A year-and-a-half after breaking ground, members of St. Mary Church in Melrose celebrated the dedication of their new church Nov. 21.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a limited number of parishioners were able to attend in person to see Bishop Donald Kettler dedicate the new building, which replaces the old church that was heavily damaged by fire in March 2016. The Mass was livestreamed for those unable to attend.
To ensure all parishioners were able to participate in some way, several events were planned for the “Dedication Weekend Celebration,” including Friday evening prayer and three Masses on Sunday.
At the beginning of the Mass, held on the eve of the solemnity of Christ the King, Bishop Kettler was presented with the plans and the keys to the church in the traditional ritual of handing over the church. The sprinkling rite followed as Bishop Kettler blessed the building, the altar and the people gathered.
“Tonight as we celebrate the blessing of your wonderful church, and tonight as we remember Jesus Christ as our Lord and our King, we proclaim loudly and proudly that God is here, not only somewhere, but everywhere,” Bishop Kettler said in his homily. “God has been present everywhere during your walk toward this new church and parish facility.”
The new facility, located on Kraft Drive S.E., south of the parish cemetery, includes the new worship space, bell tower, a 105-foot cross, narthex/gathering space and an administration center.
Several elements from the old church have been refurbished and included in the new building, including the rose window and three other stained glass windows, the stations of the cross, the tabernacle, the tabernacle lamp and four of the five bells.
One of the most significant rituals of the dedication of a new church is the anointing of the altar. Bishop Kettler anointed the altar with Sacred Chrism oil, then walked around the church and anointed the walls with the oil.
Long-time parishioners Terri and Chris Ellering attended the dedication Mass. Chris was part of the initial committee responsible for bringing ideas to the parish council regarding options surrounding the fire-damaged church. The couple also was part of the church design committee and the committee that planned the dedication.
“It was an experience that we will never have again in our lives, and we felt very honored to have been able to witness it in person,” Terri Ellering said. “I did feel moments of sadness though that the church could not have been full to the brim — that we could not sing our hearts out and hug and shake hands with all the people that were there.”
The Ellerings said they tried to avoid the conflict surrounding the building of the new church. Initially they, as many others did, wanted to try to preserve and restore the old church after the fire.
“Once we saw the magnitude of the severe damage, and the guidelines from Vatican II, we understood that we had to move forward,” Terri said.
“It has been challenging, painful and often sad with much grieving and loss, but you stepped forward … you asked for good advice from many wise people to help and counsel you on what to do,” Bishop Kettler said. “You made good decisions and you prayed all the time … I think God is very happy with you and what you have done.”
Now that the church is dedicated, the parish can continue the work of building community, Terri said.
“We wandered for four-and-a-half years, and it was a struggle. But here we are, we have made it through this journey and now we can begin again with the Holy Spirit guiding us to our ultimate goal,” she said. “We are a people of God and with his divine mercy we will be together again.”