Steuben County deacon devoted to rural-parish ministry - Catholic Courier

Steuben County deacon devoted to rural-parish ministry

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of occasional profiles on Catholic Charities agencies and ministries in the Southern Tier.

Deacon Dan Williams likens rural parish ministry to, all of things, a small-boat excursion that he once went on with six people.

"I heard the word ‘sorry’ more than I ever have in my life," he recalled, explaining that passengers strove not to get in each other’s way or otherwise cause inconvenience in their limited surroundings.

This heightened consciousness of neighbor also has been evident to Deacon Williams in the diminutive, yet tightly knit communities of Steuben County where he serves. Although he acknowledged that rural areas are largely viewed as "not where the action is," he maintained that residents in his neck of the woods respond quickly in times of need due to their close associations — in a manner that may well be superior to more densely populated suburban and urban settings.

Deacon Williams said that Steuben’s parishes are accustomed to working ecumenically with neighboring churches, and are now trying to expand their geographic scope by collaborating and networking with other Southern Tier parishes as well as a wider part of the diocese. In this vein, he led a workshop during the diocesan Pastoral Planning Leaders Day last Nov. 3 at Keuka College. More recently he addressed a diocesan social-ministers gathering, sponsored by diocesan Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services, on April 5 at Geneva’s DeSales High School.

He also noted that the a diocesan Rural Pastoral Ministry Day is scheduled for this coming Nov. 15, at which information will be gathered from listening sessions being held throughout the diocese’s 12-county region in 2008. Deacon Williams said he hopes to see local interest in rural ministry reach the same fervor as in 1935, when the diocese hosted the National Catholic Rural Life Conference convention that was attended by many Catholic activists of that era including Dorothy Day.

Typical of rural ministry, Deacon Williams logs considerable miles to carry out his work. He holds sacramental duties at St. Stanislaus Church in Bradford and St. Joseph Church in Campbell. In addition, he serves as parish social-ministry coordinator for Catholic Charities of Steuben County, assessing parishes’ social-ministry concerns and voicing them on a diocesan level.

"It’s a little bit of an unusual assignment," he said of his many diaconal responsibilities.

St. Stanislaus and St. Joseph are members of the Central Steuben Catholic Parishes along with St. Gabriel in Hammondsport, St. Mary in Bath and St. Catherine of Siena in Addison. Deacon Williams coordinates an initiative by which this five-church planning group emphasizes welcoming newcomers, offering adult-education classes on rural ministry, and holding community-development programs. Particular attention is paid to such topics as the environment, land use, natural resources, economic development, housing and transportation, energy, agriculture and food systems, workforce and development, rural schools and youth, poverty, health care, social networking, and governance. This ministry operates a Web site at

Prior to being ordained to the permanent diaconate last June, Deacon Williams, 50, served as pastoral minister for his home parish of St. Gabriel. There, he originated the idea of Joseph’s Hammer, a handiwork ministry that began in 2004 and provides volunteer home repair and other services for people in need. The ministry has grown to involve churches of other denominations, as well as ministry in a increasingly wider area of Steuben County.

Deacon Williams said his first year of diaconal ministry has seen him striving to carve out a balance between his parish and Catholic Charities ministries, his family (wife, Sandra, and 9-year-old daughter, Ruby) and full-time employment as an independent-contractor land agent who talks to landowners about leasing property for natural-gas exploration.

"The (deacon) ordination itself was incredibly fulfilling, and really made me feel very connected to this church that I love," said Deacon Williams, who added that he wishes not to be viewed as a figurehead but as somebody who works right alongside the laity in doing "what I feel is most important to me, which is this notion of building up the body of Christ in communities."


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