PERKINSVILLE — “What is said at the Miller House, stays at the Miller House.”
That was the proviso printed at the bottom of the flyer for “Faith & Foam,” an initiative of Holy Family Parish in northern Steuben and southern Livingston counties. It also was one of the few ground rules established by Holy Family’s pastoral associate, Deacon Thomas Driscoll, when the first installment of Faith & Foam began Aug. 15.
“This is an attempt of the parish to have open conversation and to reflect together on the larger issues that are going on and the smaller issues,” Deacon Driscoll announced to the crowd of more than two dozen who had gathered at the Miller House, a Perkinsville bar.
For example, some of the discussions might center around such personal or sensitive topics as adult children who have fallen away from the church, Deacon Driscoll said. In order to feel comfortable sharing and joining in these discussions, Faith & Foam participants need to know the stories and feelings they share won’t become fodder for the town’s rumor mill, he said, noting that Faith & Foam also is not the place for participants to launch verbal attacks against others.
With the ground rules out of the way, Deacon Driscoll turned the conversation toward spirituality and religion. Earlier that day, he’d logged onto CNN’s Web site to see how many of the day’s news stories were related to religion. He found more than a half-dozen religion-related news items on topics ranging from Pope Benedict XVI’s new directive allowing the Tridentine Mass to evangelical Christians’ views of the 2008 presidential candidates.
“If you think religion doesn’t cause controversy, think again. It’s all over the news. So, questions, topics, thoughts?” he asked in opening the discussion.
A woman near the back of the room responded with the observation that many young people don’t seem interested in going to Mass or belonging to the church. Why would they seem interested, she asked, when the church has been at the center of many conflicts and scandals for the past several years?
That lone observation and question brought about a lively discussion that drew comments from many different people as the conversation moved from topic to topic. Parishioners talked about what young people are looking for in a church community and in a weekend liturgy and which aspects of the Catholic faith appeal to people of varying ages.
They talked about the Diocese of Rochester’s pastoral-planning process, which resulted in the 2004 consolidation of St. Joseph Parish in Wayland, St. Mary Parish in Dansville, St. Pius V Parish in Cohocton and Sacred Heart Parish in Perkinsville into Holy Family Parish. Parishioners spoke of the struggles that come with consolidating into one new parish and trying to form one unified faith community out of geographic communities that span separate counties and school districts.
The discussion then moved on to such topics as the Tridentine Mass and the Catholic Church’s views on contraception. The discussion covered a lot of ground as it bounced from topic to topic, noted parishioner Teresa Weber.
“They covered a lot more than I thought they would. It was rather interesting,” she said.
“I liked it. Open discussion is really good,” agreed fellow parishioner Heather Malone.
Parishioner Marilyn Beaupre, who attended Faith & Foam with her husband, Bernie, enjoyed the evening so much that the 90-minute discussion practically flew by for her, she said.
“I knew it would be good, and we need something like this in our parish desperately. There’s a hunger for answers and knowledge,” Beaupre said. “You’re not going to get it if you stay home and complain about it. It’s informative, and Catholics need to know this stuff.”
Deacon Driscoll also was pleased with the way the discussion went. Although the conversation covered such sensitive topics as pastoral planning, he noted that people didn’t use the discussion as a soapbox from which to vent their frustrations.
“I was pleased that it wasn’t just venting. People were really willing to grab onto an issue and talk about it. It was very enjoyable,” Deacon Driscoll said.
The discussion also drew a good mix of people from Holy Family Parish’s geographic territory, he said. Deacon Driscoll hopes Faith & Foam will become a permanent fixture of Holy Family’s parish life, and future discussions will take place at 7 p.m. at the Miller House, 1095 Main St., on the second Wednesday of each month.
“I think word of mouth is going to sell it in itself. I think the turnout was terrific,” noted Linda Mehlenbacher, Holy Family’s faith-formation and youth-ministry coordinator. “I think it’s a phenomenal idea. I think it’s bringing it outside the box. It’s not in a church building. It’s very relaxed.”
Starting in September, the parish’s youth-group meetings will be held at the same time as Faith & Foam on the adjacent Sacred Heart church grounds, and Mehlenbacher said she will encourage parents to attend the discussion after dropping off their children.
The bar setting might help attract more men to the program, Beaupre noted, but the relaxed atmosphere is attractive to females as well.
“It does help to come and sit in a comfortable place,” she said.