My local parish is very small. It was small when I arrived in my town 18 years ago and has shrunk since then. When I got confirmed, there was somewhere in the ballpark of twenty other confirmants. This year, there are 8. At the Vigil Mass, there was one single catechumen. I went alone to the Mass (for scheduling reasons), and I got a pew to myself, in the front of the Church, not the annex. It was not the only empty pew.
The Church building itself is quite tiny. It is a small wooden building with a small main section and an equally small annex. CCD classes are taught in a little house next door, literally just a small house bought out by the parish and used to teach Catechism classes to the kids. The Church has a tiny basement that used to be used for this as well. I’m honestly not even sure if it’s needed anymore.
We have a single Priest. He is not the first Priest since I arrived in town – the first Priest was as I remember him a fine man as well, incidentally – but he has been there for probably 15 years at least, and is getting well up there in age. He is a wonderful man and an orthodox Priest I am proud to call our leader.
Everything here is made of wood, and the big money-making splurge – and I remember this as being a BIG deal – was the creation of a prayer garden, a small gray brick circle set out about ten to twenty feet away from the church with a nice looking bench on it. It is literally just an alternate route to the church annex, connected to the pathway.
This was where the Easter Vigil Mass was started – the candles were lit in the prayer garden and after that was done with we walked inside to finish the Mass. Anyone who’s candle hadn’t been lit was to have it lit by other parishioners in the church proper, and in that way the flame was spread. The candles only stayed lit for maybe twenty minutes to a half hour of the two hour service, but it’s a beautiful idea all the same.
I wish our congregation was bigger. I may even be volunteering soon to help out with things as simple as keeping our website up to date, and I do love Cathedrals and beautiful church architecture. And yet despite all of that there is, I think, something worthwhile about the particular sort of fellowship fostered in a tiny wooden church with a single Priest and a prayer garden within spitting distance of the doorway. I don’t know most of these people very well, but we are united in Christ, and the fact that we are alone in this together, so to speak, comes across particularly vividly when your setting is as humble as ours.
This is not very Catholic of me to say, I suppose, but it is my honest opinion.
Ever since I have been here rumors have flown that the diocese was on the verge of shutting us down (not unreasonable with two other larger parishes in spitting distance). And yet here we stand, dwindling congregation and all, the Parish ready to celebrate its 70th anniversary in September.
While I would certainly understand why someone would make the call to shut us down, I hope they don’t. Whether they realize it or not something significant would be lost if the tiny wooden church with a prayer garden connected to the backdoor walkway ever closed its doors. I only pray the rest of the world realizes this before it’s too late for us and we have to close our doors at last.