“Oh, happy day when Jesus taught my heart to pray, and live rejoicing every day…”
These words from an old hymn describe best the feelings of all of the members and Pastors of our Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in Fort Myers Florida, as we met for the first time since Covid 19 invaded over a year ago! Three Roman Catholic Woman Priest Pastors presided assisted by Pastor Sarah Faulkner from The Abundant Grace Fellowship that also serves the homeless population here. I, with great thanks, am Senior Pastor and my Associates are Rvda. Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia, RCWP originally or Colombia, SA and Rev. Judith McKloskey, RCWP of Kansas City Missouri who is with us seasonally. Thanks be to God for those who serve and for this congregation many of whom have been together since 2007.
Twenty faithful members from all walks of life gathered outside the homes of two of our members Harry Gary, our church Elder, and Quay Crews whose dear Grandmother Jolinda Harmon (also with us on this special day) helped us to start and build this diverse “inner city” community. Three of our other members, Roger Richardson, Joe Baker and Jewell Simmons also live in this wonderful Goodwill Housing complex that provided a way out of homelessness and inadequate housing for many disabled people. The sheer joy of gathering together and worshipping our loving God together was palpable.
It took a lot of cooperation and love to put all the parts of our afternoon together. The three Priests planned and served the Mass and Pastor Sarah read the Hebrew Scripture and picked up and brought Brenda Cummings and Timothy Vanderwarf and our esteemed CTA President, Ellen McNally with her. Brenda brought a stack of drawings that she made as Easter gifts for all and we put them on the altar with the gifts. Roger picked up Mary Flowers. Natasha Terrell brought her Grandma Jolinda and sister and little nephew, necessitating several trips. Pastor Marina and Jose brought 8 plastic chairs and with Carol Schauf’s kind help we brought assorted goodies for dessert and eight folding chairs and the Altar table, sacred items and linen. Stella Odie-Ali brought the Birthday cake for Timothy and Jakeriya Maybin’s birthday celebration afterward and Dan Shaw, Pastor Judith’s husband, brought water and boxes of Kentucky Fried Chicken for each one for our meal afterward. Mr. Gary opened his home for hospitality and so we also had some inside space as needed. We put our chairs in a big circle and began our worship service with eager anticipation. I welcomed the congregation with the words used by Ecclesia Ministries in its out door services with the homeless and others : “Come unto me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest….” Several of our people are battling cancer and other serious illnesses and many have other worries in daily living on very limited incomes. These words of Jesus reach them immediately.
We began singing as we always do with “This is the day our God has made, Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” The Mass intentions included our beloved ones who were now home with God, our beloved Pastor Judy Beaumont, our beloved sisters and brothers: Ann Palmer, Jack McNally, Nathaniel Chester (who lived and died two doors from where we were worshipping), Linda Maybin, beloved mother, and daughter of Jolinda Harmon, Lauretta Rasmussen and Dr. Teresa Sievers. Our community of Saints was very much alive with us on this day.
The Scriptures were the ones used for RCIA on this day as we were also affirming the promises of Confirmation made by our Congregation in 2014 and 2016 when Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan and then Bishop Andrea Johnson confirmed 25 members of the church, many here today. Ezekiel 37:12-14 (read by Pastor Sarah Faulkner of AGF); the 23rd Psalm also used by Ecclesia Ministries was led by Harry Gary; Romans 8:8-11 was read by Pastor Marina Teresa and the Gospel John 11:17-45 read by Pastor Judith.
My homily was based in the Gospel, supported by the other readings which shows Jesus as loving friend who takes a chance of entering enemy territory where he was recently stoned, to be with his grieving friends, who weeps with us when we are grieving, and who promises us eternal life beyond death-resurrection-now and forever. How good it is to have a God who is our Friend and who cries with us when we are sad. (AMEN!,AMEN! agreed the people). This account of Jesus raising Lazarus from death (after being dead four days) included calling Lazarus from death with the words “Lazarus, come forth” and Lazarus rising with his grave clothes still wrapped around him. Jesus loved his friends deeply, Jesus made the promise of himself as the way to Resurrection and Jesus prayed, then called Lazarus and waited for response. When Lazarus came forth, Jesus asked those there to remove his grave clothes and let him be free. We focused together both in the homily and in interaction after it and in the prayers of the people on the ways in which life’s events can wrap us in grave clothes-the sickness, fear and isolation of Covid 19-Pastor Marina works directly with Covid patients and requests prayers for all on the front lines, the hate crimes all around us, the gang shootings (Mr. Gary’s grandson was killed by shooting earlier this year), loss of loved ones to both illness and violence, the loss of incomes and the difficulties in making ends meet to survive. All of this and more can cause despair such that we are not really living as we live. Jesus calls us forth to live, to throw off the grave clothes. Mr. Gary made the point that Jesus asked the community to take the grave clothes off Lazarus whereas sometimes we are busy putting grave clothes on others-with our uncharitable words and deeds. And we have the ability to help others remove their grave clothes with love.
And so we focused on what rising again now means, and the promise of life after death as well. With nods and thoughtful looks and AMENS and interaction on these themes the scales of despair and death began to fall away. And hope and joy replaced them all around. Thanks be to God!
The Prayers of the Faithful are always a blessing with this community and today was no different. Almost all present offered his or her own prayer for the world, for the dead, for the church and for the sick. Given the number of those with serious illness present, as part of prayers for the sick the Congregation is asked if anyone would like anointing or prayer and about half present raised their hands. The pastors went to each one and raised hands while I laid hands on and used the oil of Anointing where it was wanted. All would raise hands while the persons next to the one who requested prayer would participate with the pastors. This was a particularly holy time as all prayed.
Pastor Judith McKloskey ended our prayers for the sick with “Holy and life-giving God, sustain us and all people we hold in prayer, by Christ’s presence; help us to know the healing power of Christ’s love…..” We then sang the AMEN from Lilies of the Field with everyone saying our departed Nathaniel’s part: Sing it over! Pastor Judith then gave the Peace of Christ and asked the people to gesture peace to one another. We then sang HOLY GROUND which is the anthem of this congregation . We pronounce all present as Holy Ground. We then began the Eucharistic Liturgy with all of the Pastors and the Congregation consecrating together. The congregation united in saying the prayer Jesus taught us. Oh God, our Father and Mother, Hallowed be your name….”
After Communion Pastor Judith McKloskey sang a beautiful hymn: “Gentle Resting Place”. Then we all blessed one another and Mr. Gary said: Go in the peace of Christ. Let our Service Begin”. And we concluded our worship with earnestly singing “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus”.
Then we removed the altar and set us a serving table for the Birthday Cake and many individual cupcakes while the KFC dinners were passed out. What a joyful group this was as we celebrated Timothy and Jakeriya’s birthdays and also clapped for Grandma Harmon who would be 70 in May. What a blessing it was to be together on this Holy Ground and to share worship and fellowship once again. Indeed, God was present with us, and Jesus was smiling this time, not weeping.
THANKS BE TO GOD!
AND MAY GOD BLESS YOU AS YOU TOO RISE AND LIVE-NOW AND FOREVER!
Blessings and prayers,
Pastor Judy Lee,RCWP
Pastor Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia,RCWP
Pastor Judith McKloskey,RCWP