Saturday, June 29, 2013


Time has been crunched by two major celebrations this week, the first of which was last night, the second today.

Once upon a time, my church, St. James the Greater, was your standard small town church - a pretty, white-steepled building near the center of town.

It was a comfortable, small town sized building seating 175, complete with a basement room  for community assemblies, and it served Charles Town, WV, well enough.   Then the eastern panhandle of West Virginia became a bedroom community of D.C.  Along with the rest of the area population, the Catholic population exploded.  An energetic and charismatic young priest, assisted by an equally energetic and charismatic young deacon, both preaching and teaching faithfully, drew converts by the dozens and grew the Catholic population even more.   Dozens of ministries were established, squeezing into any space they could find. By the time I moved here,  5 Sunday Masses were being offered in order to accommodate the numbers, and even at that we were virtually hanging out the windows.  There was nothing for it - we had to have a bigger church.  Seating for 175 just couldn't handle 1200 families, let alone the nearly 4,000 parishioners that 1200 number represented.

When a substantial piece of property came up for sale the parish, with the permission of the diocese, bought 24 acres and planning began.  A vote was taken on what style the new home would be - the majority wanted  a classic Gothic style building.  The diocese bought the old church and rectory from the parish, giving permission for our priests to remain at the rectory until such time as we can build a new one next to the church.  With this seed money building began.  And eventually, with a mixture of joy and sadness, we moved to the new St. James.

Like the great Gothic churches of old, it's a work in progress.  Things are being added as we go and as we have the money.  And an interesting thing happened - when our financial burden for the building increased (the diocese does not pay for new churches - parishioners do) the parish's charitable giving increased as well. Father Brian started commenting that he was afraid to go out of town because every time he did he came back to 5 new ministries established Deacon Dave, who is also known to some of us as Obi Wan Galven for his ability to get people to say "yes" when there is a need.

There have been odd things, sometimes funny, sometimes not so funny.  When the concrete pillars were poured for the light posts for the parking area Father Brian got a call protesting the fact that we had set up all those pillars to put statues on to worship.  Father Brian politely explained that we don't worship statues and what the true purpose of the pillars was. Another time a local Wee Disciples group was being displaced by asbestos remediation and were hunting for a place to move to.  The church starting getting calls threatening us if we didn't let the group use the classrooms downstairs.  The classrooms were already in use by our own programs and the threats nearly ended any consideration whatsoever of accommodating Wee Disciples.  But in the end we did, despite it requiring Deacon to fish toys out of at least one clogged toilet during their stay with us.

Anyway, St. James mostly runs on volunteers - we only have 6 paid positions outside of the priests.  And we were having a major celebration today - one of own was to be ordained to the transitional diaconate here in his home parish.  And so we needed to spiff up in preparation.  I'm an outside spiffer - I spiff flower beds.  And we have a LOT of flower beds.  So for a week I've been digging and pulling and digging and pulling and was glad that Deacon Dave shanghaied a bunch of teens to do the bush trimming because I was running out of umph.

It was a spectacular Mass, celebrated by our bishop and priests and deacons of the diocese, and a wonderful party afterwards, and my stomach will probably pay me back but one thing about church people is that they can COOK.  And eat.  We are very good at the eating part.

The other celebration?  Well, believe it or not, out here in the boonies of West Virginia we have a priory, a small monastery if you will, of traditional Augustinian monks (called canons).  They took over the old St. James, and they have made it beautiful.  They too are beautiful, kind and loving men, and active in the community.  They teach school and run summer camps:

They bake as one of their ways of supporting themselves:

But most importantly of all, they have brought the traditional Latin chant Mass to the community and with it the most reverent, focused worship I have ever experienced.

And you know that lovely chant that people spend money on CDs for? Well, every day of the week the 3 canons make that music for free several times a day as they chant the Psalms, and they have voices like angels.  On Sundays they add two choir members for a High Mass, and it is exquisite, and well attended.  I've been counting 40 to 50 adults, many of them young and with families, each time I've been there.

Last night was a birthday Mass and party at the Priory - the order of The Canons Regular of New Jerusalem was 11 years old this week.  The always beautiful Mass was breathtaking.  And I'm very tired now because partying with monks kept me out way past my bedtime.

I know this post has been long and rambling.  And I haven't even tried to take on all the misunderstandings and misinformation that's out there about the Mass.  But I find it amazing that here in small town West Virginia we have more offered to us spiritually, more to feed the life of a soul,  more beauty than I ever experienced when I was living in the big city.   As I told Dom Daniel, the head of our little group of monks, last week, the Church is like a treasure chest that is so full of beautiful things that you don't always see each individual piece of treasure immediately.  Then one day you see something that's really been in the chest all along and it just blows your mind. 

h/t to whoever took most of these pictures, most of which have been stolen off the web.


  1. Nice post; the new church is beautiful. Nice to see old-fashioned tonsures on the Augustinians.

    1. I didn't know it before, but the fringe of hair left in a tonsure represents the crown of thorns.

  2. It's a lovely church. I would love to hear a Latin Mass again.

    I agree on the cooking. I was raised Lutheran (Mom was Scandanavian) and the "Lutheran Basement Church Women" could really put a meal together.

    Bless you.

    1. Somewhere I read where folks who are active in a church tend to be a couple pounds above the norm for weight. Well, yeah, 'cause we eat every time we get together.

  3. Very nice worship house PH. It says "church" to me.
    To many of the mega-churches down here look like two story office buildings.
    Kudos to your building committee.

    1. I have when I'm traveling somewhere and driving around and around looking for a church only to find that the nondescript building I've been circling it actually it.

  4. That is a beautiful church, and sounds like a GOOD church!!!