Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Washington Parish Awaits Teen’s Easter Confirmation

By ANDREW NELSON | Published February 28, 2013

WASHINGTON—Hayden Bailey is to stand before his parish family to take the next step in his faith life.

The 16-year-old is the only person receiving a sacrament of the church during Easter at St. Joseph Church, Washington.

“It means for me to be a part of the huge family. It’s a diverse family, but it’s still one. It’s a connection to God,” he said about his upcoming confirmation.

More than 1,900 women, men and children were welcomed Feb. 17 by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, a celebration where the non-baptized, called catechumens, and the candidates, baptized Christians from other traditions, are formally acknowledged as making their way to joining the Catholic Church at Easter.

Some of the soon-to-be Catholics learn about the faith with scores of others in their parishes. The largest group is at St. Lawrence Church, Lawrenceville, with over 200 people.

But at this small country parish, Hayden has been learning the faith with weekly one-on-one meetings with an emergency room doctor. Also, he is receiving confirmation, not as a newcomer, but as a young Catholic who has reached the age for the sacrament.

Father Vincent Sullivan, the pastor, thinks there is power in just one person standing before the community to take a step of faith.

“The meaning comes alive for many of them,” he said. “It’s going to be something new.”

The last confirmation here was in 2011.

In the back of the church, Hayden and his teacher, Dr. Stan Coe, regularly spend an hour or more in conversation. Homework has included discussions of classic 1940s black and white movies about the Catholic faith, “The Devil at 4 O’Clock” and “The Keys of the Kingdom.”

They’ve wrestled with what it means to be Catholic, how to live morally and ethically.

“You can ask more questions. You can learn about the details. It can last up to two hours. In the past, we’ve had some long discussions,” said Hayden about the meetings.

Coe said class size does not matter. “When we gather as two or three, (Jesus) is truly there, right there in our midst,” he said in an email.

Hayden is the second youngest of four boys. At school, he earned fourth place in the state cross country championship and he’s also a member of FFA, formally known as the Future Farmers of America.

His family moved to Georgia eight years ago from Michigan. They are active in the parish, with his mother, Angie, playing guitar in the choir and his father, Ben, serving as an usher. The family also brings over heavy equipment to take care of the church grounds.

“The Baileys are an involved and vital part of our little parish family. Everyone is looking forward to Hayden’s confirmation,” said Coe.

Like others approaching the sacrament, Hayden has contributed to his parish. At Mass, he’s been an altar server. He shared the faith with younger children as a classroom aide. He helped when the growing Hispanic community hosted a parish fundraiser.

“That’s something I never would have thought I’d be doing,” he said.

Outside of the parish, his faith also sets him apart. In school at Lincoln County High School, religion came up in an AP literature class. With 10 students in the group, he was the only Catholic.

“They had some curiosity. I was happy to share my faith with them,” he said. Hayden said he’s considering inviting some close friends to the Easter Vigil to observe the ceremony.

And that’s part of the faith Coe has tried to foster in discussions.

Hayden may be “the only window someone may ever have to glimpse through to see the treasure that the Catholic Church is,” said Coe, a doctor at the local county hospital.

Indeed, St. Joseph Church is a parish in a sea of Southern Baptists.

According to the Association of Religion Data Archives, there are 29 Catholics per 1,000 county residents. For Southern Baptists, the number is 307 per 1,000.

Wilkes County, about 100 miles east of Atlanta, has some 10,200 residents, where one out of three families with children younger than 5 lives below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The community is a place where people know where their neighbors worship, Father Sullivan said. And he tries to be a public presence.

“I like to be high profile. I’ve a very colorful car, a Mini Cooper,” he said.

Father Sullivan became the spiritual leader last summer, overseeing three communities, the parish in Washington, St. Mary Mission, in Elberton, and Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary Station, in Sharon.

“People are hungry for anything I can teach,” he said.

And the upcoming confirmation is another opportunity to do that. Every Mass and every homily is “always an opportunity to teach,” he said.

The Hispanic community will largely shape the future of the parish. Religious education enrollment jumped to nearly 60 children this year, up from a dozen. The increase comes from an influx of the new community members. Spring’s first Communion celebration will have 15 youngsters, with a dozen of them Hispanic.

Hayden sees the slow change to the parish unfold in front of him.

“I’ve been taken back by the diversity of the Catholic Church. We all fall under the umbrella of Catholicism, which means unified,” he said.