We are so much more than any one building

As a young man, I grew up in the village of Macy on the Omaha Reservation. I grew up having Mass wherever our community was able to gather to celebrate the Mass. Sometimes we gathered in the tribal chambers. Sometimes we gathered in the waiting room of a local office building, and sometimes we gathered at a nursing home.

I also grew up hearing stories about the church building we once had and how the land and building were sold and the profits were used to build a new church building in the neighboring community of Winnebago. I know that this wounded many of our church members, but the faithful still gathered in community and celebrated together.

Deacon Don Blackbird

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I had the opportunity to gather with many of the elders from the Our Lady of Fatima Church community in Macy to raise money and petition the Black and Indian Mission Office in Washington, D.C., to help us secure the funding necessary to build a new church building on land donated by a parish member. After many years of work, we finally had a regular gathering place to gather again to celebrate the Mass on Sundays.

In the years since we celebrated the dedication and blessing of our building, we celebrated Mass, we celebrated baptisms and mourned the loss of our members who passed away. Eventually it seemed that the funerals outnumbered our other celebrations. As our membership dwindled, we found we lacked the manpower and resources to successfully evangelize and increase our faith-filled membership.

We had built a church, but we were not finding the success we had hoped to find in building a parish family, which is the ultimate goal we are all called to as followers of Christ and members of his Church.

This coming July, we will be one of the churches that suddenly finds itself through the Journey of Faith process without the celebration of a Sunday Mass. We as a local church community will need to meet and discuss what the future of the Our Lady of Fatima Community will look like.

It is easy to look at the story of Our Lady of Fatima in Macy and see many similar stories playing out across the Archdiocese of Omaha, and indeed across the many dioceses in the United States, and become fearful.

In our fear, it is easy to cling to our identity as members of a church building located in one community and forget that we are called to more. We are called to be sent out to the entire world as part of a Universal Church commissioned by Christ himself to bring others to the Heavenly Father.

I know that the Journey of Faith process has left many people across the archdiocese with many questions and even some fear for the futures of their own church communities.

I too have experienced these questions and fears, but, through the Journey of Faith process, I have also had the opportunity to be reminded that I am not alone, and my local church is not the only one adjusting to the changes in our world and how they are impacting the Catholic Church.

I have had the opportunity to meet many wonderful faith-filled people from other communities in my new parish family. I have discovered a vibrant community of people filled with faith and many graces. I have also discovered the many unique gifts and talents present in my brothers and sisters in Christ that the Holy Spirit has so richly provided for our small corner of the world.

I have decided that I cannot allow my fear of the process to dull my Hope that comes from the Lord. I must look upon this journey as an opportunity to go beyond my comfort and remember that we as a Church are so much more than any one building. I may be from Our Lady of Fatima Church, but I belong first and foremost to Christ, and even if every church building in the world was struck down, we the people of Christ remain the Church.

As a united Church, we have been granted a gift and commission by Christ to be his presence in the world and go out to all corners of the world baptizing believers in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. As a people that belong to Christ and the Universal Catholic Church, we have an opportunity, I believe, presented to us in this current moment of history through the Journey of Faith process.

We have an opportunity to turn from concealing ourselves in comfort or fear in our own local churches and reengage with the call we all received in our baptisms and affirmed through our confirmation.

We have the opportunity to consolidate the gifts granted to the Church by the Holy Spirit that are present in our brothers in sisters in our surrounding communities, who now join us in our new parish families. We have the opportunity to kindle the spark of faith present in the Archdiocese of Omaha and with the grace of God transform it into a roaring flame with the capacity to transform our archdiocese and the entire world.

There are days when I still find myself asking questions and struggling with some fear about the Journey of Faith process. I can not know for certain what the Catholic community in Northeast Nebraska will look like 100 years from now.

I can only serve how I am able with the gifts I have been given and trust in my many brothers and sisters in Christ whom I have found to be much more talented than me. Above all else I trust in the Lord and the guidance of the Holy Spirit and his promise that we will not be left alone and do my best to remember God is God and I am not.

It is his Church, and he has promised that the world will not prevail against her.

Deacon Don Blackbird is principal at St. Augustine Indian Mission School in Winnebago, Nebraska. 

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