Our parish held its spring parish family gathering this evening. It’s an event organized by the “Welcoming Committee” whose ministry is to obviously welcome and help new parishioners get connected with established parishioners and thus strengthen our sense of community. Tonight’s theme was “international foods.” Those attending were invited to bring food that would be representative of their ethnic background for the pot luck meal held after Mass. We dined on tamales, a Bohemian Easter stuffing, Lebanese food and humus, Italian tomato salad and tostadas, Lasagna and a few other ethnic foods. I don’t remember them all. Since it was a small enough group, we introduced ourselves by telling what our favorite food was. A pie baking contest with everyone serving as judge was the dessert course (a Strawberry Chocolate whipped cream concoction entered by the parish’s pastoral associate won). Entertainment followed dinner with everyone moving to the gym and playing “Minute to Win It” style games.
As I was sitting at a table waiting for my turn to go through the food line and throughout the night, I couldn’t help but marvel at what a diverse parish I’ve been given to pastor. When I arrived 13 years ago it seemed to be heavily Eastern European in ethnic background. But we also have parishioners from the Philippines, African-Americans, and Germanic and Honduran folks. In the last couple of years we have been seeing more Hispanic folks joining St. Stephen. I’m thankful to be here at St. Stephen and realized I am blessed.
And so we try to celebrate diversity at St. Stephen. Sometimes this causes a bit of tension. But mostly, I think we are sincerely striving to reflect the beauty of the Kingdom of God. At the banquet feast of the Kingdom, people of every race, language and way of life are seated at table with the Lamb of God providing us the Bread of eternal life and cup of salvation. How blessed we are in this parish to be able to glimpse a foretaste of what we shall know in eternity. My goal as pastor has always been to celebrate diversity, not make everyone fit into some homogenous sameness. The recent influx of Hispanic folks has challenged us to see that using different languages and customs at liturgy need not be divisive. I am not a fan of having one Mass in Spanish and another in English in the same parish. We’re all Catholic and members of one parish. It’s my hope that here at St. Stephen we’ll be able to be many languages at the ONE Eucharistic table. The Anglos need to learn some Spanish. The Hispanics need to become more fluent in English. Throw in some Polish for everyone to learn to acknowledge our history. Probably should be finding out how to sing a phrase in Tagalog (the language of the Philippines). That will be a sign to the world that we are about the reconciliation, the communion of peoples, not their division. Unity in diversity is the goal and I hope we at St. Stephen can make that a very visible sign and reality by how we welcome each other as fellow Catholics and disciples of Jesus who don’t divide into sub-groups based on language, customs or skin color.