All in a Day’s Work

Glenmary News

All in a Day’s Work

Experience a day at St. Michael the Archangel in East Tennessee, where they’re busy living the Catholic faith to the fullest. 

Wednesdays at St. Michael the Archangel begin with Mass. On this particular Wednesday in mid-January, there’s a crowd. Usually there are three to four people attending daily Mass, says Glenmary Father Kenn Wandera, pastor. But on this morning, there are 12.

The crowd could be explained because it’s the first 50-degree day in East Tennessee after a month of snow and cold. Or, it could be because of Father Kenn’s focus on the Eucharist that began this year.

Starting on the first Friday in January, Father Kenn introduced weekly eucharistic adoration at the church. “It’s a few more opportunities of prayer for the people of God,” says Father Kenn. It coincides with the year of the Eucharistic Revival, occurring nationally, that aims to renew the faithful in the belief of the Eucharist as the source and summit of our Catholic faith.

The way we celebrate the Eucharist is what sets us apart as Catholics, says Father Kenn. “I want people to be comfortable with silence,” he says, and for people to develop a relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist, as Scripture says, “to know that ‘I am God.’” He ends the hour of adoration with a short reflection on the Eucharist.

He plans to keep weekly adoration going throughout the year. During Lent, the Holy Hour will be accompanied by Stations of the Cross and fish fries by the Knights of Columbus—“the best fish fries in East Tennessee.”

 Sharing in the community

After daily Mass, Father Kenn takes two baskets of donated food and drops them off at Care & Share. This ecumenical ministry offers food, clothing and household goods, and financial assistance to Unicoi County residents. It’s run by Ben Booher, a minister at First Christian Church and member of the Unicoi County Ministerial Association with Father Kenn and Glenmarian Father Tom Charters, associate pastor. “There are a lot of poor in the county. There are also a lot of generous people,” says Ben. “We exist at that intersection to bridge the gap.”

Food, clothing, and household items are collected through donations, and anyone can come to shop for items they need at no cost. St. Michael has a big presence at Care & Share through volunteers, food donations, and financial support, says Ben.

While they care for the basic needs of individuals, the ultimate goal of Care & Share is to give people a strong community of faith and belonging to the greater community.

Everyone who walks through the doors, whether volunteer or shopper, knows Father Kenn and greets him warmly with a “Father!” They catch up on their personal lives, and Father Kenn asks after people in the community he hasn’t seen in a while.

“It’s the best way to reach the people of God outside of the church,” says Father Kenn, who spent a lot of time at Care & Share while he was a seminarian. “It’s a ministry of presence.” 

Investing in the people

After lunch, Father Kenn meets with someone interested in becoming Catholic. She has never attended Mass at St. Michael before, but she found Father Kenn’s email online and messaged him to talk. “That’s why Glenmary was started!” he says excitedly.

There are currently two people in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). Although it’s a relatively small number, it’s one reason why the parish has grown from 37 people when it was founded in 2011 to the 300 parishioners who attend today.

As Father Kenn is walking his inquirer out, choir members come in and begin setting up for their weekly rehearsal. Liturgical ministries are strong at St. Michael, and Father Kenn encourages parishioners to take a leading role.

“I want to spend my time in the confessional or preparing for Mass,” he says. Empowering parishioners to take charge of the lector schedule, finding eucharistic ministers, and other aspects of ministry allow him the opportunity to do just that.

Passing on the faith

Fifteen minutes before the Faith Formation Ministry classes begin, children are already scampering into the religious education building.

Although this is Lorena Reynoso’s first year as the director of religious education, she has attended St. Michael’s since the beginning as a parishioner; she’s not new to the program. She directs traffic and goes from classroom to classroom making sure everyone has what they need for the night. Most of the catechists are wearing their teal-colored St. Michael t-shirts, so parents know who to talk to if they have questions.

The third, fourth, and fifth graders are together in one classroom. Tonight, they are learning about the story of Abraham. After singing a few songs together, Juliana Palsa, the catechist and volunteer church music director, asks the class what ideas they have for their service project.

One student suggests writing cards to the children’s hospital in nearby Johnson City. Another student volunteers collecting clothes for the homeless. A third student proposes taking up a collection for St. Jude’s. With everyone’s eyes closed, the class votes by raising hands. A majority of the class chooses to take up a collection for St. Jude’s.

When classes end, children are all around the property talking and laughing with friends as their parents come to pick them up.

It’s been a busy day at St. Michael’s. As the only Catholic church in the county, it has experienced the fullness of our faith on this Wednesday: Mass-goers, food donations, prospective Catholics, dedicated volunteers, joyful children.

Just as Father Kenn says, that’s the reason why Glenmary was started.

– Theresa Nguyen-Gillen

This story was originally featured in the Glenmary Challenge.