Two weeks ago I was welcomed to the Charleston Catholic community to offer the weekend Masses and also offer an Advent mission. Charleston is blessed by having a wonderful parish family of St. Charles Borromeo as well as the Eastern Illinois University Catholic Newman Center community. Father Hyland Smith is their young and energetic pastor, and is loved and well-respected by those he serves. Roy Lanham has served the EIU Newman community for over 32 years, and has a great connection to the college students.
We have been encouraging parishes to look at hospitality as one of the four pillars of stewardship. If anyone was to move to Charleston and looking for a church, this important pillar would certainly be noticed in their Catholic community. From the moment I arrived I was welcomed in so many ways. The moment the sacristan saw me come in the door of the church she rushed back to welcome me and share with me “the things to know” about celebrating liturgies at St. Charles Parish.
Soon after the hospitality ministers were there to welcome folks as they arrived to church and they truly were connecting with them, especially taking time to talk with many new faces and visitors.
The liturgy for this second weekend of Advent was beautiful. I could tell the second pillar of prayer was being lived out well. All ministries were covered, but even more so they were well-trained and serious about their ministry. Saturday night I was blessed to hear what I feel is one of the most outstanding choirs in our diocese. The St. Charles parish choir was unbelievable in leading the congregation in prayer and worship. Blessed with angelic voices, they were accompanied by outstanding instrumentalists. The EIU Newman Center is also blessed by many talented vocalists, cantors, choir members and instrumentalists. It was a blessing to be inspired by the college students so willing to share their time and talents to the Lord and the liturgy.
I was amazed at the crowds for the parish Masses and also for the mission I offered. Each year the parish offers a mission for the benefit of “spiritual formation and renewal.” The people were enthusiastically engaged in this mission and about growing in their understanding of “Discipleship as a Way of Life.” You could tell the joy and positive response they were sharing about this “way of life” our diocese is promoting. So many asked great questions!
The final pillar of “service” was seen so well over these three days. At EIU we blessed and sent off 10 young Catholics who were giving up their Christmas break to go to Haiti to serve the needs of our sacred brothers and sisters. The Knights of Columbus Council at the EIU Newman Center fixed and served pancakes for the students who were busy studying for semester exams. The parishioners at St. Charles hosted two gatherings after the evening mission talks; one a wine and cheese social. It couldn’t have gone any better.
During the mission we heard from three folks who witnessed about their conversion journey to becoming Catholic this year through RCIA. James and Julie Lawrence were in attendance at all the events and commented on their love for this parish family. James was quite emotional as he described how they have looked for years for a faith-based church, and how they finally found it in St. Charles Catholic Church, where they both shared, “We have never felt more welcomed.” Jim said, “We have finally found what we have longed for: this church, this faith, these folks. We’re home.”
Stanley Carpenter spoke both nights about his journey and how grateful, happy and blessed he is to have heard this invitation to join St. Charles Catholic Church. He has never been more at peace. He loves this parish family, especially his 94-year-old sponsor, John Inyart — who is one of the most inspiring Catholics I have ever met — still saying yes to the Lord.
I drove home; smiling all the way at the wonderful experience God blessed me with in seeing the four pillars so vibrant and alive in Charleston. Maybe that is why in the Scriptures it is said, “People look East.”