New Life Appears from Closing

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St. Joseph's Church- Troy, New York
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At a time when many Catholics are suffering loss with building closures and dispersing faith communities, one church, St. Joseph's in South Troy, has added three weekday Masses and one on Sunday. I am part of an influx of new parishioners at St. Joseph's in what for me is something of a homecoming. I have joined a community that was home to the Agnews until my family moved away around the time Republic Steel closed in the early 1970s. The name Agnew again appears in the St. Joseph's parish register.


St. Peter's had been my parish since I was discharged from the Army in 2001. It wasn't long before I got involved there with the community that is attached to the traditional Latin Mass. My fondness for the Tridentine liturgies confuses some because I was born eight years after the more current form was introduced. To those people, I offer the words of our lord who taught, "Every scribe trained in the kingdom is like a storekeeper who brings forth treasures old and treasures new." To me, the older forms of the liturgy are some of the "treasures old" of the Catholic Church. I am happy to dust them off and expose them to others.


It is understandable that the church closures in our area have caused people feelings of loss, anger and despair. Often, these feelings are directed at the institutional church. A lot of time is spent trying to find a good direction to place the blame: at the bishop, the pastor and even each other. Early on, I decided that rather than use this time to criticize, I was going to accept the institutional authority that I, as a Roman Catholic, have chosen to subject myself to. I would make the best out of a sad situation. Once committed to that frame of mind, I gained new insight into a move from one sacred place to another.

The Called to Be Church pastoral planning initiative of the Albany Diocese has been referred to as a pruning of the vine. The theory is that by eliminating areas that are less vibrant, new life might emerge more vigorously in existing and even some new places. The community that worships according to the earlier forms of the Catholic liturgy has born a significant witness to this initiative in its transition from life at St. Peter's Church to life at St. Joseph's. We have watched our church close with a heavy heart. Devastation is conjured up when we notice the church steeple while driving on Interstate 787 or pass its doors on the way through Troy.


For me, St. Peter's is hallowed by my son's First Communion, memories of meeting my wife at the Lyceum luncheon and our wedding in 2007. For other families, generations of memories and lifetimes of worship will be lost with the final closing of St. Peter's on Sunday. Just like the apostles on Good Friday, we are filled with remorse and even fear. The branch known as St. Peter's on the vine has been snipped. I don't think things can be same, nor should they be.


Last Sunday, two miles from St. Peter's, a branch on the vine was strengthened. At the noon Mass at St. Joseph's, familiar preparations were under way: the Eucharistic table gave way to the soaring marble altar; sounds of a Gregorian chant filled the air as the choir warmed up; ladies prepared downstairs for the Sunday luncheon; and the confessionals spawned the long pre-Mass lines. The sanctuary was filled with familiar faces and new ones, too. In the sacristy, I contemplated this move, this new building and its magnificent architecture.


To discern God's plan for his Church is no easy task. As St. Peter's died, St. Joseph's grows. I have been a part of the dying and now I am invited to grow. Is there something in this move more than arbitrary circumstance? The theology of St. Paul speaks of the Church encompassing the dying and the rising of Christ in itself. That is, in its members. So we have been called to die, and now we are called to rise to new life.


The Easter season closes this week with Pentecost Sunday. While the Easter mystery has been commemorated by the Church, the suffering, death and Resurrection have occurred in a very real way for Catholics in Troy. It seems providential that we have experienced this challenge during this season. I look forward to new opportunity and new life at St. Joseph's.


James Agnew is a liturgical minister at St. Joseph's Church.