Friday, 26 October 2018 13:56

St. Michael's Church: 'One community, two languages, one body of Christ' Featured

Written by Jordan Burns
The congregation worships in St. Michael's new parish life center. The congregation worships in St. Michael's new parish life center. Jordan Burns

At the new St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, to be a church simply isn’t enough. Being out and bringing the church to the people, rather than the people to the church, is the objective.

The pastor, The Rev. Tom Charters, says the idea behind it all is to be missionaries first, church second. He feels that it is more important to go out and make people feel loved and to help people who are in need.

Until seven years ago, the town of Erwin didn’t even have a Catholic Church. In 2011, after a mission was formed, worshipers met in a house on Jackson-Love Highway. Then in December 2017, the people broke ground for a parish life center at 657 N. Mohawk Drive. Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville elevated the mission to a parish on Sept. 29.

Seventy percent of its members are Hispanic people, Guatemalan and Mexican; 30 percent are white.

Pastoral Associate Kathy O’Brien said that the people in the church wanted to stay together, rather than splitting up due to the language barrier. O’Brien is bilingual, so she is able to translate.

“I went to Mexico and lived there for a couple of months,” said O’Brien, “and I went to a specialized language program to be able to communicate.” She admitted it was hard to learn the language.

Charters enjoys having the diversity in the church. “It’s one community, two languages and one body of Christ,” he said.IMG 8639

It isn’t just the adults that are involved, though. The youth are very much involved in the church, with communication especially.

O’Brien says that the young ones from ages 3 to 9 help out with the church services and are very good at doing so. Their ability to speak both languages is a big help at the altar – so much so that Charters depends on them.

“I’ve used the 4- and 5-year-old kids to translate for their parents,” said Charters. “They have to, because I can’t speak Spanish, and the kids are bilingual.”IMG 8590

The 3-year-olds seem to be the most impressive, however.

“The 3-year-olds really amaze me,” said O’Brien. “They just absorb everything.”

O’Brien leads the children’s program at St. Michael.

“I call the children’s program Faith Formation for Mission,” said O’Brien. “We’re trying to teach them that church isn’t about being here, it’s about going out.”

The children are learning about what it means to be part of St. Michael, and O’Brien said they are taking the initiative and truly taking to heart everything they are taught.

“Our kids came back from a three-day mission last year during fall break,” said O’Brien. “They were working and helping families in Florida for hurricane cleanup.”

Charters is astounded by how proactive the kids were, and how they were willing to sacrifice their fall break.

“That mission trip came from them,” said Charters. “The kids asked if we could go to Florida, and so we pulled the trip together real fast and went.”

Perhaps the biggest part of the church is the combination of two cultures into one community. Communication coordinator and office volunteer Maria Whiston, who is Hispanic, believes it makes the church a family.

“We have a special blessing to come together as one, just as the Lord teaches us to be,” said Whiston.IMG 8625

“Every culture brings different traditions and celebrations that is a new experience for others. Not only Hispanics, but Anglos and other ethnic groups. It is through the sharing that allows them to become more as a church family. What a beautiful blessing,” she said.

Whiston is responsible for making sure everyone can communicate with one another, and also handles volunteering at the church.

“Let’s just say it keeps me very busy,” said Whiston. “I enjoy working and helping people. I work very closely with St. Michael and St. Mary’s [Catholic Church in Johnson City]. If there’s a need and I am able to help, I am happy to do just that.”

During her time at St. Michael, Whiston has noticed some things that have stood out. St. Michael is a smaller parish, so it makes it easier for everyone to communicate and enjoy each other’s company.

In bigger churches, it is easy for people to form cliques, and converse and interact with only their clique. She said that makes it a bit more difficult for there to be unity in the church. But with a smaller population, everyone knows everyone, and it feels more like a family, rather than just a Apple.Fest

At last fall’s Erwin Apple Festival, church members had a tent in the food area. The Anglos were on one side selling kringle, a sweet pastry from Wisconsin, while Hispanics stood next to them preparing tacos. An Anglo church member helped chop vegetables for the tacos. And behind the scenes was Whiston, working.

“All in all, it’s just simply wonderful when you can blend in people like we do for our food,” she said.

Above right: The Rev. Tom Charters, pastor, has led St. Michael from mission to parish. Above left: The worship area, where English- and Spanish-speaking parishioners meet on Sunday. Photos by Jordan Burns

Bottom: Lorena Reynoso, Mary Clouse and Ambrocia Andrade prepare food in St. Michael's food tent at the Erwin Apple Festival. Photo by Maria Whiston

Read 843 times Last modified on Tuesday, 22 January 2019 20:38