Fr. David Ousley writes about the first steps in Bridgeport in the newsletter of St. John the Baptist Ordinariate community. Here are some extracts:
Dear Parishioners and Friends,
We are off to a wonderful start in Bridgeport. Over thirty people came to work on the work day before our first Sunday. One crew worked in the school building, preparing the kitchen and (what is now our) parish hall for Sunday coffee hour. Another crew cleaned the church. A third did reconstruction in the church, removing the altar rail from the lower church and reinstalling it in the upper church, removing the oversized pulpit from the upper church to allow for the altar rail, bringing the pulpit and lectern from the lower to the upper church, and installing the icons from the old pulpit over the high altar. Others polished the brass of the six high altar candlesticks (a gift from Mike Crofton). Still others started “greening” the church. We got a lot done! This was all before our first Sunday, the Fourth in Advent. The following week, several people spent time setting up the creche and decorating the church for Christmas. As you can see from the photo, they did a splendid job.
We then had over 100 for our first Mass on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, including some of our new neighbors from Bridgeport. Fr O’Sullivan, the Pastor of Sacred Heart, our host parish, came and assisted at the Mass, and his assistant, Monsignor Majoros visited for coffee hour. (There were some very nice) comments from several parishioners after that first Mass. … The Tabernacle was empty at the start of Mass, and we reserved the Blessed Sacrament there after Communion. It was a significant moment. Our Lord has taken up residence with us, and it is He who makes the church a home, His home – as well as ours. A gift we can never wholly fathom, nor can our gratitude ever suffice for the gift. It makes a huge difference in the feel of the church. In any case, we are off and running, with gratitude in our hearts for all that God has done (and is doing) for us.
With having our own property come various responsibilities. Some are material: the roof, the plumbing, the wiring; and, of course, keeping it clean. There are also spiritual responsibilities. The church is an holy place. Some of the places we have worshiped during our wandering – Laurel Hill Cemetery Chapel, for example – were of a different character. A church building is properly for one purpose only: the worship of the Triune God. The Reserved Sacrament, the celebration of the Mass and other sacraments, and the manifold prayers which have been said inside Our Lady of Mount Carmel over the years have made it a holy place. Now that it is in our stewardship, we want to be sure that we leave it even more of a holy place than it is now. This will be formed in large part by devotion with which our sacraments and prayers are done here. It will also be formed by how we treat the building. The church, as you well know, is God’s house. It is to be treated always with reverence and respect. It is specially set apart (consecrated) from common or profane use for worship. We should cultivate a sense of this consecration and use. Coming into the church is different from coming into the supermarket or movie theatre. We should feel that, and embrace the reality which the feeling reflects. Our reverence to the altar and genuflection to the Blessed Sacrament are outward manifestations of our belief that it is God’s dwelling, and by respecting His house, we respect Him.
Our reverence is also expressed by our reserve in conversation inside the church building. It is not really the place for general conversations with one another about our secular lives, although this is commonly done in many churches. These are better had (and are important to have!) outside the church: one reason we have coffee hour afterward. … We set aside our conversations in church for the greater good of attending to God with reverence. Before and after Mass, avoiding unnecessary conversation (and conducting what is necessary soto voce) is also a matter of practical consideration for those who are saying their prayers, and those whose prayer is uplifted by the organ voluntary (which is invariably uplifting, thanks to Bill Gatens).
We need to remember that reverence for God and charity for neighbor are not in conflict. This means that our reverence for the building as God’s house requires that we welcome the stranger and visitor among us. We should see in him the image of Christ, especially if he seems in some way poor or needy. In welcoming him and helping him to be comfortable worshiping with us, we welcome Christ Himself. This speech, required as it is by charity, in no way violates the sanctity of the building. In line with this, and with pastoral concern for the faithful, I do greet people at the door. (My personal preference is to greet outside the door, which was my custom at St James the Less. Given that we have four doors at St John the Baptist, I’m still working on the best place to do this.)
… I do not know how much of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was done by the hands of her parishioners. But it is now our responsibility. One way we can make a spiritual offering of that responsibility is to do the cleaning of the church ourselves, with our own hands. … I am still suggesting that we should all (all who are physically able) take a hand in cleaning St John the Baptist. Why? Because it is God’s house. We can do it as a tangible offering to Him. An offering of menial service, but still a spiritual as well as a material offering of ourselves, our souls and bodies. To do it with our own hands is different from paying someone else to do it. There is grace in the service. If we do it as an offering to our beloved Jesus, wanting His house to be clean because we care about Him, then it will bear fruit in our souls. It will foster His love within our hearts, as it is an act of love. I would not want you to be deprived of this grace. …
We are working out a system for keeping the church clean. The weekly cleaning and straightening should take about 20 minutes, and can be done after Mass on Sunday or during the week, as may be convenient. During coffee hour on the Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 17th, we will all go over to the church for training in the weekly routine. Then we will all know what is expected, and can volunteer to take a turn. A sign-up sheet
will be provided at that time. There will also be more major cleaning tasks, monthly or less often. The planning for these is in progress.
Our new Bishop, Steven Lopes, is to be ordained to the episcopate (by four cardinals, no less) in Houston on Candlemas, February 2nd. All members of the Ordinariate are cordially invited. … This is a major milestone in the life of the Ordinariate, and if you can arrange to be there, I’m sure it will be worthwhile. If you can’t, I (and those who can) will give you a report.
Bishop-elect Lopes is planning to visit St John the Baptist on the Third Sunday of Easter, April 10th. The plan is for him to visit with the parish in the morning, and preach in the afternoon at Evensong & Benediction. That will be our chance to host our friends from Holy Cross and Our Lady of the Assumption, and say thank you to them for their hospitality to us in our pilgrimage. …
The Pastoral Council, reflecting on all we got done on the work day in December, felt that another is in order: mainly “deep” cleaning, and perhaps some work on the rectory. It is set for Saturday, January 30th. Mass (in the church) will be at 9, with breakfast and work following. There will be no Mass at St Therese that day. Please plan to come! We also expect that the work on moving the altar back to the east wall will be done before then.
You should all have received a letter last month soliciting your support for the Building Fund, both now and over the next five years. While we have moved into the church in Bridgeport already, we have yet to pay for it. Fr O’Sullivan and Sacred Heart have made it possible for us to begin using the property without having to pay for it up front – for which we are enormously grateful. But the bill will still need to be paid in due course. We each need to do what we can. I know many of you already give sacrificially to the parish, for which I am very grateful. If you have not already made a pledge Building Fund, I hope you will do so now. If you have, thank you!
Father David Ousley