Steuben cluster promotes catechesis, community - Catholic Courier

Steuben cluster promotes catechesis, community

Thanks to an initiative that blends spirituality, education and camaraderie, Catholics have begun trekking more regularly up and down Route 54 between Bath and Hammondsport.

"Whole Community Events" are periodic get-togethers combining interactive programming with Sunday Mass and coffee hour. Sessions alternate between the clustered Steuben County churches of St. Mary, Bath, and St. Gabriel, Hammondsport, which teamed up on the effort beginning earlier this fall.

As the title indicates, Whole Community Events are designed to be enjoyed by parishioners of all ages as they learn about their faith. For instance, the Nov. 6 theme of "Advent Traditions" saw participants at St. Gabriel’s McGill Hall create Advent wreaths that they could bring home.

"We did a little silver garland for St. Lucy to enhance the saints we celebrate during Advent," added Denece Gossie, a longtime St. Gabriel catechist who planned the event. (St. Lucy’s feast day is Dec. 13.)

Six Whole Community Events in all have been scheduled for 2011-12. The first, held Oct. 2 at St. Mary, focused on the rosary and served as a refresher for adults while giving children deeper knowledge of this important Catholic tradition. Participants spread out in O’Malley Hall and the Zimmer Center to learn about the prayers, mysteries and structure of the rosary, and how the rosary relates to our lives today.

Additional Whole Community Events have been scheduled for Dec. 4 at St. Mary, with the Roman Missal serving as the featured topic; Feb. 12 at St. Gabriel, with a theme of "Living Lent"; March 25 at St. Mary, on the Easter Triduum; and May 6 at St. Gabriel, on the crowning of Mary. Gatherings at St. Mary follow the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass, and at St. Gabriel precede the 11 a.m. liturgy. Each Whole Community Event takes the place of religious-education class for the day.

According to Mary Carol Wall, the cluster’s faith-formation coordinator, Whole Community Events began last year at St. Mary in an effort to highlight Catholic identity and traditions such as liturgical seasons and parts of the Mass. St. Gabriel has now joined in as well after Wall contacted Gossie about that possibility.

"We’ve been trying to find ways to gather the (St. Mary and St. Gabriel) people more often, and also show that we’re learning from each other," Wall said.

She noted that St. Mary has learned from St. Gabriel by recently incorporating the latter church’s Family Days initiative. Initiated last year by Gossie, Family Days involve parents and guardians attending their children’s religious-education classes once per month.

Factoring heavily into this sharing of resources is the fact that St. Gabriel and St. Mary, which were clustered in 2010, will become a single parish in the summer of 2012 with all their staff and finances being combined and a new parish name being established. Gossie asked people Nov. 6 to wear name tags specifying whether they were from St. Mary or St. Gabriel "so we could start to get to know each other as we go down this path."

"Folks seemed to visit around quite a bit," Wall observed. "I can’t help but have a sense that we’re doing the right thing."

"We need more of these activities," Gossie agreed, saying the goal is for folks from Bath and Hammondsport to regard each other as fellow parishioners rather than people attending separate churches: "You get used to the comfort of your own parish. But we all have to make an effort."

If attendance at the first two Whole Community Events — 60 people on Oct. 2 and 66 on Nov. 6 — is any indication, things are off to a solid start. Not only have the numbers been good, but Gossie was pleased that numerous children and senior citizens were part of the Advent session at St. Gabriel.

"A lot of people from St Mary’s came, which I feel was really wonderful," she added. "The people that were there are going to be leaders to encourage others to take part."

Deacon David LaFortune, pastoral administrator of the cluster, said overall feedback for Whole Community Events has been "very positive."

"I am hopeful that, given enough time, our Whole Community Events will be successful in helping both communities come together and in the process learn something new about their Catholic faith," Deacon LaFortune remarked.

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