Published June 17, 2004
When the church prays in the preface of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit has “created from the many languages of man one voice to profess one faith,” worshippers at St. Lawrence Church need only look about at Mass to see this diversity and unity right in their midst.
Throughout the Easter season, members of the Gwinnett County parish were invited to mark their place of birth on a large world map situated in the church vestibule. The result shows the vast majority hailing from the fifty states but a significant number of people born in Mexico, Central and South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and a dozen African nations.
In celebration of this universality, the general intercessions during the parish’s eight Pentecost Masses were offered in 18 different languages.
An international potluck supper following the Pentecost vigil Mass attracted 400 attendees and featured dishes from 32 different nations. The menu included Lebanese kibbi and grape leaves, Vietnamese spring rolls, Salvadoran pupusas, Jamaican goat curry and Georgia chicken and dumplings. Entertainment featured traditional Mexican and Irish dances and a short ballet by young Vietnamese parishioners depicting a family’s flight from communism to freedom and safety in the United States.
Father Albert Jowdy, who became pastor of St. Lawrence last July, has spent his first year discussing with staff and parish leaders various strategies for ensuring that the parish’s diversity is experienced as a blessing and not a burden.
Early next year he plans to initiate a number of small Christian communities so that parishioners can learn more about one another’s journeys of faith.
“We have right here in our pews each Sunday heart-rending stories of faith and perseverance that are every bit as compelling as the stories in the Acts of the Apostles,” he said.
Father Jowdy, who began studying Spanish 12 years ago in order to reach out to recent Hispanic immigrants, finds the parish’s ethnic variety to be energizing. “Of course I feel sometimes like I’m in Babel rather than the Jerusalem of Pentecost, but I wouldn’t trade our diversity for anything. This is what a Catholic, or universal, church should look like,” he said. “And this is almost certainly what heaven will look like.”