Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The larger role of lay people in the Catholic Church

Jody Smith is pretty much the person on site at St. Patrick's in Buffalo Center. Not only is she the director of Faith Formation, the religious education program for K-12 and adults, but she is also the parish secretary and takes care of what she jokingly calls “Church Lady” things.

Smith said she communicates with the priest any questions from the parishioners and when a member dies she is the one who meets with the family to help plan the liturgy and organize the luncheon and so forth. She sets up the sanctuary and sacristan, all the things that are prepared for the altar, and schedules the severs for the altar, the ushers and the lectors.

"I try to have it very turn-key," Smith said. “There is virtually nothing they (the priests) have to do so they can focus on the liturgy." In addition to her other duties, Smith is also the worship leader for one of the two Sundays the priest is not there to say mass.

She said on their two Sunday Celebration in Absence of a Priest (SCAP) services she will take turns with Deacon Dennis Popowski, of Garner, in leading the Liturgy of the Word service with communion. On these weeks, communion is distributed from sacraments consecrated by the priest the week before.

Smith said this was something the Archdiocese asked someone to learn in order to lead the worship service on occasions ranging from having no priest or a priest who is out sick. She was chosen because of her 20 plus years of experience in teaching religious education. "We are the only parish where this is being allowed on a regular basis," Smith explained.

She said when she joined the Buffalo Center church in 1978, it was already one of the smallest parishes in the Archdioces of Dubuque. She said the congregation was notified the church might be closed because of the low number of families. “So we have tried to have an active faith formation program and have been able to hang together,” she said.

And when the six churches linked in 2002, they were again told there was a strong possibility they would be closed. But the parish launched a letter writing campaign pointing out that members would have to send their children and members 30 minutes away to Forest City. They pointed out that there was a strong likelihood, especially for the elderly, that members wouldn't attend mass on a weekly basis.

The decision was made to keep the parish open and make full use of the lay ministry. "Our geographic location has kept us open. "We're the last outpost in the diocese," Smith said, pointing out that Buffalo Center is just a few miles from the Sioux City Diocese. "If we close there will be no presence here in this diocese.

"We're very proud of the fact that we've been able to remain financially okay and an active parish. We're very supportive of one another and there are no factions within the Congregation. That's the key to success," Smith said.

She said when she joined St. Patrick's, there was still a priest living in the Rectory but times have changed and it is something their elderly members are still trying to get used to. Lay people now do almost everything the priest once did. “That's not all bad. They are doing a terrific job," Smith said. “It has strengthened the faith of the people by giving them the opportunity to witness to our faith.” NorthIowaNews.com

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