Greenville and Triangle be advised: if you’re hoping to woo the friars on our road trip, you’ve got some stiff competition: Macon, GA was impressive.
Known only as “the place where we got a flat tire driving home from spring break” and “the school that kept us from the playoffs in baseball one year” prior to this trip, Macon was not an impressive place in my mind. When the province announced last summer that we would be taking a small parish and a school there, I didn’t think much of it. “Oh, cool, a new ministry in the south,” but my initial response was not of excitement.
Having now visited the quaint, historic town, I’m a big supporter of the friars’ presence there. We all were.
When we arrived Monday afternoon and met the friars, we were given a quick tour of premises—parish, school, friary, and offices—and told that dinner would be in about an hour. But rather than going out to eat and catching up with the friars in private, one of the friars organized a pot-luck dinner with 15-20 of the staff, sisters, and involved parishioners to welcome us and informally share what the place was like. Besides the fact that the food was amazing (this friar is an accomplished chef), the time with everyone was fantastic. We got to hear their stories, get to know what makes the parish special, tell a little about our lives as friars, and really, just laugh and have a good time for a few hours. Rather than spending time in empty buildings or talking about the things they do, we were in a sense thrown right into the heart of the parish, the people.
The following morning, we got to see these wonderful people in action. Starting at the elementary school, we stopped by the kindergarten, sixth grade, and pre-school classrooms to meet some of the students and to get a feel for the life of the school. They were energetic and excited to see us, and despite their large gap in age, were all fascinated by our habits with many pockets (it’s a universal reaction I suppose.)
After that, we headed to the high school where one of the friars is a chaplain. Had you have asked me prior to going what I thought about going to a high school, I would have said, “Eh, we don’t have to see it. It’s just a high school.” I would have been very wrong. This school was lively, diverse, growing, and active. Walking through the halls and into a few classrooms, all three of us were amazed at all of things that were going on, how mixed the student body was, how welcoming all of the teachers were, and how Catholic the school was in its prayer and charitable works. As one of the teachers told us, “Too often kids think that community service is a punishment for committing a crime not big enough to go to jail. Here we show them that community service is part of who we are as Catholic, and all of us do it together—students, teachers, staff.”
After an inspirational time with the students and teachers, we finished our tour at Day Break, a day facility for the chronically homeless in the area. This might have been the most impressive aspect of the whole trip. While many cities have shelters for people to stay at night and soup kitchens for people to get food, there are rarely any places for homeless people to go during the day. For the most part, they’re told to leave until the next meal or until the next evening comes. Day Break fills that void. Whether someone needs a shower or some medicine, a comfy chair or a book to read, Day Break is the place to go. Resembling a college town coffee shop more than a facility for the homeless, we were amazed by the comfort of the place. Here, men and women could hang out all day and feel like they were in a restaurant, living room, or recreational facility. For those trying to get a job or get back to school, guests had access to not only a computer lab and telephone, but could also register a private voice mailbox for employers or landlords to call without knowing that they were calling a shelter. Tremendous.
On paper, Macon is admittedly not that impressive. The parish is quite small, likely able to fit every Sunday worshiper inside either Raleigh or Durham’s sanctuary at one time; the elementary school is under capacity and has a little bit of debt; the friars minister to a neighboring Catholic high school; and there’s a downtown center for the homeless. All great things, but nothing extraordinary.
And yet, in person, the sum in much greater than its parts. The people were welcoming and alive with the Spirit; the ministry was dedicated and unique; and while there were some nice gems in the area, there was also a lot of room for imagination and innovation. Don’t be surprised if you see me ministering here in the future!
I took a lot more pictures, so check them out here!