Zibin and I agree – yesterday was the best Valentine’s Day we ever had, bar none. And we’re the kind of people who never celebrate V-Day cos, well… why wait for Feb 14 to do something special together?
But yesterday, we spent our V-Day evening at our first Parish Assembly ever, at our parish of St. Mary of the Angels. And may I just say… WOW. Just like the facilitators/emcees who have helped out at dozens of PAs over Singapore and the new friend we met from the Church of the Holy Spirit who had attended several other PAs before, we were astounded by the degree of community, warmth, spontaneity and the level of attendance (more than 500 people!) at the Parish Assembly. It may sound sad, but I say it with joy: Last night was the first time in all my years of church-going that I felt such a great sense of belonging to a church community – and not because I am active in any group. Complete strangers smiled and struck up conversations and talked excitedly about sharing a future as a parish – walls were broken down and connections made.
The organization of the meeting was immaculate. Nearly 2.5 hrs on the dot – short presentations by different members of the laity on four topics: how to get more parishioners to join SCCs (Small Christian Communities), how to better minister to the needs of the Elderly and the Needy, the growth and development of more Lay Leaders and what we can do to improve the experience of the Liturgy. This was followed by small-group discussions of about 5-7 mins where ‘recorders’ would run amongst us and record points that were then summarized and re-projected up at the end for general discussion. During general discussion, there was no lack of people speaking up to ask questions and offer clarification and comments – encouragement and humour were the order of the evening! As one community, we really helped to set the direction for our parish for the next year.
A funny anecdote happened with me too. Though I had initially no intention of picking up the microphone to speak during the general discussion, I ended up doing so on two occasions. Our humourous emcee jokingly asked for my phone number, to which Zibin grabbed my mike and countered with, “She’s married already!” The congregation broke out into applause and wolf-whistles! But that wasn’t all. Later on, another parishioner (complete stranger!) commented about the need to encourage more youths to consider a religious vocation, and she said, “For example like Ann who spoke up just now… I’m not sure if she is really married…(should consider religious vocation)!” Zibin’s face lit up with mock indignation as the hall broke into laughter again.
After the meeting, we were all given orchids and home-made heart-shaped pineapple cookies (made by our baking ministry Five Loaves) as a Valentine’s Day present. We had a buffet dinner on the piazza with fantastic live jazz music (performed by a super talented family band) under the stars with all our new friends. The parish priests mingled and chatted and laughed with different groups and we got to know so many previously unknown faces. Youths were singing and dancing along, and near the end of the evening it became a spontaneous karaoke session.
Zibin and I had always felt that there was something special about the community at St. Mary of the Angels. Even when we were new parishioners and did not know anyone, we often encountered friendly smiles and sensed a general welcoming presence. Last night’s Parish Assembly amazed us. There was such a level of engagement and openness to new ideas, and such a degree of warmth between people who barely knew each other that we truly felt like we belonged to a vibrant and Spirit-filled community.
Our new friend from the Church of the Holy Spirit commented that he has often wondered if this wonderful sense of community and peace at St. Mary has anything to do with the spirituality of the Franciscan Order who runs this parish. Zibin and I had frequently wondered that same thing before, and we think so. The humility, love and sense of brotherhood/sisterhood are unmistakeable. And just as St. Francis’ peace seems to permeate his hometown of Assisi even to the animals that live there, it feels like his peace is present at St. Mary.
Like every other parish, St. Mary has conflict and tension among ministries and between the ‘old guard’ and ‘new guard’… where there are people, there will always be politics. But what marks St. Mary as different is that those conflicts do not paralyze – the community continues to move forward in God’s grace and love, and to bear fruit in abundance.
Thank You, Lord, for such a nice V-Day present!