AIKEN–Members of St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken truly know how to show their appreciation for the priests and deacons who serve them.
More than 200 people turned out Oct. 17 for the seventh annual Clergy Appreciation Dinner, hosted by the St. Clare of Assisi Secular Franciscan Fraternity.
The event has been a parish tradition since 2005, when the first dinner drew 25 people to a local barbecue restaurant.
This year, all ages attended Mass and a dinner honoring Father Gregory B. Wilson, the church’s new pastor. Father Noel Tria, administrator at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Edgefield; Father Ernest Hepner, retired, and Deacon Bob Pierce, also attended.
Organizers paid tribute to former pastor Father James L. LeBlanc, who is now pastor at St. Andrew in Myrtle Beach; former parochial vicar Father Jeffrey Kirby, who is vicar for vocations; Father Donald S. Abbott, who is pastor of St. Gerard Church in Aiken, and Deacon Robert Waters of St. Mary.
“All of us who serve you are grateful,” Father Wilson said during his homily. “God does choose some people to lead, and St. Ignatius reminds us as clergy how much we are called to give for the faith. We are called to give it all to Christ for you. We need your support, we need your prayers, and we need more vocations.”
During the dinner, organizer Val Cadarr talked about the many roles priests and deacons play in the daily lives of the faithful. The honorees received plaques engraved with spiritual poems, cups and other gifts. Many people wrote prayers and notes to the men and placed them in bags for them to read later.
“Our priests and deacons, and their families, live under incredible pressures,” Cadarr said. “They are expected to be perfect people, have ideal families, always be available, never be down and have all the answers we need to keep our lives stable and moving forward. This dinner is just one way we can help counter the negatives with the positive affirmation they need and deserve.”
Cadarr said it was significant that October is Clergy Appreciation Month plus Respect Life Month.
“Just look at the abundance of life present in the men whom God has chosen to lead us and walk beside us on our faith journey,” she said.
Father Hepner, who helps out when needed at St. Mary Help of Christians and other area churches, said the dinner was a fun way for clergy to realize their hard work is making a difference.
“I really appreciate it because it’s important that in our desire to serve the people, we can experience through their thankfulness the effectiveness of what we do through God’s grace,” he said.
Members of the parish said the dinner was an important chance to show their thanks and share a time of fellowship with the clergy.
“They need positive input and they need encouragement,” said Aiken resident Belinda Mooney.
Dr. Steve Platt said he wanted to show his thanks to the men who make it possible for members of St. Mary’s to have regular access to the sacraments.
“We are fortunate to have them because they are a fantastic example of what it’s like to live your life for Christ,” he said.