NEW PARISH IN MEADVILLE GATHERS FOR INAUGURAL MASS
MEADVILLE — “As parishioners of The Epiphany of the Lord Parish, let us rededicate ourselves to the work of evangelization.”
With these words, Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico gave members of the newly established The Epiphany of the Lord Parish in Meadville their mission going forward. Parishioners from the former St. Agatha, St. Brigid and St. Mary of Grace parishes joined Bishop Persico, Father Jeffrey Lucas, pastor, and others for a Mass celebrating the merger of the three churches into the new The Epiphany of the Lord Parish. The Mass was held Saturday, June 26, with Bishop Persico as principal celebrant.
The merger process began in the summer of 2019. According to Father Lucas, in October 2020, the Pastoral Planning Task Force established by the Catholic Community of Meadville submitted a preliminary plan to all parishioners, proposing the merger of the three parishes into one. He said about 90 percent of responses were positive.
The planning team requested feedback from parishioners at each stage of the process. Said Father Lucas, “In addition, we were able to tabulate suggestions and ideas regarding the use or disposition of the facilities other than St. Agatha’s, maintenance issues, music ministry ideas and improving sound acoustics. This was very useful for future planning.” The official decree creating the new parish by the bishop was dated May 10, 2021, and went into effect on June 26, 2021.
St. Agatha, St. Brigid and St. Mary of Grace hold a very special place in the hearts and minds of those who have belonged to the parishes. This is one reason careful planning and feedback was sought at every stage of the planning process. Through it all, Father Lucas states he and those involved kept two very important things in mind: “One, the fact that in today’s world every one of the circumstances within which the three parishes were formed and which defined their mission has changed in dramatic ways; and two, the question, “What, then, is our mission now in these new circumstances?”
In his homily during the new parish’s inaugural Mass, Bishop Persico echoed these sentiments, and expressed his gratitude toward all involved for their faithfulness.
“I want to thank you, the parishioners … who have come together to form a new community of faith. You have accepted the changing times and are moving into the future in faith and hope without fear.” He continued, “You, as a faith community, have determined your future. Thank you for your faithfulness to Christ and his church.” The bishop also acknowledged the hard work of Father Lucas and Father Andrew Boyd, parochial vicar.
“I want to express my gratitude to Father Lucas and Father Boyd for their leadership in helping you discern your future as the people of God,” he said. “I am also grateful to them for their spiritual and pastoral care of this parish.”
Father Lucas and the Pastoral Planning Task Force exercised both caution and caring when it came to the merger. Despite the overall response being positive, everyone involved with the planning process still understood the fragility of the situation.
“[The] Task Force realizes that this kind of change is difficult. We are sensitive to the fact that the ordinary path is for Catholic life to be tied to a place made sacred to us by life-long memories,” Father Lucas said. “Nonetheless, there comes a time when separate parishes are called by circumstances and empowered by God to glimpse a larger horizon and create something new. We are in such a time. The majority of parishioners clearly realize this.”
At a reception following the Mass, Peter and Mary Burkett, members of the former St. Agatha’s Parish, shared their thoughts about the merger.
Mary expressed joy at hearing people singing together again after all that has happened with the pandemic and said, "I’m really looking forward to it. For me not being a native of Meadville, it was always confusing to have three different communities that were sort of together and sort of not.”
“I hope we can bring everybody who was a part of one of the three parishes into this new parish and that they will participate and feel welcome," added Peter. "I think we can be a united parish.”
Father Lucas remains positive about both the merger and the future of the newly formed The Epiphany of the Lord Parish. But he also stressed the importance of the parishioners’ role in making it happen.
“I believe it is the right thing to do and the future is bright,” he said. “However, it will take all of us together to bring about that bright future. We still have work to do to hone our ministry plan further for today’s circumstances and translate it into how we will use our facilities.”
Strengthened by the process they experienced, members of The Epiphany of the Lord Parish in Meadville are poised to carry out the mission of evangelization set before them by Bishop Persico during their first Mass as a new parish community.