Blessings abounded when Latino parishioners from St. Mary's, Irving, came to Mount Pleasant's St. Mark's, Aug. 3-6, to do projects around the church and service to the less fortunate in the community.
“These missioners were a godsend for us,” said Mtr. Ethel Channon. “I sometimes had to insist they take breaks. And their hard work made me wonder what we at St. Mark's would do to return the favor.”
The project was planned several weeks ago by Deacon Pedro Lara and Fr. Chris Steele of St. Mary's and Fr. Alfredo Williams and Mtr. Channon after Canon Jerry Morris suggested a rural-urban parish partnership. St. Mark's/San Marcos already has been blessed by some help from Holy Nativity, Plano, and Christ Church in Oak Cliff wants to partner with us, too.
“We have sort of an embarrassment of riches from our Latino brothers and sisters in the Metroplex,'' Channon said. “I believe we have the only Latino outreach/mission in the rural areas.”
Just under two dozen youth, parents, sponsors, and Deacon Lara arrived Thursday evening from St. Mary's. Promptly the next morning, they were about trimming trees and shrubs, clearing out flower beds and a drainage, shoveling mud from the back garden, and installing a border to halt more erosion. They filled a large trailer, twice, with green waste.
They did all these projects plus restriping the parking in the unrelenting East Texas heat and humidity. But that's not all.
When they finished the church projects each day, they prepared a meal they would be serving to residents of the Colonial House, a small hotel that caters to a mostly transient population that also serves people on limited incomes, such as veterans, and folks just down on their luck or stranded here. Frequently, their numbers include children from newborn to teens.
The group prepared, then transported the food to the lobby of the Colonial House, where they served and then ate with their new friends. Friday night was grilled hot dogs and burgers with the trimmings; Saturday was spaghetti and garlic bread.
The St. Mary's crew slept on air mattresses and sleeping bags in the parish hall, classrooms, and narthex at St. Mark's. The proprietors of the Colonial House offered two rooms for showers.
As previously noted, we at St. Mark's wondered how we might even modestly repay our new friends at St. Mary's—besides sending them home with some East Texas peaches, and providing some ice cream, and watermelon and cantaloupe, also grown here.
But God always knows needs that we don't immediately see. On Friday morning, Officer Mark Brewer of the Mount Pleasant Police Department came to talk to our Vacation Bible School students about careers in law enforcement and how he views his career through the lens of his faith in Jesus Christ. The St. Mary's crew took a break to hear his presentation. From that, talk about scholarships and other resources followed.
Next thing we saw was a group in the nave with one of our retired teachers explaining career programming and what's available in Texas public schools for resources if parents and children know to ask. We also learned some of the parents have children with special needs, and another St. Mark's parishioner, also a retitred teacher with a special needs child, was making recommendations for services.
What we will plan with Deacon Lara and Fr. Steele is to plan some sort of workshop at St. Mary's where St. Mark's experienced educators can talk about what's available in educational and social services and how to navigate the systems.
Lest anyone think there wasn't any worship going on, the groups did Compline on Thursday night, and there was a Bible study Friday. Some of the St. Mary's folks stopped to attend Fr. Alfredo's baptism of four children Saturday afternoon, and the whole group attended the Sunday Anglo service at which Deacon Lara preached in both languages. Initially, they had planned to attend the Spanish-language service at 1 p.m., also, but some parents needed to get back home to work.
All of the folks at St. Mark's who encountered the St. Mary's group remarked on how nice, helpful, holy, and inspiring they were. St. Mark's hopes to be that kind of blessing to them.