Ministry Journey by Marian Brinker

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ—the last weekend to sign up for St. Kateri Ministries.  This means I will spend all of summer in procrastination.  Should I try something different?  Since arriving in Schenectady in 2004, I have been trying to find the “best place” for myself within a church community.  The first year was just finding the right parish.  My family and I stumbled upon the Rosa Road church when we missed Mass on Union Street.
Well, after that 2005 scheduling gaffe, we tell people we could never go back to a different parish.  Our then two and three year old children demanded “The Donut Church” each Sunday. The truth is less superficial, even though we do love donuts!  The people in our parish were so friendly and welcoming.  My first “ministry choice” was an invitation from the nice lady, who said, “Welcome to our parish” that first time we gorged on donuts after mass.  Yes, Sandy Solomon asked if I would help with the parish picnic. I did that first year, but alas it turned out the picnic is always held on the same weekend as an annual hockey tournament at Union College where my husband has to be non-stop present.  Although I love my kids, when Adam is AWOL for three straight days of relentless childcare, I’m the wrong person to help with the parish picnic. Instead, each year the parish picnic has provided me with a wonderful play date for my children in return for supplying baked goods for the event.
It seems I was also the wrong person for the Faith and Play Group.  By the time my kids were both in school full-time, I had only made one meeting—despite my sincere desire to attend more often.  Yes, the kids have fun with other kids at this group, but for me—at the time—making contact with other mothers when life is all about the endless curiosities and esoteric requests of toddlers—collecting worms after rainstorms, peeling hot dogs, dancing with the Wiggles, re-reading the same cardboard bound books over and over—well, contact with other mothers is a true godsend.  Mommies’ conversations should snap out of third person references to self at least once a week!  I’m just glad I attended the week when Helen Moon shared her pretzel recipe and pretzel samples.  Yum.  My own pretzel attempts were never as sumptuous.
Although it may seem food may be one area where I would delight in contributing, I probably didn’t bake as often as called for despite my appreciation for the Christian Service Outreach our parish partakes in.  That would involve planned preparation.  I’m better at showing up coincidentally, as oft has happened during the summer in Central Park.  There I’ve seen other parishioners passing out free lunches during the very week I thought myself too busy to schedule in the time.  My good intentions have caused me to buy several yellow cake mixes and chocolate frosting for SICM meals, but, I guess, a hockey game, piano lesson, or math homework that I have to re-learn before assisting my elementary student—well, the busy “mom schedule” did take precedent.  I either have the time to volunteer and don’t schedule myself in, or I think I have the time and I actually don’t.  Christian Service Outreach is a feat I’ve yet to achieve.
I was so proud of myself to spend a year attending Social Justice Committee meetings.  Sundays after mass was a “time that worked!”  That is, until my daughter started playing hockey at age five, causing Sundays to become ice rink day. My main accomplishment with this group was attending the SICM banquet where my ticket purchase in no way came close to supporting the mission as much as I was enriched hearing inspirational testimonies of “mission graduates” and receiving a cherished free mug that causes me to say a prayer for the mission every time it’s pulled from the kitchen cabinet.  I left the social justice group an utter failure at assistance, but definitely in admiration of the good people from our parish that pull through for Home Furnishings, our sister parish in Mexico, and in letter writing campaigns to enact legislation in accord with Christian values.
Despite my failures, news of my “lack of commitment” had not filtered through the ranks of our parish, as I was actually invited to serve on the Parish Council (a-hem, after my husband failed to step-forward; probably from fatigue for taking on nursery duty during Mass even though he had the expert assistance of Karen Quinn, Alison Allen, Cathy Rivera, or Matt Andrews.)  I’d like to brag that I attended nearly all the meetings—because I did—and hope that I made at least one suggestion or added one bit of encouragement regarding our merger process. There was a lot of “what if” anxieties that I sensed parishioners feeling about the merger, so I may have helped given them voice.  Yet, Deacon Dick, Council President Dan O’Connell, and then Eric Olson had it all under control without my input. The main benefit of belonging to this group was the security I felt knowing that within the remaining members, there were prayerful thoughts and efforts for parish growth and sustenance post-merger.
The one ministry that I cannot believe I have miraculously sustained is as first grade catechist.  At the start I was a victim of overconfidence and naivety. After all, I had taught eleven years in Catholic schools, and I was über-successfully raising a five and six year old child.  Then doubt crept in.  First, teaching junior high aged kids does not correlate to six year olds.  Secondly, raising two kids through the age you’ve volunteered to teach doesn’t make you an expert on teaching the age group.  So, during the summer prior to starting this “job,” first grade started seeming scary.  So I prayed fervently that Pat Policastro would find another adult to team-teach with me. The women I have taught with have been the best catalyst for my own spiritual reflection.  Both Carey Grisgas and Marlene Brownell helped me ponder, through email, telephone conversations, and after-class planning–the message of our lessons for the first graders and our own faith journey.   They and having a confirmation candidate earning service hours were also super helpful in taming six years olds who just sat through 8:30 mass and felt the urge to bounce off walls, especially with donuts filtering through their systems, before calming down to sit and learn.  I was especially lucky to get Katherine Quinn’s assistance beyond her service requirements.  It has been a pleasure watching this teen get to the point that she can take over the teaching!
Carey, Marlene, and I found concrete ways to illustrate the abstract teachings of our church to 1st graders.  We explained the Holy Spirit symbolically in a Dove mobile, or by blowing cotton balls across tables or bubbles into the air. We translated the Our Father into “real” language and a formula for all prayer. Yes, with all lessons we were able to reflect on our own faith.  But, it’s the kids’ “eureka” moments that put a permanent smile in my memory bank… and gave me the encouragement to do it again each year, (even by myself!) This past year was no different in feeling blessed.  I was impressed with Dominic’s explanation of the Holy Spirit.  “It’s that thing inside us (that we can’t see) but helps us make the right decisions.”  Of course, any “enthusiasm” exhibited could also bolster my confidence, as in watching Rebecca, Kirsten, Michael, and Thomas come up with more and more examples of “the right decisions” that are guided by the Holy Spirit because then they were able to blow more and more and more bubbles.  First graders can also become “fishers of men” when you give them a make-shift pole and some “construction paper” fish (with hints) to catch.  They’ll end the year during Easter—filling up on sugar cookie butterflies they get to frost as you discuss how Lent has transformed them from “caterpillars” into “butterflies.” And if you’re lucky you’ll hear one of them tell next year’s student that he is so lucky to get you as teacher… and your memory “forgets” the follow-up explanation: “You get to frost butterflies at the end of the year!”
You know, trying out ministries ends with you feeling like a first grade Faith Formation graduate: you remember all the sweet points. My experience trying out ministries has shown me that you always gain more than you have given.
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2 responses

  1. Marian, you show so well all the choices and management of life and time that go into being part of a parish community. I loved the spirit of your piece. Thanks for telling it like it is! I hope your story will encourage the life and faith tales of others as they consider their ministry and their place in our parish family. You sure made me smile as I thought of my own journey.

  2. Marian,
    I like the way you’re able to share St Kateri’s Parish in real-life situations. You’re so good at capturing the moment!!!! I like your reflections and insights!!! Thank you for all that you do!!!!

    Alison 🙂

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