It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m kicking back at our rectory watching the Blue Jays after a couple of Masses this morning, and wanted to share a couple of reflections on my first week in the parish.
It’s actually been just over a week since I arrived. Today was my second Sunday, and life as a parish priest (well, parochial vicar, Fr. Dave is the Parish Priest) is definitely beginning to feel natural. A lot of that is due to the friendliness of the people. Fr. Dave and Fr. James have been filling me in on the “priestly” details of our set-up, and our staff and parishioners have been very welcoming. They’ve been patient in answering my questions, and helped me celebrate what has amounted to an extended series of “first” masses — so far I’ve celebrated in six of our eight churches, with one more to come next weekend. (One is closed for the summer).
Owen Sound is a city of 20,000 and our eight mission churches are in small towns scattered across northern Grey and Bruce Counties. Our parish web site reports that we make up about a third of the area of the Diocese, and our borders include both Lake Huron and Georgian Bay shorelines.
The parish also includes the Bruce Peninsula that separates Lake Huron from Georgian Bay, so we cover both farm country and mile after mile of great Great Lakes shoreline, and consequently many cottages and resort towns. A parishioner was telling me at mass the other day that the Sauble Beach area goes from a winter population of 4,000 to something closer to 40,000 on a summer weekend.
Because of the distances involved, we have a dispensation that enables our Sunday mass schedule to begin on Saturday morning, with masses in our two northernmost missions. I covered them yesterday, and an 8:15 a.m. departure from Owen Sound will typically bring you back home mid to late afternoon. (Depending on whether you take time for lunch). That particular assignment is followed by the two Sunday masses I celebrated here at St. Mary’s this morning. There are two other “rotations” meaning that, other things being equal, each priest visits each of the mission Churches every three weeks or so.
Although Owen Sound isn’t that large it’s home to a regional hospital, and there are many long term care facilities and nursing homes both here and in some of our “mission towns”. We try to offer Mass and prayer services to many of them, and we have our own version of the “hospital pager” for emergency calls. Father Dave has been conscientious about trying to give me as broad an experience of priestly ministry as possible, and has already handed over some marriage files, with the possibility of more to come.
Of course the parish isn’t the only thing that’s new for me. Though I’ve been a priest for just over two months now, this is my first taste of priestly life in a parish and I’m loving it. To bring our Lord to his people by offering the holy sacrifice of the mass,is a humbling experience. Equally humbling is the experience of hearing confessions. My seminarian brothers who have preceded me into the priesthood, told me the same thing, but the experience itself was still surprising, and truthfully, “humbling” is the only word that will do, when you begin to actually encounter for yourself the greatness of the mysteries you have been called to bring into people’s lives.
There is much more I could share about my experiences so far, of the parish, its people and this new life in priestly ministry, but I should probably give myself more than a week or two before I go any further! Please pray for me and for my brother priests of the Diocese of Hamilton.