I’m writing this from the back of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, a small church built in the 1920s in the small crossroads town of Malaga New Jersey. It was closed this past November, supposedly because of a broken boiler but really because the Diocese of Camden is trying to sell off its smaller churches – or any church with prime real estate along a highway. It was reopened without permission by parishioners in early January, while we were still in the hospital with baby number three, a.k.a. Gregory.
We’ve spent a lot of time here since then. It’s a 24 hour vigil and has been and will continue to be. In Boston there are vigils that have been going seven years. I try to imagine Gregory as a seven year old, having spent his childhood growing up here in this little church. It’s not an impossible scenario.
I also spend a lot of time talking with the faithful Catholics who have come here to protect the church. It’s a cacophony of voices right now – conversations about the church, sure, but that’s only one of the many topics that come up. People are sharing their lives – stories about growing up, about people that are know, about current events… It’s a real community. We’ve been attending this church for years but it’s now that I’m really getting to know everyone.
I sometimes ponder how I, the self-dubbed “Quaker Ranter,” got involved in all of this. Through my wife, of course – she grew up Catholic, became a Friend for eleven years and then “returned to the Church” a few years after our marriage. But there’s more than that, reasons why I spend my own time here. Part is my love of the small and quirky. St Mary’s parishioners are standing up for the kind of churches where people know each other. In an era where menial tasks are hired out, the actual members of St. Marys tend the church’s rosary garden and clean its basement and toilets. They spend time in the church beyond the hour of mass, doing things like praying the rosary or adoration.
The powers-that-be that want St Mary’s closed so badly want a large inpersonal church with lots of professionalized services and a least-common-denominator faith where people come, go and donate their money to a diocese that’s run like a business. But that’s not St. Mary’s. There’s history here. This is a hub of a town, an ancient crossroads, but the bishop wants big churches in the splurge of suburban sprawl. Even we Friends need places like St Mary’s in the world.