one of the dancers.
Marbella Arias, who is in charge of Hispanic preparation for Baptism in Assumption Parish, saw the day as a way for children and people of all ages to make new friends. “It was a good thing to do,” she said. “A good way to enjoy the parish.”
The president of the Assumption Rosarians, JoAnne Drury, shared how inspired parishioners are to make the merger work.
An Assumption parishioner for 22 years, she called the Mass and picnic a “great way to break down barriers” and shared that she is really looking forward to members of both churches traveling together to the Fatima Shrine in Washington for the 100th anniversary the culmination of the apparitions in Portugal.
“I think we are doing well,” she said with a smile. “People are excited about this, and we want it to work out well.”