Attending Church - Like Going Home
I arrived at church yesterday at 4:55 p.m. for Mass. I walked up on my own and I was wearing old and torn running shoes along with some sweet sweatpants, as I had been doing some manual labour for my dad and I was running behind. I was meeting my wife and our kids for the 5 p.m. Mass and as I entered the foyer, Father Jim asked me if I was ‘bach’ing it this evening! I greeted him and said that I was meeting my family at the church and I apologized for my attire. Father Jim, who never misses a chance to guide his flock, reminded me that Jesus isn’t worried about my outfit. I went through the line up answering questions about not having symptoms or travelling by one of our many amazing church volunteers. I waited at the entrance to the Nave and once my family caught up with me, we were escorted to our pew by another volunteer. We made it for Mass as a family - just in time!
Attending Church has been an important aspect of my life, but hasn't been as consistent as I would have liked. As a child, my family and I went pretty regularly on Sundays and we would usually go for brunch afterwards. The routine of Sunday Mass was definitely an important part of my upbringing but we didn’t talk too much about faith as a family, unless something serious was happening. When both of my grandmas passed away in 1987 for example, having a connection to my Catholic faith was very important as I navigated grief and tried to come to terms with our family's loss. As I grew up and went on to University, church took a backseat to working, socializing and studying - in no particular order. This changed as I grew older and a tiny bit wiser, and when I started dating my wife, we made church a priority each weekend. The connection to our parish has been an important aspect of our marriage and as our family grew our children helped our connection to our parish become even stronger. At first, our children began their sacraments with baptisms and each Sunday Mass we would be the couple at Mass with the screaming babies. As our girls got older, they attended Sunday School where my wife and I would volunteer. We loved attending the monthly Sunday pancake breakfast put on by the Knights of Columbus and one year my youngest won a raffle taking home a giant Panda Bear as her prize! As our girls grew beyond Sunday school, they started to sing in the children's choir. We would bring them to Church once a week in the evenings for Choir practice and they would sing at a Mass once every two weeks or so. OLPH has become such an important part of our family that attending each week truly feels like I am going home.
When the pandemic hit last March, everything closed except essential services - even our churches and places of worship had to shut their doors. At the start of the pandemic it made sense to put a pause on things to ensure a return would be as safe as possible. When the summer began and churches were allowed to reopen, we returned to church when we were in town and I was very impressed with how safe and coordinated everything seemed - our local parish did everything possible to follow Covid protocols. But once school started and our family was exposed to over 2000 people between our three respective schools (my kids at one school and my wife and I each at our own), we decided it was safer for everyone if we steered clear of attending Mass in person. This lasted through the fall but once the new year began, my wife and I decided it was time to attending Mass again, so she started booking us online to attend Saturday’s at 5 p.m. and she also booked us to help clean after Mass. I have to say that my soul is better for it!
When everything shut down last March I actually lost two BIG things that help me stay healthy and balanced - both my parish and the Glen Allen Rec Centre (also known as GARC) closed. Pre-pandemic, I would usually work out 3-4 times a week, heading to GARC after the kids went to bed around 8 p.m. I would roll in, get changed, do the elliptical or stationary bike for 30 minutes and the move a few weights around. Then I could relax in the hot tub or the sauna and decompress my day. I found this whole process to be very therapeutic, as I was able to physically express some anxieties and reframe a few of the more challenging aspects of my work. In many ways it was like taking the garbage from inside the house to the black bin outside - but in an emotional way. Plus, it helped my body stay in some kind of shape too. When I lost GARC, I had to find a new way to make this happen. I tried some workouts at home, outdoor runs, walks, and bike rides became a family favourite, and I used the gym at the school on the weekends to shoot some hoops! This past winter my family also got in to cross country skiing, which has been so fun! So to some degree or another, I have been able to stay active to help keep myself balanced through the “dark winter” so far. I miss GARC, I haven’t been back since March 2020, but I have found other ways to meet my needs.
When the church closed, however, I didn’t have the same success. We tried attending online Masses and that was good, but not quite the same. I missed going in and connecting with the community - even if its smiling eyes and a wave across the church. I needed the comfort of the pew and the opportunity to pray in community. I also needed the formality of church, where checking my phone is not socially acceptable like it might be at home. I also needed to be there with my family, as online Mass isn’t easy for adults to remained focused, let alone our children. Although I have tried to be more intentional with being grateful for mother nature and the gift of creation when out on the bike bath, ski trail or bird sanctuary, the truth is being at church is the best way for me to have spiritual workout. I am very happy to be back, attending Mass and appreciating our OLPH community.
I also want to note that the church really has done an amazing job at keeping Mass available to everyone, by making it as safe as possible. Attendees have to register, complete the COVID screening when they arrive, they are ushered to a pew to maximize distancing and we are dismissed from mass out of alternative exit points to prevent any congregating and socializing (this may be the hardest part for me because I used to love chatting with people after Mass)!! We sanitize our hands, we don’t touch, we don’t sing, we don’t put money in a basket and we don’t exchange reading material. We do however get to do everything else, which is pretty awesome considering the circumstances. Plus, every once in a while I get to use the fogging machine to spray the pews at the end of Mass, which is very fun! But being back at church these past few months has felt like coming back home after an extended vacation, and it feels great! I am so grateful for our clergy, parish staff and many volunteers who have help make everything run as smooth as possible, and have made our church as welcoming, safe and caring as possible. They have done a fantastic job and my family is very grateful at all our parish members do in tremendously challenging circumstances. Thank You OLPH!!