Inside NCR
This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date:  February 18, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

A morning of unity and joy

Some years ago, the late Thea Bowman, a black Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration and one of the best preachers I’ve ever heard, told the assembled bishops of the United States, “See, you all talk about what you have to do if you want to be a multicultural church.” Then, she instructed, “Sometimes I do things your way; sometimes you do things mine.”

I was reminded of that line on a recent Sunday when I had occasion to attend Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Mass happened to be the final event in a three-day revival labeled “Bloom Where You’re Planted” and conducted by Fr. Anthony Bozeman of the Philadelphia archdiocese.

At first look, there is nothing extraordinary about St. Joseph Church. It is a fine building, airy and spacious, and on this sunny morning its pastel walls glowed warm as the rows of chairs filled up to almost overflowing.

It was a joyous morning, the capper to what apparently was a significant and spiritually rejuvenating event in the life of the parish. The joy was fairly pulsing through the place by the time the gospel choir broke out in the opening hymn and five young women, dancing, led the celebrant and servers and other ministers up the center aisle.

For Catholics resigned to the theory that “our” music is destined to be largely moribund, this is one of those examples (and I know there are many others, though not enough) that disprove the basic premise.

If my limited exposure is any indication, St. Joseph speaks a loud and clear message of the unity that can occur amid the church’s diversity. The pastor, Fr. Timothy Sherwood, is white, as are, judging by the attendance, many of its members. There is also a significant black population. The church has a reputation as a “black” parish, and it is clear how things are done here -- there seems to be a wonderful, holy mix.

During the singing of the Lord’s Prayer, members of the congregation held hands. I stood behind two older white women, their gray heads swaying to the music. A rosary with clear blue beads dangled from one of their hands, and their outstretched arms framed, in the distance, the deep red robes of the choir.

The night before, I had met some members of the church. They can speak at length and in a spirited way about all the hot-button issues of the day -- clericalism, sex abuse, accountability, women in the church, the priest shortage, the place of the church in the public debates and so on.

This Sunday morning, however, they were part of a church full of worshipers perfectly comfortable in their Catholic skin. Here, as in countless other places, we do what we do -- care deeply about the issues, ask the questions, live within the tensions of the day -- because of this moment when we gather to worship.

“That’s one thing black folk can teach you,” Sr. Thea said. “Don’t let folk divide you or put the lay folk over here and the clergy over here, put the bishops in one room and the clergy in the other room, put the women over here and the men over here.”

She wasn’t smoothing over differences, but saying the family, for all its differences, has to stay together.

On this Sunday morning, the family had gathered. As Fr. Bozeman might say, “If God has done a great thing, give him a hand.” And they did.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, February 18, 2005

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: