Reaping the fruit of working together: Rural Life Celebration helped our Area Catholic Community see something greater
Relationships are the oil that keeps the gears of the Church working smoothly. The formation of Area Catholic Communities expands our typical notion of seeing ourselves as members of our own parish and diocese. We are challenged to see that we are fundamentally connected with our neighboring communities as well, and that we must all grow together for the good of our local Church.
Since the final shape of our Area Catholic Community came into focus this past spring, we have been trying to get to know each other and build relationships between members of the various communities. There must be occasions and events to do so. So, we promoted participation in each other’s summer festivals, and we were able to work together for a mission trip, youth gatherings and vacation Bible school.
The annual Rural Life Celebration had just recently been added to the calendar, so it became a natural opportunity to work together to make this a joyful celebration. The primary goal was to host this wonderful event that promotes the dignity of rural life for the entire diocese, but it also took the shape of a unique event that was shared by each of the communities in our Area Catholic Community.
The Rural Life Celebration was held in August at the Randy and Amanda Hartung farm in St. Anthony (Albany). The event is sponsored by the Social Concerns Office of Catholic Charities for the entire diocese. Such a large event required a great deal of preparation.
We formed a leadership team that was made up of members from St. Anthony, Albany, St. Martin, Farming and Avon. They were able to make connections in their own parishes to pull together volunteers and gather necessary funds to cover costs. I was continually surprised to see who was doing what and who was related to whom. I was edified at how people from the various communities were suddenly lending a hand or baking a pan of bars.
The result was quite inspiring! Hours before the event people from each community were on hand setting up. When the crowds arrived for Mass, the feeling was at a high. It was a joy mixing as one community and celebrating our faith. We lost track of who was from which community.
There were nearly 1,000 people sitting on hay bales and lawn chairs. The crowd overflowed from the tent, and people sat wherever they could view the constructed sanctuary and participate in the liturgy. Participants enjoyed Mass with Bishop Donald Kettler, a speech on the link between faith and farm life from local radio personality Joe Gill of KASM, a presentation of Century Farm Awards, lunch, tours of the farm and a petting zoo.
It would have been a heavy burden for any one parish community to pull this type of celebration off, but by working together something greater was possible for everyone.
We are all aware that there will be challenges in working together, and a great deal of effort is happening behind the scenes to provide a leadership structure for our ACC that will make it all work fluidly and sustainably. But, on that day, it was clear to everyone that there is a lot to benefit from and enjoy as an Area Catholic Community. I suspect we will be reaping fruit from this celebration for a long time to come.
BENEDICTINE FATHER EDWARD VEBELUN is the pastor of the parishes of St. Anthony in St. Anthony, St. Martin in St. Martin, Seven Dolors in Albany and St. Benedict in Avon. He also is a monk of St. John’s Abbey.