A Catholic blessing
By PATRICIA ANN SPEELMAN
ST. MARYS — The faithful came by the hundreds. Almost 400 people, Catholic farmers and their families from throughout the St. Marys and Sidney deaneries of the Cincinnati Archdiocese, emptied containers of soil into a large pot as they exited vehicles for the recent annual Rural-Urban Mass.
The event was at the farm of Ron and Deb Wilker in rural St. Marys. It was their first time to host the Mass, which celebrates farmers and the people who share in the benefits of their work. It was also the first time for the Most Rev. Joseph Binzer, bishop of the archdiocese, to officiate. And it was the first time the Rev. Marty Brown, of Holy Rosary Church in St. Marys, participated in a rural-urban Mass.
While there were many firsts, members of parishes from the two deaneries who have attended annually looked forward to renewing friendships, spending time with the bishop and worshipping with others of their faith.
“The farming career is totally dependent on God,” Brown said. “The fertile soil, the rain to grow the seed, the sunlight — we are 100 percent dependent on God for our success.”
The Wilkers bought their farm in 1987. Its 250 acres are sown in corn and soybeans. There is also a house for laying hens. They opened their large barn for the church service and Deb Wilker was surprised by how many people showed up.
“I was totally floored. People brought 400 chairs from the parishes and almost all of them were full. Ron had to take the siding off the barn because it was so hot. We had set metal trash cans around outside for later. When a breeze came up during the Mass, we heard the trash cans rolling down my driveway.”
Brown had asked the Wilkers if they would host the evening service.
“We said, ‘Yes, this is something we wanted to do,’” Wilker said. “Then it was, ‘We had to do a lot of cleaning out. It better be worth it!’ And then we were awed that they wanted to come here.” Nine parish priests, along with the bishop, attended.
According to Brown, the petitions that are a regular part of the Mass were directed to making farmers more productive. Especially honored were families who could trace their farm ownership back 100 years or more. And Binzer blessed the pot of soil.
“The annual rural-urban Mass is an opportunity for farmers and the people who share in the benefits of an agricultural community to come together in a prayerful way to praise God for the blessings of faith: farm and family,” said Pam Long, regional director of the Catholic Social Action Office in Cincinnati.
The Catholic Rural Life Conference of the St. Marys and Sidney deaneries plans the rural-urban Mass, alternating it between planting and harvesting seasons and between the two deaneries, said Vern Seger, chairman of the local Catholic Rural Life Conference. The conference serves Catholics who directly work in agriculture or live in communities supported by agriculture.
“Farmers like to talk,” said Brown. “(Celebrating the Mass on a farm) creates an opportunity for farmers to talk about their work with each other. It’s the idea of getting back to the roots. Our church started as a house church. Members came together to worship in people’s houses, on farms. As the congregation grew, a church was built. But this takes us back. It’s living the faith, so people can come and look at your home and see by your lifestyle the Catholic faith.”
Following the service, attendees mingled, visited and ate for almost an hour and a half.
“The idea came to serve a chicken dinner (after the service). That was a huge success,” Brown said. The St. Marys Knights of Columbus donated and cooked the chicken. Attending families carried in side dishes of salads, vegetables, casseroles and desserts. The United Dairy Farmers in Auglaize County donated milk, Wilker said.
Farmers discussed how their crops were doing, what the weather patterns had been across the several counties, and what challenges they had to meet.
“How do you handle the frustration (of bad weather) or the joy (of things going well)?” Brown asked. Through faith.
As the sun began to set on the Wilker farm, everyone helped to clean up. Then, as they left, the families took some of the blessed soil to sprinkle on their fields. A fitting way to acknowledge their gratitude for all that God has done.