Jane Mosser and her husband, John, are very active in their parish, St. Michael in Penn Yan, which is part of Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community. They routinely try to take advantage of as many of the cluster’s offerings as possible.
“My husband and I are always interested in any opportunity to learn more about matters of our faith and anything that might help us to deepen our faith,” Mosser said.
By itself, that shared interest in spirituality would probably have been enough to compel the Mossers to take part in Our Lady of the Lakes’ most recent initiative, which was held July 25. But then the Mossers learned Father Patrick VanDurme, pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Steuben County, would be leading the evening’s discussion.
“He is a phenomenal speaker. We would have been willing to drive quite a distance to hear him,” Mosser said of the priest, who led her cluster’s Lenten retreat several years ago.
To top it all off, the Mossers then learned the July 25 event would be held at Hunt Country Vineyards in Branchport, a 15-minute drive from Penn Yan.
“I have lived in this area for several years, and even though I think about visiting the wineries and doing some tasting every year, I never make the time to do it,” said Mosser, noting she’s usually too busy taking care of her children or volunteering at their school or her parish.
“I found that I was looking forward to the program that much more because it was being held at a winery,” she added.
That was precisely the kind of reaction organizers had hoped for when they planned their first Voices in the Vineyard event, said Cris Wensel, Our Lady of the Lakes’ pastoral minister and faith-formation director.
“We’re always trying to find new ways to get people to come out to different things,” she said.
Wensel and the other organizers saw that Theology on Tap — a program that gathers Catholic young adults in bars to talk about their faith — worked very well in urban and suburban areas. They decided to develop their own program, one which would draw upon the resources of the Finger Lakes region and entice its residents. Thus, Voices in the Vineyard was born.
By holding Voices in the Vineyard someplace other than a church, organizers hoped to attract Catholics who may be looking for a change; something different, comfortable and fun, Wensel said.
“With programming of any sort, it’s important to keep people interested and curious,” she added. “I think choosing to hold these programs outside of the church building is particularly creative because it personifies the way we live our faith, in the world, not just in the church.”
The nonthreatening winery setting also might attract non-Catholics or even Catholics who don’t attend Mass regularly, Mosser said.
“I think often people who are interested in exploring the Catholic Church may hesitate to actually step within a church to do that. It’s a situation they’re not familiar with or may not be comfortable with,” Mosser noted.
Approximately 40 people came to the Voices in the Vineyard event, which was a better turnout than organizers had expected, Wensel said. The evening’s theme was “Living With All We’ve Got … Loving With Even More: The Spirituality of Stewardship.” Wensel and Father Robert Ring, pastor of Our Lady of the Lakes, invited Father VanDurme to talk about stewardship because OLOL hopes to implement a clusterwide stewardship program this year, she said.
“To be honest, I was not excited about the topic when I heard it would be on stewardship. Many people associate stewardship with giving money to the church or tithing,” Mosser said. “Well, I was blown away by how much Father Pat stretched my thoughts on stewardship. He wanted to challenge us to stretch beyond that definition.”
Father VanDurme encouraged his listeners to think of stewardship as a way of life rather than an obligatory parting with hard-earned money, she said. He challenged them to deepen their faith and become better stewards of their faith. Instead of lamenting over the belief that individuals cannot change the world, he suggested that participants instead focus on changing the world within 10 feet of them, she said.
“That was the point where he reached me. Like most people, I’m probably too busy for my own good. I really can’t take on any commitments right now, but I can look at the 10 feet around me every day and see how I can be a better Christian and be living my faith in a deeper way,” Mosser said.
Mosser said she and her husband really enjoyed the winery event and came away enriched. Fellow parishioners Richard Osgood said he and his wife, Janet, also were pleased with Voices in the Vineyard.
“I thought Father VanDurme was a wonderful presenter. I thought the winery was an excellent place to have it, and it was a relaxed atmosphere. I thoroughly enjoyed it,” Osgood said.
The program was so successful, in fact, that Wensel is hoping to hold three more monthly Voices in the Vineyard events through October.
“People really enjoyed it, and I think we’ve found something that’s going to work for us here,” she said.