Parish celebrates the jubilee challenge


SUMMERVILLE — The parishioners at St. John the Beloved took it seriously when their parish was designated an official Jubilee Year site. They produced an extravaganza that was two years in the planning and took all of a fall Saturday to enjoy.

The highlight of the Sept. 29 Jubilee celebration was a morning prayer service featuring Bill Huebsch as guest homilist. Huebsch is an editor, publisher and writer of nine books, including A Spirituality of Wholeness: The New Look at Grace, which is a text for the popular graduate program from Loyola University, LIMEX.

The theologian talked about the Catholic Church prior to the Second Vatican Council as a place of rules and sanctions, a Christian denomination that was suspicious of and even hostile to Protestants. The Minnesota native told about attending the funeral of a friend’s father in a Methodist church in the ’50s; his mother allowed him to go but told him not to pray in the church.

“John XIII wanted to change the course of the church, but he didn’t make it any easier. This Jubilee Year reminds us that it’s much more difficult to be Catholic today, that much more is demanded of us,” Huebsch said. Four demands of the Jubilee Year, according to Huebsch, are the following:

“The highest call is from the Gospel: To pay attention to each other, to give and receive love in our everyday life.”

Blind generosity: “We have no idea how wealthy we are. We are called to reorient how we manage our money. Billy Graham said that 50 percent of the teachings of Jesus Christ deal with warnings about money.”

Reclaim the Sabbath, by making meals together: “It’s in the context of a meal that Christ will appear to you.”

And, finally, “The Jubilee Year calls us to forgive debt, to welcome everyone. Push open the doors of the church.”

“The new church requires a deeper level of faith,” Huebsch said.

The pastor of St. John and the dean of the Coastal Deanery, Msgr. E. Christopher Lathem, thanked Huebsch for “those challenging words” and prayed for guidance in the renewal of faith required to meet the challenge of the Jubilee Year. Huebsch had laced his talk with humorous anecdotes and paced it to move with witticisms and pungent sayings. That, he said, was “the little sugar” that was designed to make the ideas he espoused palatable.

His strategy worked.

Sister Nancy Perdue, a staffer at the host parish, called the talk “challenging and motivating.” Parishioner Mary Jones said: “He makes me feel guilty, but I wish he’d talked longer.” Paul Schroeder, parishioner and catechetical director for the Diocese of Charleston, said that people who were hungry for spiritual food came to the one-hour talk “and they left renourished.”

Hundreds were renourished also by workshops that filled the rest of the morning. Sister Maryjane Golden led a discussion about liberation called “Let My People Go”; Sister Carol Gnau talked about reconciliation (“Jubilee: a Call to Forgive”); Karen Deitz’s breakout session was about Huebsch’s third point (“Sabbath Time: Replenishing the Land of Our Hearts”); and Mark Barwick, director of Bread For the World for the southeastern United States, spoke about nations forgiving the debt of poor countries. Those four topics plus a celebration constitute the five themes of the Jubilee, according to organizer Andy Lennon.

Spiritual nourishment was not the only kind offered at the daylong jubilee celebration in Summerville. While Huebsch was speaking, children were gathered at Summerville Catholic School for their own Children’s Sabbath. When they returned to the parish campus, the Jubilee Feast began under a big white tent.

The meal featured ethnic foods and was accompanied by the Robert Lewis Jazz Trio. Lewis is the husband of parishioner Jill Lewis, who said that the Jubilee Committee decided on American music for the multinational feed and “what could be more American than jazz?”

After the feast, children enjoyed the antics of the puppet ministry from Crossroads Community Church while adults listened to five different choirs from area churches and from Charleston Southern University. Photographers snapped millennium family pictures around and among the many festivities.

The ecumenical spirit of the celebration was in keeping with St. John’s constant effort at interfaith dialogue, according to Msgr. Lathem. “We try to do everything together here,” the pastor said. “We had a progressive dinner at many different churches and people turned out en masse. This whole jubilee celebration has been a discovery for us. It’s a challenge to live a Christian life and to be renewed in that life.”

The priest said that a lay parish committee did most of the work for the massive celebration. He and Lennon and Schroeder pointed to Paula Seebode as the force behind the entire event. Seebode said that it was a matter of the laity getting involved if the event was to get off the ground: “The staff can’t take on any more, so we said we’d do this.”

Seebode’s committee began planning the St. John the Beloved Jubilee Celebration in 1998. If the smiles and the tears and the laughter that echoed across one bright fall day were any indication, the years and the work paid off.