LE ROY — At one end of a shelter at Oatka Fish and Game Club July 15, the Smugtown Stompers blew their way through a number of Dixieland-flavored standards, while at the other end, dozens of people lined up to devour some roasted pig.
Older folks lounged in easy chairs and children ran about the club’s grounds. Several people played a game in which a person wore on his or her back a name tag of someone famous, and another person gave the tag-wearier various clues so he or she could guess the famous person’s identity.
All in all, it looked like a typical summer picnic, maybe even a family reunion. In this case, however, it was a family union, so to speak, a first-ever full-scale celebration of 5 Saints West, the pastoral-planning group comprising churches in southwestern Monroe and northwestern Livingston counties. Planning groups of parishes and faith communities have been meeting for several years now throughout the Diocese of Rochester to prepare parishes to share resources and ministers, including non-retired priests, whose numbers are projected to decline to 62 by 2025, according to the diocese.
Members of the 5 Saints churches — St. Christopher, North Chili; St. Columba, Caledonia; St. Columba’s mission church, St. Patrick, Mumford; St. Mary of the Assumption, Scottsville; and St. Vincent de Paul, Churchville — were celebrating Bishop Matthew H. Clark’s approval last March of their pastoral plan, according to Charlotte M. Bruney, pastoral administrator of St. Vincent de Paul. Among other things, the plan calls for St. Mary, St. Columba/St. Patrick and St. Vincent de Paul to cluster by 2011, and for St. Christopher to remain a single parish but share ministries and staff with the clustered churches, according to a copy of the plan posted on the diocese’s Web site.
Joe Davies, stewardship director and a St. Mary parish-council member, said he was pleased by the turnout out for the pig roast.
“I think this is a great first start,” he said, adding that the event was preparing people to eventually attend Mass at a church other than their home parish. “I think if you start like this, it’ll make the transition better.”
Bruney added that people from all the faith communities had already participated together in smaller events, including retreats and adult-education sessions, but the pig roast marked the first time such a large group of people — more than 300 — had attended a planning-group-wide event. The picnic was preceded by a Mass concelebrated by Father William F. “Mickey” McGrath, pastor of St. Columba/St. Patrick; Father Ted Auble, sacramental minister at St. Vincent de Paul; Father Robert Gaudio, pastor of St. Christopher; and Father William Endres, sacramental minister at St. Mary. The liturgy was planned by Irene Goodwin, pastoral administrator of St. Mary, Bruney added.
At the Mass, Bruney spoke about the representatives of the parishes coming together through the planning process.
“We brought different gifts, different histories, different experiences that have shaped us, but we kept our focus on Christ and you, and the result, truly, seemed miraculous,” she said. “It became very clear to us that the Lord had given us what we needed to accomplish the mission — the end result of which is still unclear and will continue to evolve. We just need to trust God in the process.”
Michael Stephany, who for the last two years represented St. Columba/St. Patrick on the pastoral-planning team, said the process has been a realization that every parish will have to let go of its former identity for the sake of a greater whole.
“It’s the realization that we’re not going to have the priests, and we need to understand that and to truly act as a community,” he said.
During the picnic, Judy Graves, a parishioner of St. Christopher, added that she had worshiped at each of the planning group’s churches and welcomed the bond between the communities that was being created through the picnic.
“Everybody’s sharing, and I think this is really special, ” she said.
Pretty much everyone shared the two roasted pigs, whose chief preparer was Duane Mauch, a St. Christopher parishioner. Mauch’s wife, Karen, noted her husband had been at the Oatka site since 6 a.m. preparing the pigs.
“I was volunteered,” Duane joked when asked why he was so devoted to pig-roasting for parishioners. On a more serious note, he said he thought it was important that he participate in the life of his church.
“I like to try to inspire others to volunteer and get involved and take on events and make it happen,” he said.
His daughter, Shauna, 12, already has been bitten by the volunteering bug. She noted that this is the second summer in a row that she was slated to choreograph the dance movements of children who participated in her parish’s vacation Bible camp.
“It’s fun, (I) like teaching the little kids and watching them, too,” she said. “They’re always fun and the parents like seeing them (perform) at the end of the week.”
Karen Mauch added that the picnic represented more than just a bunch of people getting together to have fun — the picnic represented the new community the 5 Saints parishes were creating.
“I thought we could be an example of what can happen,” she said.
Scott Swartzfager, who attends St. Vincent de Paul, said he enjoyed the picnic as well as the outdoor Mass.
“I thought it was very well done,” he said. “Everybody got a chance to represent.”