Places like St Mary’s

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.

  • It makes me sad to see things like this hap­pen. Obvi­ous­ly, St. Mary’s is more then a build­ing to its parish­ioners. I hope they are suc­cess­ful.

  • I hope they are suc­cess­ful.