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Archives Faiths unite to aid others around the diocese

Aug. 1, 2018

By Deacon Tom Yousey
Chair of the Ecumenical Commission of the Diocese of Ogdensburg

“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Serving as a Deacon, these words resonate with me personally each St. Mary's Thrift Storeweek. “Go in the peace” that comes from loving and trusting in a God present in His word and the Eucharist. Serve the Lord by loving others as he loves us through works of charity, through prayer and through constant dialogue with all people seeking to be united as one with him, in him and through him.

As a part Vatican II, Pope John XXIII formed the Secretariat for Christian Unity, inviting leaders of other churches to join with the bishops in preparing guidelines for the “Application of Principles and Norms for Ecumenism.”

Just before his passion, Jesus prayed for the “grace of unity.” The Secretariat for Christian Unity called for us to go forth performing acts of charity in unity with all other Christians, to go forth uniting in prayer with other Christians, and to go forth seeking to respectfully speak and listen with those who practice other Christian traditions trying to understand how we are united as one in Him.

Catholics right here in the Diocese of Ogdensburg have heard Jesus call for unity and are performing amazing acts of charity every day in unity with other faith traditions.

St. Lawrence County
In downtown Canton, two stores with one common entrance welcome all people in need: Church and Community Food Pantry and St. Mary’s Thrift Shop.

When I walked into that common entrance and turned left, Connie Jenkins, the Director of the Pantry, greeted me with a warm smile. Connie tells me that a partnership of, originally five, now six congregations have provided food for families in need since 1974.

Today, the people of those six churches and other community groups donate 60 percent of the food needed by the pantry and provide the majority of the volunteers.

On this day, Rev. John Frary, pastor of three local United Methodist Churches, helps a client with her shopping, as he does one day per week most weeks.

The pantry, previously located on the third floor up the street from where it is now, moved to street level recently next door to St. Mary’s Thrift Store.

When I walked into the entrance and turned right, I first had to navigate around a store filled with shoppers browsing through racks filled with clothing in all sizes and all varieties.

Finally, I met Cheryl Curry, the volunteer in charge from St. Mary’s on this day. Cheryl explained how the entire Canton community supports this church ministry with donations of clothing. Volunteers from St. Mary’s operate the store, open five days per week. She went on to say that the store “never runs out of quality clothing for sale at bargain prices.”

Deacon Jim Snell, a permanent Deacon at St. Mary’s parish, guided me through Canton throughout the day. Deacon Jim, excited about the ecumenical, charitable work of these two ministries, decided about four years ago to buy the storefront with one common entrance so these two ministries could operate side-by-side at ground level. As I walked through that common door, I sensed Jesus’ prayer for the “grace for unity” in a meaningful way.

Clinton County
Speaking of grace and unity, Mary Skillan, Director of the Newman Center at SUNY Plattsburgh, guided me to visit the Plattsburgh Interfaith Council’s Oasis Project in Keeseville, NY. Located in the parish center at the Keeseville United Methodist Church, the Oasis Project provides educational and social support for homeless children.

When I arrived just after the group had finished their healthy snack, four homeless brothers, scattered about three rooms, worked and played one-on-one with four volunteer “teachers”. They completed their homework, studied for tests, and played games.

The Keeseville site coordinator, Sue Wagoner, a retired teacher, explained, “Finally, I am able to accomplish what I expected to accomplish as a teacher: working with well-behaved children helping them to grow and learn in a safe, caring place.”

Starr Burke manages the program at two sites (there is another site in Beekmantown). Starr explained that the 22 faith communities united by the Interfaith Council identified the challenges being faced by the homeless in the Plattsburgh area and went into action.

Working together, the people of those faith communities provided the resources and volunteers to get the program up in running in three months opening the first center in January, 2017.

The Interfaith Council also operates the Plattsburgh Emergency Food Pantry in the United Methodist Church. The volunteer co-chair of the pantry, Dorothy Latta, guided me through an all-volunteer ministry that serves 500 families per month.

Again, I sensed Jesus’ prayer for “grace for unity.”

Jefferson County
Guided by Kathy Allan from Holy Family Church in Watertown, I toured visiting the professionals and volunteers that minister in the many programs provided by the Watertown Urban Mission. For over 50 years, these faith communities (now numbering 22 in and around Watertown) have kept this one, strong institution of charity relevant and growing.

Tammy Olivas and Jesse Brown, the management team for the huge thrift super store manned by as many as 20 staff and volunteers each day, exclaimed to me, “We love our job; we come into the lives of individuals and families every day and, most often, just when they need us.”

The mission has a program to help with almost every human need and if they do not have an appropriate program, they have staff that just helps anyway.

The smiling, energetic Executive Director, Joanna Loomis, excitedly shared with me the Mission’s recent successes stemming from expansions coming out of the Bridges Out of Poverty programming and the Wheels to Work Program.

Through these ecumenical acts of charity, North Country Catholics “go forth to love and serve the Lord” performing significant works of charity side-by-side with people from many different faith communities. May we all sense Jesus’ prayer for “grace for unity” and grow together building the universal church. “May they be one as we are one.”

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