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Newly formed Church of the Resurrection celebrates its first Mass

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. FRANCIS DE SALES DEANERY — With change comes the opportunity for growth; with endings, the opportunity for new beginnings.
 
Four parishes in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati — St. Andrew in Avondale, St. Agnes in Bond Hill, St. Mark in Evanston and St. Martin de Porres in Lincoln Heights celebrated their final Masses before closing last month. Now their parishioners have come together as one new faith community, celebrating their first Mass on Aug. 1 of the fittingly named Church of the Resurrection.

Church of the Resurrection
The opening Mass at the new Church of the Resurrection was held Aug. 1. (CT/Colleen Kelley)

The new parish, which will serve some 550 members, is located at the site of the former St. Agnes Church. It was created by a July 14 decree issued by Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, and its name was selected and approved by parishioners.

The Mass began outside the church with songs of thanksgiving. Greeting the congregation, Precious Blood Brother Hugh Henderson, who will serve as pastoral associate at the parish, said, “This is the day the Lord has made. It’s an honor to have you in our midst, and we bid you welcome and hope you will spread the good news of what is happening here at the Church of the Resurrection, your new church home. This is a day that is truly historical, the moment that the Church of the Resurrection will be a sign to this community and to Cincinnati that we are here to serve the Lord.”
 
Parishioners were led into church by processional crosses and banners from each of the closed parishes. Precious Blood Father Dennis Chriszt, pastor of the Church of the Resurrection, presided at the Mass. Concelebrating were Precious Blood Father Larry Hemmelgarn, provincial director of that order; Father Tom DiFolco, former pastor of St. Agnes and St. Martin de Porres parishes; Precious Blood Father Jerry Steinbrunner, former pastor of St. Andrew and St. Mark parishes; and Father William Cross.
 
Father Chriszt said the day was “full of God’s power and God’s goodness.”
 
“Whether we come from Evanston, Bond Hill, Avondale or Lincoln Heights, we are the children of God, brothers and sisters to each other,” he said. “God has made each of us the living stone, built on the foundation of the apostles and saints who went before us.”
 
“We gather here today knowing that the Risen One will be in our midst. He will be in our midst wherever we gather,” Father Chriszt said. “May God’s amazing grace . . .  spread beyond this parish and let it be known that God is still with the people of Evanston, Bond Hill, Avondale and Lincoln Heights, and His grace has not abandoned their neighborhoods, but is with them wherever they are.”
 
Before the first Mass, Father Chriszt took the opportunity to meet many of his new parishioners, preaching and presiding in each church that was closing, talking with people before and after Mass and listening to their concerns.
 
In a letter to parishioners he wrote, “I don’t know what the future will bring . . . I saw lots of love among those whom I met. I experienced their passion for justice and for a church where are all are welcome, feel at home and experience the compassion of God and one another. There was faith in abundance in so many people at each of the four parishes. I am, therefore, excited about the possibilities, about what we can do together that we could not do alone.”
 
Members of the new parish seem to share their pastor’s positive outlook.
 
“I believe God is with us and will do anything I can to make this church as good as I can for all the parishioners,” said Gloria Turnbow, a former member of St. Andrew Parish. “This is a good thing. You can’t be negative about anything that has to do with God, because God is good. This is a change but also an opportunity to grow.”
 

Members of St. Andrew Parish
Members of St. Andrew Parish in Avondale pray together during the closing Mass there, celebrated on July 18. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

“This is my place of worship now. If everybody has an open mind and works together, we’ll be able to grow into a loving church family,” said Herschel Chalk, who attended St. Mark Church for 30  years.
 
Gary Benjamin, who joined St. Agnes Church with his wife, Dolores, in 1974, is confident that the combined resources of the new parish will make the Church of the Resurrection “a real voice in the community. There’s so much talent and foresight here that together we can really make things happen,” he said.
 
A transition council that will become the Church of the Resurrection’s parish council has been meeting regularly. Comprised of three members of each former parish, the group is scheduled to gather for a daylong retreat on Aug. 28 to begin to create a vision for the new parish that permits as many members as possible to be part of the planning process.
 
“We hope to start the process of dreaming how the new parish will move forward. It’s our hope that we’ll be able to merge the best parts of the four parishes to create a totally awesome new parish,” said Phyllis Jones, a member of the council and former parishioner of St. Martin de Porres. “I’m feeling very encouraged and excited as we move forward.”

A parish finance council and liturgy commission have been established, and a meeting for parishioners interested in working to combat hunger in the community was held July 20 to determine how groups already in place could best continue neighborhood outreach. Similar meetings are planned for those interested in forming men’s and women’s groups at the church, along with youth ministry and faith formation.
 
The closing Mass at St. Andrew Parish was held July 18, followed by St. Agnes, St. Mark and St. Martin de Porres on July 25. But the closings did not happen until much consultation and deliberation had occurred.

Pastors and pastoral councils from each parish gathered in 2006 to consider their respective futures. A steering committee with representatives from each parish was then appointed, and it concluded that “our four separate parishes could not continue to support ministries and buildings with a relatively small number of buildings and diminishing number of priests.”
 
Father DiFolco said the committee studied various models around the United States that have succeeded with clustering parishes and determined that becoming one parish seemed to offer the best opportunity for a vibrant faith community.
 
An executive committee, comprised of Fathers DiFolco and Steinbrunner, Deacon Royce Winters, who was pastoral administrator at St. Agnes, Brother Henderson and John Jones, the volunteer business manager at St. Andrew, was formed. Parishioners received information at each stage of the decision-making process. Listening sessions were held and, after finances, buildings and demographics of the four parishes were studied, it was determined that St. Agnes was the best site for a merged parish, said Father DiFolco.
 
In May the Archdiocese of Cincinnati learned of a $250,000 donation willed by a deceased St. Mark parishioner that stipulated the parish would receive the money if it was still functioning. At press time, a group of St. Mark parishioners had expressed hope the funding would change the outcome of the decision to close the church, but Dan Andriacco, communications director for the archdiocese, noted that repairs to the physical plant at the parish have been estimated to exceed $900,000. The money will not go to the archdiocese, Andriacco noted.
 
Father William Cross, who presided at St. Andrew’s closing Mass and preached at St. Mark, said he encouraged parishioners to move beyond any bitterness and sadness they feel and “be optimistic, work together and find strength in numbers. Now we will have a stronger and more vibrant community with the four parishes.”

“A worship site is just that. It’s just a site,” he added. “The presence of God is wherever people are gathered in faith.”

Father DiFolco said his message to parishioners has been “one of trust that the Lord is leading us, one of prayer for the transition and one of compassion for the pain we are all experiencing.”

“Over the years, I have also called attention to the gifts each parish brings to the merger, that each parish brings some characteristic of the Spirit to the experience of being a new parish,” he said.
 
Deacon Winters, director of the archdiocesan Office of African-American Catholic Ministries, and a member of the new parish, said it is important for people to identify God’s voice in change. He believes this can be accomplished through personal and communal prayer.
 
“At the Church of the Resurrection, we have to provide opportunities for people to have experiences that lead to healing and help them be open to those precious moments of building and creating community,” he said. “The main thing is understanding that we’re all on different places along this journey. There are some parishioners from all the parishes who are really struggling. What I want to do is let them know that the doors are always open and say to them ‘you are part of us, you are welcome here, we want you and we love you.’”

See related editorial: Celebrate the Resurrection

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