During the Year of the Family, Pope Francis asked the faithful to prayerfully reflect on the important role the family plays in the life of the domestic church. With the current Year of Mercy, the family continues to be crucial, both as an essential part of the local faith community and a parish’s stewardship efforts, showing mercy to loved ones and strangers alike.
“We are trying to bring to light the Year of Mercy and what our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has called us to do,” says Father Raymond Gormley, pastor of the Church of the Incarnation in Mantua. “To reach out to those who are marginalized, trying to help make a difference.”
Like many parishes throughout the Diocese of Camden, ministries at Church of the Incarnation mirror the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. For example, the parish’s food pantry and the recent FaithFULL food drive campaign feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty; volunteers with the Fishes and Loaves program visit the sick, preparing meals for members of the parish who are ill or who have need due to illness in the family; a partnership with Family Promise of Gloucester County and the United Methodist Church of Mantua works to shelter the homeless; and the Stephen Ministry comforts the sorrowful by reaching out to those dealing with challenging circumstances and helping them see that God is with them in every step.
And like many others at Incarnation, Doug and Joan Stetser, who have been going to Incarnation with their sons Andrew and Adam for the past six years, take that call to be merciful stewards to heart.
“It’s our duty as Catholics to give back, particularly in this Year of Mercy,” says Joan. “Incarnation is a very active parish; there are so many ministries to get involved in.”
Joan is a member of the newly formed “Incarnation Angels,” a group of women who come together not just to interact socially as Catholics, but also to serve others. “Our motto is ‘Spirituality, Sisterhood and Service.’ We meet once a month and focus on service projects, guest speakers, and some fun. We’re also looking to work with other ministries within the parish.”
Joan and Doug give a talk about their faith journey during the parish’s Pre-Cana marriage preparation classes. Doug, who was originally Methodist, became Catholic 16 years ago. “After we got married, I started going to church with Joanie. The Eucharist was the reason I became Catholic.”
Doug, who has sung in choirs his entire life, also joined the church’s traditional choir and became a cantor to help further serve the parish community. “I felt they needed more cantors, as well as more men in the choir. I saw an opportunity to help out and I jumped at it. It was new to me. I wasn’t used to being a soloist.”
In addition to his vocal volunteerism, Doug is active in Knights of Columbus Council 6364 and serves as a Eucharistic Minister at Sunday Mass. “It’s pretty rare when I get to sit with my wife in church.”
Sons Andrew, 16, and Adam, 14, don’t get many opportunities to keep mom company, either. Both boys are altar servers and are quick to put on an alb if Father Gormley needs an extra hand.
“My first weekend at Incarnation, I walked over for the Saturday evening Mass and those two boys were the first ones that met me at the door,” recalls Father Gormley. “They put their hands right out, shook my hand, and welcomed me. That first impression was a lasting one. They’re still the same way. They are always the first to check to make sure we have enough servers.”
“I like being part of the Mass, being active in it,” says Andrew, who at 6’2” is sometimes humorously mistaken for a concelebrating priest. This dedicated altar server also assisted Father Allain Caparas when he was Director of Catholic Identity at Gloucester Catholic, during Masses at the high school. Adam also does “double duty,” serving at Guardian Angels Regional School.
“I love being part of the Mass and helping,” says Adam. “I love being right up on the altar.”
As a young Catholic engaging in the growth of his relationship with Jesus Christ, Andrew is active in his parish youth group and has attended the National Catholic Youth Conference. He also has participated in the Diocese’s Summer in the City, working directly with the homeless and being a vehicle of God’s mercy to those in need. “The opportunity to help others is a big thing. Plus you can have a great time doing it.”
Father Gormley makes an effort to highlight the many stewardship opportunities at the parish that tap into the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. “Every week, we’ve been highlighting a different ministry in the parish; we’re doing it right inside the church after Mass. There’s always a representative in the back for people to be able to ask questions about what that ministry is about.
“We don’t always know and we may never know the people that we help. We don’t do it for ourselves; we do it in the name of Christ,” adds Father Gormley. “That’s the big distinction between social work and the church: doing it for Christ. I love that one quote from the letter of Saint James, where he says, ‘Faith without good works is dead.’ Stewardship and showing mercy is really just trying to reflect on what faith calls us to. Our parishioners really strive to live that commitment both in word and deed.”
“Church shouldn’t be just an hour a week, it should be a part of your life,” says Joan. “By volunteering in a ministry, you make it a part of your life. The more you give, the more you receive.”
For more information on stewardship, contact Deacon Russell Davis, Office of Stewardship, at 856-583-6102.