PITTSFORD — When members of Church of the Transfiguration decided to kick off the parish’s yearlong 25th-anniversary celebration, they chose to return to the place where their parish began: the barn at the corner of Stone Road and Clover Street.
It was there on Aug. 6, 1983, that the parish celebrated its first Mass. Parishioners returning to the barn this past Aug. 6 found it decked with banners, gladiolas and black-eyed Susans. The Mass also featured the parish song “Transfiguration,” which was written by parishioner Sue Wallace to mark the church’s dedication of its first building on May 4, 1985.
Longtime parishioner Mary Lou Stotz spoke during the Mass, recalling the first time she and her husband Frank met Father Jerry Appelby, the new parish’s pastor. He was going door to door to gauge interest in the area for a new parish. After talking to him for a few minutes, they invited him back for a ham sandwich at lunchtime.
“He came back for lunch and left about 4 p.m., and we were hooked,” Stotz said.
Father Appelby helped create the parish’s inviting atmosphere, said parishioner Ann Kirchoff.
“It was warm,” she said. “It was a feeling of belonging and having a home as people.”
Kirchoff’s husband, Tom, helped find the barn that would function as the parish’s first home. Stotz recalled that it was full of holes and pigeon droppings that parishioners cleaned out before Mass.
“We learned what it is to be a church,” Stotz said. “A church was not a building; it was us.”
As fall progressed, it became too cold to have Mass in the barn, Stotz said. During this time, parishioners moved to what was then the Jo-Mor Theater at Victor’s Eastview Mall for Sunday Mass, and Saturday Masses were at Christ Clarion Presbyterian Church in Pittsford. Stotz recalled bringing sheets to Masses at the theater to cover up risqu√© movie posters.
At Christmas the parish had to return to the barn because both the movie theater and the Presbyterian church were booked. The parish borrowed large heaters for the barn Masses, but had to turn them off during the homily, recalled Deacon Tom Driscoll, the parish’s first director of religious education.
“It was so cold everybody stamped their feet to get Father Appelby to shorten his homily,” said Deacon Driscoll, who is now the pastoral associate at Holy Family Parish in northern Steuben and southern Livingston counties.
Live animals also added an air of authenticity to the Nativity play, he recalled, noting that the barn became a fitting symbol of the creation of the new parish.
“There was a great energy to give birth to a new parish, and to invent new ways of doing things, and to be able to take care of people’s needs,” Deacon Driscoll said.
In a way, that energy helped the parish grow from its initial 90 families to more than 1,600 members 25 years later.
“It turned out that it answered the call from a lot of folks that wanted maybe a new and vibrant community,” Stotz said before the Mass.
The parish celebrated its second Christmas in the lower level of its new Christian-education building, which was constructed in 1984. In 1989, the parish broke ground on its administration building; the new church was built later and dedicated in 1992.
When Father Appelby retired in 2002, Father Mike Bausch became the parish’s second pastor. During his Aug. 6 homily, Father Bausch called on parishioners to embrace change as the parish transitions from a focus on building externally through constructing buildings and adding parishioners to an internal growth in spirituality. In addition to reaching out to local parishioners, the church has sister parishes in Maine, Kentucky and Ghana.
“Our faith needs the strength of prayer life,” Father Bausch said in his homily. “Our love for the Scriptures and a love for one another will allow that to continue to grow.”
About four years ago, the parish started a series of adult Christian-formation classes, including a 30-week retreat using St. Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual exercises. The Christian-formation program also includes a long list of other events, such as Bible studies, discussions and seminars.
“Now the emphasis for the future is on helping people to build a relationship with God,” said Damian Zynda, who has a doctorate in theology and is the parish’s director of Christian formation. Zynda also teaches part time at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.
Most of the parish’s leaders have gone through the exercises, said Zynda, who helps guide the exercises. The program asks participants to commit to an hour of daily prayer and meet weekly with a spiritual director.
“It gives them the tools to go out and be leaders,” she said.
Eric Bessette said he discovered through the spiritual exercises that he might be called to be a deacon. He is now a diaconal aspirant.
“God tapped me on the shoulder,” Bessette remarked.
The parish will continue celebrating its anniversary throughout the year. Other events, in addition to special celebrations at Easter and Christmas, will include: an education center open house from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 28 followed by a performance by humorist Doug Brummel at 6:47 p.m; an evening of contemporary Christian music at 7 p.m. Oct. 27; the annual men’s fellowship spaghetti supper in support of the parish’s Kentucky mission on March 9, 2008; an Irish celebration at 7 p.m. March 14, 2008; a dinner party Aug. 2, 2008; and the 25th-anniversary Mass at 11 a.m. Aug. 3, 2008.