By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published April 17, 2008
So often it is easy to forget the many faces of those who work behind the scenes.
To remedy this, Dennis Johnson Jr., director of the Office of Religious Education, and the ORE staff arranged a special evening in honor of those who work with children, youth, young adults, adults and in catechist formation ministries at the parish level.
On Tuesday, April 1, ministers from throughout the archdiocese gathered to be honored by the archbishop during Ministry Appreciation Night. A Mass and reception were celebrated at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Atlanta.
In his homily, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory compared the work of those present at the Mass with the “heroic figures” of the early church who “strengthened the witness of the Apostles and provided encouragement as the first believers came together as a family of faith.”
“The same is true today, even though we often neglect to recognize the generosity and the dedication of so many of our modern day disciples and servant ministers,” said the archbishop. “The Mass is one opportunity for this particular local church to do just that, even as we listen to the fabulous stories of faith that marked those opening moments of the history of the church.”
Archbishop Gregory called those involved in ministry “just as generous and eager and dedicated as the first servants of the Gospel.”
The heartfelt message delivered by the archbishop fell on attentive ears, and the recognition for parish ministers was appreciated.
“I loved it. It was such a nice idea,” said Sister Pilar Dalmau, who works in the religious education department at Holy Cross Church, Atlanta.
“The lay ministers that our various offices (children, youth, young adult, adult ministry, and catechist formation) work with provide countless hours of service to the church,” said Dorothy Polchinski, archdiocesan director of young adult ministry. “Some of them are employed by their parishes on a full-time basis, some part-time, and others are volunteers.”
The archbishop took a moment during his homily to address the specific duties of the group and to point out just how important they are to him and the Archdiocese of Atlanta as a whole.
“You teach our youngsters, you guide the social service efforts of the church, you prepare those entering the church for their faith journeys, you assist with the liturgical life of our parishes, you welcome the newcomers to our communities, you work with the young people at every step of their development, and you attend to so many different needs of the parishes that the work of the church would literally come to a halt without you,” he said.
The archbishop thanked them for all they do without “fanfare and too often without proper recognition.”
At the end of the Mass, Johnson approached the podium to express his gratitude. He also thanked the archbishop for his presence, noting how important it was to have him there. Johnson also expressed his desire to continue this recognition next year.
“Tonight, we begin a tradition,” Johnson concluded, just before the final blessing was given and the Mass ended.
The assembly of more than 150 people gathered in the narthex and eventually moved to the parish social hall, where an exquisite reception awaited them. The reception provided an atmosphere to visit with co-workers and meet new people who work in the same ministries. Archbishop Gregory was also there, posing for pictures with his co-workers.
“I thought it was wonderful how he thanked us,” said Sue Balcom, youth minister at Corpus Christi Church, Stone Mountain. “What was so joyous is it was a true representation of the church.”
Balcom expressed her feeling that lay people who work in various ministries enable the clergy to be shepherds to their flock.
“These dedicated lay ministers contribute so much time and energy to their ministries,” said Polchinski, in an e-mail following the event. “They are often the ones saying ‘thank you’ to those that volunteer with their ministries. This time we wanted to set aside an opportunity to give these individuals recognition for their sacrifices in serving the church, for their efforts in building the kingdom of God, and for their numerous contributions to the church. You can never underestimate the value of saying ‘thank you.’”