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January 4, 2016 | Volume 91 Number 5


photo: St. Mark Parish, Virginia Beach.

St. Mark Parish, Virginia Beach.

St. Mark’s, VA Beach: The “just like home” — community parish

As St. Mark Parish in Virginia Beach creates new ministries and embraces existing ones, it is creating a “powerhouse of faith,” proclaimed Parish Pastoral Council Chair Becky Schnekser.

There are opportunities to help shelter the homeless, to visit the incarcerated and to donate food and time at the parish food pantry. A senior ministry, youth group and young adult group provide socialization and organized activities, and a Mom’s Group meets weekly for fellowship.

“There’s a lot of activity, so it’s not just a place to attend a service on Sunday,” said parishioner Marietta Eakle, a member of the parish Mom’s Group. “It’s really a community. It’s just like home.”

This past Advent the parish created One Starry Night, a family-friendly event that drew more than 300 people. One Starry Night recreated ancient Bethlehem with participants making crowns, scrolls, and a census bureau where they learned to write their names in Hebrew and registered in the census. Sixty-nine actors, mostly teens and young adults, animated One Starry Night which featured a live nativity scene.

The parish, now 1497 families strong, was established in May 1978 as the Indian River Catholic Community. Fifty families joined the new parish and Masses were held that first summer in backyards and garages when it rained. By the end of 1978, the community had moved weekend Mass to Brandon Junior High School and Indian Lakes Elementary School. Community United Methodist and Hope Lutheran churches were used on holy days and other occasions.

In February 1981 the Diocese purchased 6.58 acres of land on Kempsville Road, the current parish location. The current worship space was dedicated in May 1992.

Pastoral Associate Rev. Mr. Michael Johnson, known as Deacon Mike, said Father Anthony Mpungu, whom was named pastor this past summer, has brought “fresh ideas to enhance the beauty and solemnity of the liturgy.”

As Father Anthony explained, “We are disciples called to serve the needs of the people.”

The parish food pantry started as a food closet to serve people in emergencies, according to Lorie Stephan, one of its coordinators. Today it serves 100 to 120 individuals and families per week, supplying them with non-perishables, meat, bread, dessert and fresh fruits and vegetables. Donations come from both individuals and area grocery stores. Recipients can come as often as once a month, and any leftover food is given to other local food pantries and agencies.

“We are called to reach out and build relationships, to respect and fight for justice and to help other people in any way we can,” said Maribeth Baumgartner who is active in social justice ministry. “In helping others we are showing our love for them just as God has loved us.”

Through the Feed Our Neighbor ministry, parishioners prepare and serve a meal six Sundays a year at the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center to its residents, homeless individuals and others in financial need. They serve up to 100 people in the winter and up to 125 in the summer at the meals, according to DJ Bradley, chairperson of the parish’s involvement.

Mrs. Baumgartner said the parish had such a wealth of volunteers for the Feed Our Neighbor ministry that it decided last year to participate in CAST, an ecumenical effort through which churches and other groups take turns hosting the homeless for a week at a time. The parish will provide homeless individuals and families a safe, warm place to sleep in the church from Feb. 17 to Feb. 24. Guests will receive breakfast and dinner at the church and a bag lunch to take with them when they leave for the day.

Mrs. Baumgartner said the parish was “overwhelmed by volunteers” when they participated in CAST last year.

“It was amazing how our parish just embraced it,” she said. “We were very, very blessed to have everybody just jump in and support this ministry.”

Parishioners visit the men’s facility of Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison in Capron, monthly. They socialize with the inmates both as a group and one-on-one, Deacon Mike said, adding that some of the prisoners are “disconnected” from their families and would not otherwise have visitors. Catholic resources like rosaries, Bibles and religious books, are provided and they have conducted religious education classes. The group of inmates that attend these visits has grown to be between 20 and 25 men each month.

“The volunteers are all deeply moved and affected by the change they see in the inmates,” Deacon Mike said.

As a result of their visits over the last nine years, one inmate has received his confirmation, and two inmates have been fully initiated — they celebrated baptism, first Eucharist and confirmation.

photo: “Lots of activity” describes St. Mark’s involved and giving parishioners. The church is alive with those serving the needs of others.

“Lots of activity” describes St. Mark’s involved and giving parishioners. The church is alive with those serving the needs of others.

A new parish migrant ministry provided an array of items — clothing, household items including fans and bedding, and products for babies and children — to migrants on the Eastern Shore this past summer.

The parish helps Maison Fortune Orphanage in Hinche, Haiti, through financial donations. Some parishioners visit there once or twice a year, bringing items which may be hard to obtain in Haiti, such as clothes, tooth brushes, hygiene products and school supplies, parishioner Ms. Bradley said.

St. Mark Parish is one of the founding groups of Faith Works Coalition, Inc., an ecumenical organization that is working to eliminate poor living conditions by providing health and safety repairs to elderly, disabled and low-income homeowners in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. Projects can be as simple as plumbing repairs or replacing a rotted windowsill, or they can be as complex as installing heating and air conditioning or providing extensive renovations after a home fire, explained St. Mark parishioner Lorie Stephan who has volunteered with the coalition since its beginning and is on its board of directors.

“We’re helping the people who really can’t help themselves but who have no other place to go,” Ms. Stephan said.

The parish is working to build disciples as it educates the approximately 400 children in its religious formation. Students in first through fifth grade have the choice of traditional classroom catechism on Sundays, home study or a family model. Youth formation for students in sixth grade through twelfth entails both religious education and social activities. High school students also have the opportunity to attend the National Catholic Youth Conference every two years.

photo: Second grade catechist Meredith Glenn watches the hands shoot up as she poses a question to her class.

Second grade catechist Meredith Glenn watches the hands shoot up as she poses a question to her class.

If the parish plans a youth activity it will be carried out even if only one student registers, according to Fe Guzman, coordinator of religious formation, because every individual “is an important part of this ministry.”

The parish offers several leadership opportunities for teens. For example, about 80 youth in sixth grade and up helped at the Vacation Bible School last summer. Eleventh and twelfth-graders help plan youth activities, and some teens volunteer as assistant catechists for the younger grades.

Jayden Remias, 15, said being an assistant catechist has been rewarding because it has allowed him to touch the lives of his students spiritually and theologically.

Adult religious formation includes ongoing Bible studies, a woman’s book club, periodic classes on a specific topic such as prayer, and annual men’s and women’s retreats.

A new young adult ministry, open to both married and single adults 18 to 39 years old, meets monthly for social, spiritual and community-service opportunities.

Through Wisdom Seekers, parishioners 50 and older gather for food and fellowship the second Friday of each month. They alternate between dining at restaurants with eating pot-luck meals at the church where they hear speakers on topics relevant to seniors such as nutrition and medical care. Sandy Barczak estimated that between 30 and 40 people usually attend the luncheons. In addition to sharing a meal together, they go on outings to places such as playhouses and health fairs.

A rich spirit “call it a fabric of faith” weaves its way through a community in need, and sitting at the loom are the hardworking faithful of St. Mark’s.

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