Holy Cross Columbiettes provide 'Ministry of Mercies'
KERNERSVILLE — Holy Cross Church in Kernersville has two close-knit ministries to help those grieving the death of a loved one. From helping families with funeral arrangements to serving during the funeral Mass and providing enough food at the reception, the Parish Cares' Bereavement and Columbiettes' Reception ministries continue to bring blessings to the families, to each other and to the entire parish.
Pictured: Members of the Holy Cross the Columbiettes funeral reception team are (from left) Elizabeth Thomas, Melanie Feeney-Lewis, Sharon Ladd, Wilma Tilley and Jennifer Grecco. (Annette Tenny | Catholic News Herald)
STARTED OUT OF LOVE
Eleven years ago, the Columbiettes found themselves dealing with and grieving for the death of their own sisters: within 15 months, three of their founding members had passed away. The parish's bereavement ministry had always done a small coffee reception after each funeral, but now the Columbiettes felt they needed to do more. The women hosted a full reception after each of their friend's funerals. The grateful and loving response and feedback they received afterwards led them to form a new funeral reception ministry that would work in cooperation with their bereavement ministry.
The Columbiettes developed a budget, divvied up responsibility for specific organizational aspects, formed a team and compiled a small list of volunteers. It didn't take long for that list to grow. Many parishioners have been inspired to join the Columbiettes in this ministry. Some joined after experiencing the kindness and care offered during a reception for their loved ones; for others, the ministry simply calls to their hearts.
"There's not a lot we can do for someone when they've lost a loved one, besides pray for them," says Sharon Ladd, reception ministry coordinator, "but we can sure feed them."
Traditionally, people gather together after a funeral to comfort each other, reminisce and often share a meal. In most instances, however, this puts an enormous strain on the family of the deceased and sometimes, finding enough room for everyone is simply not possible. The Columbiettes' receptions not only relieve families of these added responsibilities, they enable the friends and fellow parishioners of the one who has passed to be the merciful hands of Christ for those who need those loving hands the most.
CALLED TO PRACTICE MERCY
The Columbiettes agree that they and their band of volunteers are in a sense really not doing anything extraordinary. They are simply practicing their faith. What they are doing in the bereavement ministry and the funeral reception ministry is simply offering the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to others, as all Catholics are taught to do.
They are people like Wilma Tilley, who, like a great short-stop in baseball, "plays" many positions. She can be counted on to cook food, give a hug, set up tables, wash dishes – a lot of dishes – or do anything else that's needed. Her favorite words? "What do you need me to do?"
Or people like Dottie Saffer, who has done the laundry since the Columbiettes held their first funeral reception. Not long ago, the Columbiettes held three receptions in a week. Saffer had the linens washed, ironed and back at the church in time for each one. She doesn't ask for anything, but her work reflects the beauty, dignity and respect the Columbiettes show for the deceased and their families.
THERE'S ALWAYS ENOUGH
Putting together a funeral reception requires love, empathy, extraordinary logistical ability and, above all, faith in the Holy Spirit.
The reception always provides a full meal. Determining how many people will be attending, sending out "what we need" e-mails, coordinating dishes offered by volunteers, and shopping for whatever else may be needed is a huge job.
"Sharon (Ladd) has it down to an art form," says Elizabeth Thomas, a parish volunteer. Ladd shops throughout the year, explained Thomas – if, for example, she finds hams on sale, she might buy three or four and put them in her freezer.
"The Columbiettes have allocated money to cover any expense," adds Melanie Feeney-Lewis. This includes dinnerware and linens. Feeney-Lewis is the co-coordinator of the parish care ministry. They have a budget and they get donations, she explains, so there is no cost to the families for each reception. Many times, the majority of the food is cooked and brought in by members of the Columbiettes' funeral reception team.
To Sharon and the rest of the team, the work they do would not be successful without the Holy Spirit working through them and with them. No matter the situation, they have never found themselves with too little food – they always have enough.
For example, they once held a reception for family and friends grieving the death of a teenager. At some point someone was moved to order "a bunch of pizzas." For a time there was a worry that there would be too much food, but as they've found time and again, the pizzas saved the day and there was just the right amount of food for everyone.
On another occasion, the amount of food at a reception was quite a lot more than they needed – but the Spirit was at work again. In this case, the extra food was a blessing in disguise, gratefully accepted by a family in need.
The Columbiettes' funeral receptions always have just the right amount of food, the women laughingly explain. That is the point, though. With the Spirit's help, there is no food left on the plates – and everyone is fed.
REACHING OUT IN FAITH
"There are always so many non-Catholics present at these receptions," says Jennifer Grecco, co-coordinator of the parish care ministry, "and I think it blows their minds!"
So many people have come up to the women after the reception is over to thank them and tell them how surprised and inspired they have been because of what they've experienced, Grecco points out. People who don't know anything about the Catholic Church or worse, who have been misinformed, have the opportunity to engage with Catholics, to receive this "outpouring of love," she says. It stays with them, it breaks down barriers.
She relates one experience with the Patriot Guard Riders, who attended a funeral Mass and reception.
"Here this man has served in a war – he came from God knows where on a motorcycle to stand and hold a flag in the heat for hours and hours and hours, and he said, 'We're gonna be talking about you for months!'
"It meant so much to them," she recalls. "I think this is the biggest opportunity we have as a church community to reach out to those who are not Catholic."
The Columbiettes all agree that this ministry is also a beautiful way to reach out to Catholics who may have fallen away from the faith. Sometimes the person who has died might have been the only practicing Catholic left in the family. Members of the deceased's family come and re-experience the Mass. They see the gift of time and the love offered by all the volunteers who serve as lectors, servers and extraordinary ministers. They are comforted by the prayers, then comforted again by the love and friendship offered by the gathering together during the reception.
More than the food, the planning or the other practical efforts – this spirit of comfort and fellowship, this ministry of many mercies, may be the best gift of all that these women can give to these families in need.
— Annette Tenny, correspondent
Get more information
What are works of mercy?
Corporal works of mercy are: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick, burying the dead and sheltering the homeless.
Spiritual works of mercy are:advising the sinner, instructing the ignorant, consoling the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, forgiving all injuries, bearing wrongs patiently and praying for the living and the dead.
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy