Over 100 men and boys answered my invitation to exercise spiritual leadership and guardianship over the parish with a "Men's Prayer Walk." So, yes, this was specifically pitched to men. (One girl did make it, however: a father brought his infant daughter along.)
Where did this come from?
Some time back, I came across an ancient practice -- still observed in some parts of England and Wales -- called "Beating the Bounds." As Wikipedia describes it, "A group of old and young members of the community would walk the boundaries of the parish, usually led by the parish priest and church officials, to share the knowledge of where they lay, and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands." Mindful that I was pastor in a rural parish, this idea struck me as something we could do.
It also occurred to me that this would be a great way to call men -- of all ages -- to exercise spiritual leadership; to exercise their tasks of guarding, guiding and giving. And, I thought it might help build friendships and comraderie.
So, several months back, I began describing the idea to a few people, and they liked it. They helped me develop it further. At one point, I planned it for a Saturday morning; but I was persuaded that a Friday evening would work better. So, we settled on the following plan. We would meet by 5:30 pm behind the priest's house and climb onto a hay wagon, which would take us out to the northern boundary of the parish. There we would begin our walk. Anyone who couldn't walk could stay on the wagon; and we also had a couple of other vehicles available. After walking for an hour -- during which we prayed ten decades of the Rosary, two litanies, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and a consecration to the Sacred Heart -- we climbed back on the hay wagons, and headed back to my back yard for a cookout.
I involved several men of the parish as my "wise men": one took charge of transportation; one took responsibility for food and drink, and a third handled set up and clean up. Several others pitched in with help and ideas -- such as games for the boys (what a great idea!).
My hope and plan was for 50 participants; we more than doubled that. Several men who took part didn't walk; instead, they rode in a golf cart. A number of the boys were in strollers, and some ended up riding their dads' back part or most of the time.
One of the ideas I came up with was to give the boys chalk, and a diagram for them to draw on the street as we went along. What I came up with looked like this:
2 | 0
1 | 6
O. P. N.
And in case you are wondering, that is meant to show a cross, surrounded by this year's date, and the words, Sancte Remigii, ora pro nobis, or in English, Saint Remy, pray for us.
Well, the boys really took to that, as I hoped! The only miscue on my part was I didn't plan for enough prayers; I prepared a handout, and we ripped through those prayers in about 35 minutes. So with the help of our recently ordained deacon, we added another set of mysteries, and sang "Immaculate Mary" and "How Great Thou Art." And we had some silence in between.
After an hour, we'd walked about 2.5 miles, then got back on the hay wagons and rode back for a cookout, with the last stragglers leaving after 10 pm. Everyone had a great time. Several young, unmarried guys were really enthusiastic, saying that they were going to see that more of their friends joined us next year.
And there will be a next year: I haven't set the date, but it will be June, and we'll pick up roughly where we left off, and walk another 2-3 miles; and so forth, until we walk the entire circumference of the parish, which is about 25 miles. I figure it will take 9 years or so.
There were many blessings, which make me thing the Lord looked with favor on our endeavor. The weather was perfect; there were no traffic problems (or any others), and a parishioner came to me the day before, offering some fresh ground beef for hamburgers -- as much as we could possibly want.
I might here explain, especially for the benefit of St. Remy Parish, that the actual northern boundary wasn't the road on which we walked, but a quarter-mile north; but that ran through the fields. In olden days, I imagine they would have walked through the fields, because it was rather important to know and maintain those boundaries in those days. The exact boundaries matter less to us today, but it is still worthwhile to have a sense of responsibility for the people of the parish.
And, for the benefit of our parishioners, here are the boundaries of our parish. The northern boundary extends from a quarter-mile west of Darke-Shelby County Road, and a quarter mile north of Redmond Road. Beyond State Route 48, that line continues until it meets Loramie-Washington Road, which is the eastern boundary. The line continues all the way south to Miami-Shelby County Road; and the southern boundary runs along that road, until it reaches a point a quarter-mile west of Darke-Shelby. For those who know the area, this means that our parish includes Dawson, Houston and Mt. Jefferson areas, as well as Russia and the surrounding areas.
Of course you want pictures. Here are some. This first one shows all the men, with the boys running ahead. I'm in there somewhere.
One of our boys carrying the cross. They took turns.
Here's one of our boys using the diagram I gave them to "chalk the walk."
Another of the boys letting people know we'd been there.
Here I am, with the deacon to my right, and the seminarian to my left. If anyone wonders why we didn't wear vestments...well, it was about 85 degrees, and we were in the sun for over an hour.