Our first day of our “Southern Exposure” began with a tandem of ministries in central North Carolina: Raleigh and Durham. To say that it was a busy weekend is an understatement. Besides being the feast of the Ascension, it was also Mother’s Day, graduation weekend for a few of the area colleges, first communion at Immaculate Conception Durham, and there was even a baptism at one of the masses. Put in the context of two of the largest parishes in the diocese of Raleigh (more than a couple thousand families each) and you have yourself a busy weekend pulling the friars every which way.
And yet, we still had a great opportunity to spend time together, share a few meals, get a tour, and hear about their lives.
From a ministerial standpoint, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh and Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham are among the liveliest, most efficiently run parishes that I’ve experienced.
What caught my eye immediately about Raleigh—besides the sheer size!—was how involved the laity was on a large scale. At one of the masses, I counted 25 eucharistic ministers, complete with two assigned to oversee the refilling of patens and chalices in stations that ran empty, and they all knew exactly what to do. There was no needless standing around, awkward pauses or stumbling over one another. They all knew how to receive, where to be, and how to make it move. For a congregation that amassed more than a thousand people, there was no sense that things were taking too long; it flowed much more efficiently that parishes I’ve seen that are half the size! Is this the best aspect about this parish, the way it distributes communion? Of course not. But it is representative to how St. Francis is run: smoothly with a well-trained and highly involved lay staff. When you look at their ministries—a whole two pages of one-line listings in the bulletin—you see a different lay person taking charge and leading it. This is not a parish in which “Father” comes up with everything or oversees everything strictly. This is a parish in which the people realize their baptismal call to be priests, prophets, and kings, and the friars are there to walk with them, not for them. Truly a remarkably run parish.
Similarly run and designed as St. Francis in Raleigh (they share an architect and founding pastor), what caught my attention about Immaculate Conception in Durham was the culture: culture of the people, the town, and the parish. Unlike St. Francis that leans on the homogenous side of things and is located in the suburbs, IC is split almost 50/50 between English speakers and Spanish speakers in a traditionally African-American neighborhood, is located on the main street of a historically significant but newly thriving city complete with art, leisure and great restaurants, and is just minutes away from one of the finest universities in the country in Duke. Although smaller than St. Francis in Raleigh, its location and ministerial focus makes it seem much busier, adding a dash of chaos to the creative mix of ministries. One thing in particular that got my imagination going was one of their elementary religious education classrooms: complete with a mini altar, baptismal font, giant rosaries, and religious symbols, tiny children are taught through a hands-on approach, getting to “play mass,” pretend baptize baby dolls, and learn about the prayer life of the Church by leading it themselves. What an amazing way to teach students in an experiential way that transcends language and culture!
But this trip is not all about ministry and so our time was not spend simply at mass or in tours but also with the brothers at table. On Saturday night, the three traveling brothers sat down with the friars in Raleigh for a delicious dinner prepared by one of the friars, and on Sunday evening the friars from Durham joined the friars in Raleigh for a cookout. This, I have to say, is when friars are at their best. Having met all of these men before but not particularly close with any of the six, we all immediately felt at home, laughed almost constantly, and found ourselves included in the fraternal teasing by the end. We talked about the Church, our lives, politics, ministry, school, sports, art, philosophy, you name it. And we had a great time doing it.
Unfortunately, though, our time was short-lived, and come Monday morning it was off to our next stop: Macon, GA. Our newest ministry, it is unlike Raleigh and Durham in almost every way, and yet an incredibly place in itself.
For more pictures of Raleigh and Durham, be sure to check out my Facebook page here all week!