Appeal Speaker Deacon Steve Beers Shares His Experience Making Appeal in Rural Iowa Parishes for Hands Together
Small rural parishes are not always the first place that come to mind when organizations start mapping out locations from which to make financial appeals to help support the ongoing costs of the work that they do. However, many times, its exactly those parishes and communities who are most responsive to the needs being served. That is certainly the experience I have had over the last 10 years of mission work (the last three of which have included appeals for the work of Hands Together) supporting the poor in Haiti.
This June found me on the road to two small parishes in beautiful (bountiful) central Iowa in the Diocese of Des Moines. Sts. Peter and Paul parish in Atlantic, IA, and St. Mary’s parish in Anita, IA, serve a rural Catholic population of only about 450 families combined, but the dedication of the parishioners there is such that both church sites are beautifully kept and joyously served. Upon my early introduction and planning for the trip, Church administrators Mary Jo and Charlotte briefed me on every detail of the parishes, the towns and the people who would be listening to my appeal for help for Hands Together. Mary Jo also informed me that their pastor, Father David Lusi, wanted very much to spend extra time together over dinner to learn about the work in Haiti, which we did over a well-turned country dinner at a diner owned by one of the parishioners.
Our first appeal was at the 125-year-old parish of Sts. Peter and Paul in Atlantic. No sooner had I arrived than did I get off on the wrong foot, (or at least in the wrong direction). Mary Jo had warned me the parish was doing a face lift on their centenarian church building and that mass would be in the parish annex. Imagine the deacon banging on the old church door to get in to see Jesus, only to be ignored, because Jesus wasn’t there. Happily, one of the parishioners (a more enlightened and totally tolerate lady), saw my dilemma and got me on the straight and narrow to the proper location. Arriving at the vesting area a few minutes later, I was greeted by two lively fourth grade servers who promptly informed as to how mass was offered there and what to expect from Fr. David. I also asked them what they knew about Haiti. They didn’t have a notion about Haiti, but they were totally familiar with Christopher Columbus and rapidly made the association with the part Hispaniola played in the history of our Western Hemisphere. Shortly, Fr. David came in and we all headed for the parish multi-purpose room wherein mass was prayed.
Mass was a delightful affair with a lively choir and total participation by the congregation. Having no deacons assigned to their parish, the normal routine for mass lectors and LEM’s was somewhat interrupted, but all unexpected aberrations were taken in stride and the prayerful purpose accomplished. As I got up to be blessed by Father to proclaim the gospel and deliver my appeal, I experienced the heartfelt enjoyment as people seemed to be truly interested and taking in all I had to say. (At least, no one fell asleep and some even laughed at my attempt at Haiti humor.)
After mass as I was greeting the people, I found that I wasn’t plowing new territory. The peoples’ knowledge of Haiti and Hands Together had already been introduced to them by Fr. Tom when he made a visit to Des Moines last year. Many of the people at St. P&P had been in attendance and wanted to continue to help what he had already introduced them to. Another aspect pertinent to Haiti and this rural enclave was that the town churches sponsor an ecumenical mission trip to Haiti every year. The churches get together and parishioners from each parish go to Haiti as group to build houses and provide support for schools in a rural mountain village. That mission trip was in progress during the time I visited, and many parishioners were excited to tell me about it.
Our evening concluded with dinner with Fr. David and preparation for mass the next day. On Sunday, we had two masses, the early one at St. Mary’s some 12 miles away and then a mid-morning mass back at St. P&P. The enthusiasm for our visit continued, and we knew when we left, we would leave many new friends behind. Our morning wrapped up with brunch with Fr. David, and we left the idyllic central Iowa setting pretty much as we found it, but ourselves wonderfully affected by the warmth and love we found in this summer weekend respite in rural Iowa.