Friday, July 27, 2007

Rural Catholicism

I am blogging right now from the desk of my stepfather, officially a village assessor, but a farmer at heart. From here I can see a group of geese and cranes huddled at the pond in front of the old barn and silos, three cows and a calf of about eight weeks grazing. We've got pigs, dogs and cats here as well. Each morning that I am here, I concelebrate Mass at the local parish. The parish community here is quite robust, in the sense that the church is still at the center of community life. Several years ago, parishioners on their own initiative and with their own money, replaced the windows and carpet in the rectory ("Father shouldn't have to live like this!" someone apparently said). The pastor inspires that sort of giving by his own frugality and fairness.

The difficulty is that the rural parish is very much at the periphery of the diocesan mindset, which centers for obvious reasons on the cities of Green Bay, Appleton and Oshkosh (no bishop has been to the parish in the ten years my mother has lived here). How to integrate these very different communities into a real diocese: that is the challenge. It is a problem that we don't really face in Chicago. As city persons, my family has had to do some learning to appreciate the way of life in rural Wisconsin without dismissing it as provincial. My stepfather has been a big help. He went into appraising when he fell on difficult financial times, and as a result has had to come to an appreciation of city folk (the largest village he assesses is Ashwaubenon, home of many of the Green Bay Packers football players). In order to do business with them, he must deal with their concerns, laws, habits and so on. On the other side, taking trips to the feed mill, helping bale hay and visiting the local tavern are things I like to do while I'm here to fit in (also: _no_ dark beer!).

It is part of the beauty of the Church that we all come together in the morning to offer our sacrifice to God, to draw close to Jesus Christ who comes to save all, Jew and Gentile, musician, lawyer and farmer. May the Holy Spirit guide us as we strive to manifest to the world the fraternal charity that befits the Body of Christ!

1 comment:

The Archer of the Forest said...

I think that is a problem that vexes a lot of churches, especially my Episcopal tradition. Rural life is so anathema to the jetset American dream that nobody wanted to live in rural areas anymore. Kids for more than a generation have been told over and over again that they need to get an education so they can get out of {this rural place}.

I very much hope to one day serve in a small town parish, but I was the minority in seminary. I told people I was interested in rural development, and you would have thought I had suggested I wanted to go baptize polar bears with anthrax in the arctic.

The church, which was once at the forefront of missionary work to the frontier has been seduced by this siren call of urban/suburban life. I find this a real shame because if even the church is closing doors in rural areas, what hope for there for small town USA?


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