Festivals and Other Stufff...

It was 8:00 PM bfore I got on the road this past Sunday. It was the day of the parish festival and well after events closed down there were still buildings to clean and things to haul back to church.

I had been standing for nearly twelve hours and my voice was hoarse from moving from table to table to talk to people. But the truth is that others had done a whole lot more. There were folks in the kitchen who kept meal after meal coming without air conditioning to take the edge off. Someone had to scrub pans in the back with clothing glued to their body by steam and sweat. Two men stood in front of a grill for hours. Compared to that walking around and making sure people were schmooozed was down right child's play.

I'm amazed at these festivals how many Orthodox are actually in the LaCrosse area. If everybody showed up we'd probably have around 100 or more in church on any given Sunday. They show up for festivals and Pascha and sometimes Christmas and often when they die but alas even in this neck of the woods its hard to find a way to convince them to take part in the everyday life of the church. I wonder sometimes. Do I have bad breath? Body odor? Is there some magical thing I can do to help them see the value of their faith? And more often than not I think to myself "What happened at some time in the past that switched the devotion "off" and brought them to a place where the faith that many in their own countries paid for with their lives means little more than a ceremonial convenience? I wish I knew. I pray I would come to know. I pray for all those who should be with us almost every time I prepare the gifts before Liturgy.

There's no judgement there, just sadness. Some day people will need their faith and all the things it bestows and the problem is that if they haven't developed it over time there's no way to bring it all back in a moment of crisis. I was a health care chaplain for some years and so many times family members would contact me and ask for help in a moment of trouble and I would discover they had never practiced their faith in any real way until this moment when their family member was lying in the hospital unresponsive with tubes and machines everywhere. There was little I could do except pray and hope that somehow God could penetrate the moment with the kind of grace that catches a person just before they fall over a cliff.

I pray, too, that these good people I meet only at Festivals who, like so many in this culture, have probably been slowly weaned off the need for the holy by the constant allures of a consumer culture and "right here, right now" mentality will be touched by grace. I hope they will see there is so much more to life and far from being a place for rituals the church is the nerve center for a whole way of life, a whole world view, that transforms, heals, restores, and saves. I really do believe that and it's what keeps me a Priest.

That all being said, the Festival was a good day, warm but not too hot (except in the kitchen) and a time where the whole community got to see and meet us. People had fun, enjoyed each other's company, and old acquaintances found each other with laughs and smiles throughout the day. Everything was permeated by the devotion of our small group of folks to hard work for an object of love, the little Parish of St. Elias where a dozen or so people fed nearly a thousand and let our light shine. And as tired as I was the drive home was peaceful and beautiful with the kind of light that only can be seen at dawn or when the sun is ready to set behind hills.


Mimi said...

Father, bless,

It sounds like it went very well.

I admit to giggling at "they show up when they die".

Fr John said...

Unfortunately that's sometimes true. More than one Priest has gotten a call to provide funeral services for someone they've never seen before in town who wishes an Orthodox funeral.

It's not unusual, as well, for people to suddenly discover their need for Orthodoxy while they have one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel. God is merciful, and I'll gladly do what I can, but its hard, so very hard, to make up for lost time.