BY PAUL A. BARRA
LOWER RICHLAND — A proposed parish serving the area between Columbia and Sumter is so new it doesn’t have a name yet, but it does have a history of ecumenical kinship. That historical ecumenism was displayed at the first-ever Mass offered by the Lexington-Richland Mission Endeavor of the Diocese of Charleston on Nov. 30, the vigil of the first Sunday of Advent.
The Mass was celebrated by Father Christopher M. Danel of St. Joseph in Columbia, assisted by Deacon Charles W. Walsh, ramrod of the new parish project. The worship space was the sanctuary of Christ the King Lutheran Church.
Alluding to the scripture reading from Isaiah 64 about God being the potter of life, Deacon Walsh said: “You and I, the very clay of this parish in the making, are a sign that God has come again in this sacred place.”
This parish in the making, an attempt to see if there is enough interest in starting a new diocesan parish or mission among Catholics who now travel between 30 minutes and an hour to get to church, prevailed upon the good auspices of the parishioners of the Lutheran parish. Deacon Walsh called the interchange an example of ecumenism in action.
“It’s one thing to speak about ecumenism; it’s another to live it,” he said of his Lutheran benefactors.
The pastor of Christ the King is the Rev. Karen Hawkins. She not only offered her worship space to the budding Catholic community, but she came as a worshipper at the first Mass, along with church organist Dan Birdsong, who volunteered to play for the Catholics.
“I’ve come to welcome these folks and offer good Christian hospitality. I want to lend my support to this fine effort,” Pastor Hawkins said.
Father Danel called the start “a perfect time” for a new parish and “a great start to the Advent season.”
Gayle Michaelis, a lifelong parishioner of St. Joseph who travels from Hopkins, agreed that the timing is right.
“I think I’m ready to be part of a parish that’s a lot closer. A smaller parish might be better,” Michaelis said.
Three-dozen worshippers, including the Rev. Hawkins, participated in the first Mass. Deacon Walsh said that was three times the number who joined in early discussions one year ago.
Bishop Robert J. Baker established the Endeavor in June 2001 and appointed Deacon Walsh to head it up. Walsh is now the parish life facilitator. He is unabashedly enthusiastic about the possibilities.
“We gather together for the first time as a family of faith. This evening challenges other wonderful events in my life in the excitement and joy it brings,” the former Chicago policeman said.
Mass is scheduled at Christ the King for the next four weeks, each Saturday at 5 p.m. What happens after that is dependent on the numbers who attend and support a new parish in Lower Richland or surrounding areas. Deacon Walsh can be contacted at (803) 505-4321.