Sunday, September 22, 2019

Our stewardship and our parish (Sunday homily)

Every year about this time the finance committee and I present to you 
a financial summary for the prior fiscal year, 
and a budget for the coming year. 
That appeared in last weekend’s bulletin. 

This year, the staff and I also included a “year in review” 
that was designed to tell some of the story 
of what we’ve been doing as a parish, 
to make these columns of numbers a little less abstract.

Now, it occurred to me that today’s Gospel – 
about a dishonest steward of all things! – 
maybe isn’t the best lead-in for this talk!

But in my defense, I think I am an honest steward;
In any case, I have no hesitancy whatsoever 
in giving you a full and complete accounting.

Some years, when I’ve given this talk, we faced a deficit, 
and I asked you to step up your giving to close the gap.
Last year, you were very generous, thank you;
Thanks to that – and careful spending by our staff – 
and a very successful festival in 2018 – 
as of June 30, our parish had a surplus.

For the coming year, with only a slight bump in offerings,
we’ll end the coming year with another balanced budget. 

I’m not going to go through this line by line; 
however, as I did last year, I will stay after the 5 pm Mass today,
and the 11 am Mass tomorrow, to answer any questions you may have. 
Note I said any questions; it doesn’t have to be about finances.
Anything you want to ask, just stay in your pew 
and I’ll come back and be happy to talk to you.

Why do I do this every year? 
Some would rather not hear about finances in the homily, 
and I understand.

But first, I want it to be clear that I do pay attention to these things; 
that I respect the fact that you work hard for your money,
and I take seriously my responsibility to spend it carefully and well.

Second, whether you stay after to ask questions or not,
I hope this sends the message that your questions are always welcome.
My phone number and email are in the bulletin. Contact me anytime.
Even if you don’t like my answer 100% of the time,
I will give you an honest and complete answer, and do it promptly.

Let me make a couple more points.

First, if you look at the very bottom of the summary, 
it tells you how much we have in savings. 
That’s important for our parish for the exact same reason 
it’s important for each of us and our own households, 
to have some money put by for a rainy day.
We earn interest on this – not a lot these days, but some! –
And we can access these funds when needed.

Another thing I want you to know.

Between the oversight of the finance committee, 
and the pastoral council, 
and with many controls and procedures that are in place, 
you can have high confidence in how financial matters are handled.

But I am not saying, “trust me”; feel free to verify!
Ask any questions you want, today or another time.
There is nothing to hide!

We all know that so many of our institutions and leaders, 
yes, including in the Church, have greatly disappointed us, 
and there is a loss of confidence. I am painfully aware of that.

Our hardworking staff and I want to be worthy of your trust.
I think you can feel very good about how your dollars are spent at Saint Remy, 
and I hope you will continue your generous support.

And for some here, maybe you’ve given now and then, and you realize,
it’s time to be more regular. That will help!

And for others, maybe you’ve regularly – thank you! – 
But it’s stayed at the exact same level for a lot of years. 
Maybe you can shoulder a little more of the responsibility. 
In the last twelve months, some of us have had great years;
For others, especially some of our farmers, it’s been rough.
Contributing to the mission of our parish isn’t someone else’s job, 
but the responsibility of every one of us.
That helps make us a strong and healthy parish.

Let me cycle back to the readings.
The first reading in particular talks about our duty to help the poor.
Despite the challenges, it remains true 
that you and I are extraordinarily blessed. 

So, for example, our St. Vincent de Paul group is once again 
asking your help to provide food for those with empty pantries.
Be generous, please!

And beyond that, perhaps this coming year, 
you and I can cast our gaze further out, beyond our own families, 
and beyond Russia, and be ready to share our blessings 
to make a difference for others. In a word: let’s do more!

See, I’m not the only steward here! 
Each of us has a stewardship over the many gifts God has given us. 
Not just treasure; time and talents too.

If the Lord could commend a crooked steward – not for dishonesty, 
but for being industrious and creative – 
then think of the praise and blessings Jesus will have for us, 
when you and I readily offer our own personal gifts for his work.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Is this the most exotic part of Ohio? (Project 88 report)

Twelve more counties visited in three days. Only four left to see.

Last weekend I joined some friends on a visit to Nashville. That was fun! We got back Monday afternoon, and -- because I had originally blocked off more time for that trip, I planned to use the remaining time for a jaunt across Ohio, to take in some of the remaining counties.

My first stop was Hocking County, where Hocking Hills State Park is located. Several folks here have told me how beautiful the area is; they go regularly. They were correct. I stayed at a hotel near Logan, the county seat, and found dinner at Jacks Steak House. I have to admit, when I walked in, the place looked more like a diner than a steakhouse, but the food was good and the service was great, and prices very fair.

There's a lot to see and do in this area; there are cabins everywhere, with lots of opportunities for fishing, hiking and maybe hunting. I took in several of the sites, all of which involved some hiking. Here is "Ash Cave," so called because of ashes found on the floor, presumably from millennia of human habitation.

You can't see it, but there is a stream that trickles down from the rocks above. Things are very dry in Ohio these days.

You can hike all around to these sites; or you can do as I did, drive from place to place, and walk shorter distances. The next stop, Cedar Falls, involved some down and up. Again, the falls were only a trickle:

Here are the walls of the valley I walked through to the falls.

My last stop in the park was "Old Man's Cave," so named because some fellow with two dogs lived some while in these environs:

This picture doesn't do it justice. This vista reminded me of one of the elven habitations in Tolkien's works.

I will return there! But for now, we press on to Perry County My intended destination were Shawnee, a kind of "ghost town," and San Toy, of which only bare remnants remain. First, however, I passed the New Straitsville library, which looked a lot like a train station:

According to Wikipedia, striking coal miners started a fire in the coal mine there in the 1800s that burns to this day! Sorry I didn't get to see that! Over some serious hills, I made my way to Shawnee:

The whole downtown is two blocks, this shows you one side of one block; the rest is about the same, although there are a few buildings still occupied, including by the local historical society. In the middle of this photo is a tavern that almost looks still in operation. But look closer: the entrances are boarded up; yet a grill still sits on the front porch. People still live around here, however.

As I made my way to San Toy, more decay:

There was a lot of this. As it happens, I never found the remnants of San Toy, but I did find this church. A sign of hope:

As I drove over the hills hereabouts, passing into Morgan County, I paused to capture this vista: 

I'm not good at photos; it was beautiful. Ohio doesn't really have mountains, but this area and the rest I passed through comes closest. 

From San Toy I headed east to cross the Muskingum River at McConnelsville. I stopped by the river to get a nice shot of a bridge, which involved walking the plank, as it were. This walkway was very rusty, steeper than it looks, and made some distressing sounds as I stepped onto it.

Here's the bridge:

Here's the village square, which was pretty busy when I took this photo; also some fun looking places nearby. In the background you can see the Opera House, where William Jennings Bryan held a meeting at one time. Despite being the county seat, McConnelsville is only a village -- not large enough to be a city.

Now it was time to head for Washington County. My original plan was to make for Marietta, on the river, but I decided to skip that. Sorry Marietta! Instead I decided to stop in Beverly, several miles down the river, and then turn north. At Beverly, I noticed this lock near the gas station where I stopped:

 Apparently a boat had just come through the locks; here are the fellows working the lower gate. A sign said I wasn't supposed to be standing where I was, but no one said a word.

Also, a boat blew up here some time back:

My next stop was a town called Fulda (and Noble County), where I wanted to see an old Catholic church. There was no direct route; I had some ups and downs and arounds over Ohio's not-quite-mountains. As I drove down State Route 564 -- a newly paved road that I seemed to have all to myself on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon -- I passed the Ashton Inn. Pausing to take a photo, I first asked the fellow standing on the porch if it was OK. After a pause he said, "Don't matter me none."

More twists and turns, including over some gravel roads; then the spire of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception loomed over the treetops as I turned into Fulda:

The church looks like it might have been designed for a steeple that was never added. Next door was a sizeable rectory, and what might have been a small school behind. Here are two photos from inside. This mural is in the vestibule:

There was a picture of Pope Benedict on the back wall of the nave; I did not find a portrait of Pope Francis.

From here I made my way over another hill to Carlisle; as I came down the hill, I found St. Michael Catholic church. The bulletin I picked up told me the pastor was responsible for both these churches, plus two more in nearby Calwell. The road I took over that hill was partly gravel; if that is washed out or snowed over, the priest has a much longer way around.

From here I headed east to Monroe County. I actually made it to Lewisville, but I can't find any pictures. Here's a lonely intersection as proof I was there:

This is Summerfield, on the way toward Cambridge, where I was staying the night:

Just beyond that was a huge industrial plant, I'm not sure what goes on here. Marathon Oil owned it. By the way, I did see a few oil pumps here and there, and signs referring to fracking.


Pleasant City (which brought me into Guernsey County): 

Sorry, no photos of the "Microtel," or the restaurant! 

Next day I drove up to the nearby Salt Fork State Park. After taking in the sites of Hocking Hills, I chose to do a quick drive through; but there are caves and trails here, too, and also a lake for swimming. After this, I drove back down to I-70 and headed east into Belmont County

I was going to find an old schoolhouse, only I drove past it before I checked the directions! I did find my way to an old bridge, from the days of the original National Road, which later became U.S. 40. And I took a picture (or so I thought). Anyway, here's a link at Wikipedia. (By the way, only with this bridge did I realize that when Wikipedia provides latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates, you can click on these and Google Maps will give you directions to that spot! Neat.) I did get a shot of the courthouse in St. Clairsville:

From here I drove north on U.S. 250. I stopped in Harrisville -- just inside Harrison County -- for this shot: 

From here I continued up to Cadiz (a local told me how to pronounce it: "CAT is"). I noticed this church, the Scott Memorial United Methodist Church:

If it's not clear, a lot of the church is underground, with just a narrow band of windows admitting light. I searched the website for more about the structure, but couldn't find it.

Here's the courthouse in Cadiz. I parked here and found a shop nearby for a sandwich.

From thence I continued northwest on U.S. 250, making for Tuscarawas County, past lovely Tappan Lake. Somewhere I read that all the lakes in Ohio -- apart from Lake Erie of course -- are man-made. My destination was Gnadenhutten, where a group of Indians, who had converted to the Moravian sect, were massacred; it seems they were mistaken for another band of Indians who had raided the area. Again, I thought I had photos of the burial site for those killed, but alas.

Here's a photo of the Moravian church in Gnadenhutten:

From here I made my way into Holmes County, a center for the Amish. But first I passed through Sugarcreek, locally termed the "Little Switzerland of Ohio," and home of the world's largest cukkoo clock; I arrived in time to hear it strike 2 pm:

(Here I want to note that many times I've taken video with my phone, unintentionally. On this occasion, when I wanted to film a video, I couldn't figure out how.) 

From here I made for Berlin, and the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center. Fascinating fact: Amish represent 40 percent of Holmes County; and a majority of the residents speak either German or "Pennsylvania German"!

Both an inside and outside tour are offered at the heritage center; I signed up both; they are short.

Here's a mural on the outside of the center, depicting the Amish/Hutterite/Anabaptist immigrants arriving on these shores, thirsting for religious liberty:

Here's our guide (in red shirt) showing us the one room schoolhouse. First it was a public school, later an Amish school, now an exhibit. He told us many of these schools are still in use around the area; Amish children attend school through eighth grade.

Here's the barn, where they have an original Conestoga wagon which Amish would have driven across Pennsylvania to Ohio. He showed us the bucket that held the wheel grease; it still smelled of grease.

Here he showed us how the Amish "do" church: they don't have church buildings; instead, worship rotates from farm to farm, and this wagon carries the benches, hymnbooks and other supplies used by the congregation. One of the things he explained was that the austerities the Amish embrace -- such as not using electricity or owning automobiles -- are seen not as sinful, per se, but rather as things that threaten the integrity of their family life. Our guide told us his parents had been Amish, but switched to Mennonite. (Amish, German Baptist, Mennonite, and Brethren are all theological cousins belonging to the Anabaptist movement identified with Menno Simons).

After this came the inside tour, which involved a narrated tour of a massive circular mural named the "Behalt Cyclorama." Painted in 1992, it tells the story of the Amish and related groups from their beginnings in central Europe and their migration to many places around the world. Photos were not allowed, but go here for more about the mural. Given the origins of the movement, the narration wasn't exactly in line with Catholic belief; but I didn't think it would be winsome of me to argue with the gentleman every time he got history or Scripture wrong.

From here I drove south into Coshocton, my last county of the day. As I did, the near-mountains shifted to bigger, and then softer hills; this was more what people think of as Ohio. Here's the courthouse:

Then, on my way home, I passed through Newark; and I remembered, that's where Longaberger Baskets is headquartered. Here's their impressive, basket-shaped building, from the highway, at 70 mph:

After this, one more tour, back to the northeast, for the last four counties: Summit, Stark, Columbiana and Carroll. If all goes well, that will be at the end of the month. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Project 88 update: two more counties

It's been pretty busy lately in the parish, although it's weird -- because it's not for any particular reason. It just seems like I've been getting more calls, and having more meetings and projects. Actually, I do know some of the reasons, but still it all seems to be hitting at once. So this will be a quick update on Project 88, my personal endeavor to visit all 88 counties in my home state of Ohio.

Some of my trips have involved going out on Sunday, staying overnight, and coming back the next day; that enables more. But last Sunday, I was looking forward to staying home, so I planned for a day trip Monday to Fairfield and Pickaway Counties. These are right in the center of Ohio, south and southeast of Columbus, our capital.

Since I was on a tight schedule, I took the Interstate all the way to Columbus, and turned south on U.S. 33 toward my first stop, Lockville, in Fairfield County. There's not much there, other than a park with several locks of the old Ohio and Erie Canal (not to be confused with the Miami and Erie, which passed north from Cincinnati all the way to Lake Erie, passing near where I live now). Here are some shots:

As I walked between these walls, I thought of how each of these stones was cut and shaped; such work!

This bridge was moved here, of course. It can be rented for picnics; there are tables nearby as well.

After this, I decided to investigate a place with a curious name: Lithopolis. On the way I passed some apple trees with their fruit being harvested . . .

. . . and a horse in a pasture. I wanted to get out and visit the horse, but I wondered if the owner would come along, and maybe the horse would object?

Lithopolis did indeed turn out to be interesting.

First, the war memorial, using lots of stone (lithos); the city was clearly a place where stone was quarried, although I didn't go looking for the quarry.

Across the street from the war memorial was this inviting sign; alas, the place was closed!

Then I noticed a store, and I went in to visit and maybe get something to drink. The store had water (75 cents! what a deal!); I asked about Coke Zero. "Oh, we have that, but she (referring to the unseen helper in the back) drinks it! We have Pepsi One." I stuck with water. Here's the friendly clerk:

I asked her about some signs I saw for "Honeyfest." Was it upcoming, or did I miss it? "You missed it, it was last weekend." There were bee keeping demonstrations and so forth! Sounded like fun. She also told me about the Wagnall Memorial which was just down the street, so I went there:

She explained this was in memory of Adam Wagnalls, who was part of the Funk and Wagnalls publishing company, which used to produce encyclopedias and dictionaries, among other books.  The clerk added that the books were printed there in Lithopolis at one time. I wanted to ask about the "mayonnaise jar" from the porch, but I lost my nerve. Anyway, here are two original Norman Rockwell paintings on display at the Wagnalls Memorial, which has a church attached, by the way:

The clerk also steered me toward the mill at Rock Mill, so I headed that way. I passed the Bloom Township offices, here they are:

Feeling a little peckish, I noticed this brewery -- maybe they had lunch? But it was closed:

And here was the mill, in Rock Mill. It is open for weekends for demonstrations, I think; but not open on Monday. I met a nice older couple looking around and we talked a bit.

Here's a view of the Hocking River, which powered the mill. You may not be able to tell from this photo, but it has high rock walls and the river spills down from an even narrower channel on the left.

Now it was time to head toward Pickaway County, which was named for a band of Shawnee Indians who used to live here. I meandered my way toward Marcy (right on the county line), where I found a store and restaurant in business since 1840. Here it is:

I ordered a burger and got a pop. "Do you have Coke Zero?" "Usually, but the truck hasn't arrived today." I settled for a diet Dr Pepper. While I waited, I noticed this display:

I took my lunch with me, planning to visit the working farm in nearby Slate Run Park. It was closed. I ate my lunch at the park, and decided to meander further. I found my way to Saint Paul, which seemed just a few homes grouped around a Lutheran church named . . . St. Paul. Here it is:

From there I wandered over toward a point on the map called "Little Chicago," near Ashville, but that turned out to be a bust. I am skipping over my unfortunate encounter with a tailgater -- nothing bad, actually amusing in a way, but no time. I passed through Commercial Point, where I saw this former IOOF hall -- that's the International Order of Odd Fellows, an esoteric fraternal organization something like the Freemasons. My great-grandfather was an Odd Fellow, and he's buried in their section at Cincinnati's Spring Grove. I have certainly seen many of their halls, some of which I've photographed for this tour. The IOOF still exists, with something like a quarter-million members worldwide.

From Commercial Point, I headed up toward Orient, where there is a massive "correctional institute." Sorry, no pictures -- it's illegal to take photos of Ohio prisons! From there I drove up toward London -- what a nice place, I should go back! -- but I was headed toward I-70 and home. Before I got on the interstate, I passed through Summerford, which was located right on U.S. 40, built on the old National Road. Here's another IOOF hall:

And here's a view of old U.S. 40, which might be built right on the National Road, that was so important in our nation's building:

That will have to do. That makes 71 counties, and if all goes well, I hope to pick up a few next week. Stay tuned!