ROCHESTER — God instructs Jonah to set out for Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-5, 10).
St. Paul writes that "the world in its present form is passing away" (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).
Jesus tells his first apostles to leave everything behind and follow him (Mark 1:14-20).
These just happened to be the themes of the regularly scheduled Sunday readings for Jan. 25. Yet the messages of uprootedness and change couldn’t have been more fitting for Church of the Annunciation.
Though the parish is not closing, the 4:15 p.m. Mass on Saturday, Jan. 24, was the last to be celebrated in a building that served as Annunciation’s home for more than four decades.
Father Michael Mayer stressed during his homily that God has historically sent people on journeys of faith: St. Paul, to many lands proclaiming God’s word; Abraham and Sarah, from Ur to Canaan; Moses, to lead the people out of Egypt; and countless saints and saintly folks who suffered hardship and even martyrdom. Yet Father Mayer said these actions all shaped the Catholic faith as we now know it.
"We’re here because of others’ willingness to travel. And are we willing to continue it?" asked Father Mayer, who serves as pastor of Light of Christ Parish, which comprises Annunciation and St. Andrew Church.
The Annunciation community is relocating to its original church, which in recent years has served as a parish hall. Granted, 200 feet doesn’t compare geographically with the biblical journeys cited by the pastor, but moving across the street is still significant. Worshipers must now adapt to a smaller, older, simpler structure that had housed Annunciation Parish for its first 50 years.
The Jan. 24 Mass ended with Father Mayer leading a sizable procession out of the larger structure into the chilly night air, across Norton Street, and inside the soon-to-be-reused church, where he gave a brief blessing in the sanctuary. The crowd then crossed back to the other side of Norton Street for a farewell reception in the other building.
The newer structure is being sold to Bridge Builders Ministries, a nondenominational Christian congregation of about 75 people that currently worships at St. John Fisher College. Father Mayer said the sale is nearly complete, but will likely not become official before the originally planned date of Feb. 1.
Light of Christ, which was formed in 2008, will conduct all three of its weekend Masses at St. Andrew until painting, cleaning and other preparation can be completed at the Annunciation worship space. Masses will start there "hopefully sometime in March," Father Mayer said.
And so begins a new chapter for Church of the Annunciation, which was founded to serve Italian immigrants in the city’s northeast corner. It formed in 1917 as a basement church that is still referred to as the catacombs. The upstairs church was completed in 1923.
Steady growth paved the way for the opening of Annunciation’s new building in 1967, on the occasion of the parish’s golden anniversary. The impressive structure, built in conjunction with liturgical norms established by the Second Vatican Council, features amphitheater-style architecture with the floor sloping downward in a nearly full circle around the altar. Even with a 700-person capacity, the design enabled all worshipers to have a clear view of Mass.
Pews were filled almost to capacity for the Jan. 24 liturgy. Yet Fred Migliore, a longtime Annunciation parishioner, remarked that regular Sunday attendance had declined to the point that all the room is no longer needed.
"What you see here, it used to be like this every Sunday," Migliore said. He added that he looks forward to attending Mass in his childhood church building, but still finds it hard to leave behind a worship space that he helped raise funds to build in the 1960s.
Migliore and Gil Henner, longtime Annunciation volunteers, helped run bingo for many years in the parish hall that is once again becoming a church. In fact, as Father Mayer blessed the sanctuary, a large bingo number board — which will obviously need to come down before Masses begin there — was still in view against a wall.
"It’s going to go in Fred’s basement," Henner quipped.