I have a cool story about our new parish--St.Bernards.http://st-bernard-cologne.org/
(For whatever reason, it won't link to the word.)
St.Bernard's is a small parish in Cologne, which is a city in between Chaska and NYA. (Norwood Young America. Most people abbreviate it for obvious reasons.) At first, I was not at all attracted by the idea of going to this church or becoming a member because it's small. As you have probably figured out, I have a prejudice against things that are small. I can see that God is determined to change my mind on that though, seeing that He has stuck me in the middle of all that is small.
Anyway, you know how people can be--they want to try their way first and God's way second, and this is what I did. I didn't want to belong to a small parish, and other than St.Bernard's, there were no other churches that we could belong to. There is only ONE Catholic church in this town--the rest are all Lutheran. I have nothing against Lutherans of course, but it would be nice to have at least a few Catholic ones to choose from as well. Not only that, but the one Catholic church in town is even smaller than St.Bernard's so that was not even a consideration.
So then I decided to go to St.Joseph's which is a pretty large church in the town of Waconia--the closest city to Chaska. It wasn't too far away from us--about 15 minutes, it was big and yet traditional. It seemed perfect.
I should also mention that for the past 5 years or so, I have been doing "church training" with the kids. "Church training" came about when we were having trouble going together as a family. When Max was small, he had a lot of sensory issues that church seemed to bring out in him (I have learned from my autism support group that this is common with kids with Autism) and the other kids started modeling his behavior. The entire thing was very stressful, especially for Dennis. Then my heart attack happened, and Dennis had to switch to the weekend shift to help me out during the week. This meant that we were no longer able to go as a family. So Dennis began to go to the 5:15 mass on Saturdays which was perfect for him since it was right next to his work and he got off at 5:00. For myself, I began to focus on Max one on one, doing "church training", where I was literally training him how to behave in church. I started doing this for him at the age of 6 and left the other kids at home with Dennis. It worked out pretty good since Max got the one-on-one that he needed in order to learn and I was also able to focus only on him and not the other kids. By the time he was seven, I was bringing him all the time and was starting to do the same church training with Lucy. And so I have continued in this way, adding a kid at a time, starting at the age of six, and training that child by having him or her sit next to me in mass while the other older kids (and church trained) model good behavior. It all worked out pretty well. Until we moved, that is.
Since our church is in Chanhassen, it has become unpractical to drive so far for mass--not to mention that Dennis literally drives home from Chanhassen since that's where his work is at--just for us to go all the way back again. It's not great for our gas budget either. Also, we feel we've out-grown St.Huberts. It has become so modern and all about community. I would love the kids to experience the more traditional side of churches, with statues and traditional hymns, rather than the pop-Christian music that they've become accustomed to.
But the problem was that there is no evening Sunday mass for us out here. That meant no more "church training" and leaving the little kids home with Dennis. It meant that I would have to bring all five kids with me every single Sunday. It meant that I would most likely have to stand in the back of the church or crying room since I would have Henry and Anna. And mostly, it meant that all that hard work of training that I had done with the kids would probably be ruined since the kids wouldn't be as focused on the mass because of the distraction of little kids playing and crying or someone to watch them in pews.
Still, I had no other choice because I needed to get us to mass somehow, so I started off by bringing them to St.Joseph's in Waconia. Like I said, it is a fairly big church and I assumed that they had a crying room or a place to bring restless children. Except amazingly, they didn't.
We had arrived on time yet the church was packed with no room for a family of six. I told the usher that I would like to stand in the back anyway. He was very nice and brought out two benches for me and the kids to sit on. This was in the back of the church--the foyer or narthex or whatever you want to call it. I had just finished thanking God for showing us that this was the church He wanted us to go to (I had prayed for some sort of "sign" to show us which church to attend) when a lady came up to me and basically told me I had to go in the church because she was now going to do Sunday School with the children. It took me a while to comprehend what she was telling me. For some reason, I had a hard time understanding that she was going to do Sunday School in the foyer when the downstairs had rooms available. She was telling me that I either had to go in the church to hear mass because they were closing the doors, or I was welcome to attend. Um, I didn't go to church to attend Sunday School, I was going to church to attend mass! So I basically had no choice but to leave. There was no room for us in the church and I knew that even if we could get squeezed in, that I would have to leave at some point because Anna and Henry get restless easily and yet there was no place for me to take them. So we left.
It wasn't a huge deal, because I knew we could still make it for evening mass. It just meant we would have to go to St.Huberts again. I also was ok with all this (though I still found Sunday School in the foyer to be strange and kind of insulting to parents who have nowhere to go with their small children), because I felt that this was a sign that God didn't want us to attend at St. Joseph's. Turns out bigger doesn't necessarily mean better.
So what I thought God was telling me was to stay at St.Huberts. But attending mass that night, with the second sermon for two Sundays in a row advertising their new "small groups" sessions that they were trying to start, left me feeling restless and impatient. The thought of staying at St.Huberts felt impossible. But, I didn't know where God wanted us to go. What with the Catholic church shortage in NYA and St.Joseph's not working out, St.Hubert's evening mass was the only mass that would work for us. Still, I kept praying about it.
Sorry this is such a long story by the way. I promise it does have an ending to it!
The next morning, I brought Max, Lucy and Luke to daily mass with me at St.Bernards. I didn't have any desire to join this church, as it was also small with no crying room, but I liked that they had daily mass. After mass, Luke wanted his bible blessed. The priest was busy praying over someone, and instead of shooing us away, he asked us to pray with him for that person. I was surprised, but we took part and prayed for her. She thanked us and left, and I remember thinking how friendly people were here.
Then I asked the priest--just for the heck of it--what parents do with small children during mass. I explained what happened at St.Josephs and how we had to leave because I had no where to go with my kids. The priest told me that there was no crying room but that we were welcome to use their foyer. Looking back, even though the church was small, the foyer is actually large--larger than St.Joseph's even, with plenty of walking room! Then the priest surprised me again and said, "If that doesn't work out for you--let me know and I will find someone who will sit with and help you with your children."
Wow, I wasn't expecting that at all and I have to admit, I brushed his remark off at first as kind but that was it. I wasn't expecting him to follow through with it because I was sure he was very busy since he was the only priest at this parish.
So I thanked him and was ready to leave, except of course, the kids had tons of random questions and comments for him. He was very kind and humble and took about 10 minutes to answer all the kids questions (both silly and non-silly) and he showed them around the church. When Luke pointed to the Holy Water fount and asked "what's that??" (believe it or not, he's never seen one before) the priest said, "Well, why don't we open it up and look?" He let Luke take off the lid to look inside and explained what it was for. Then they saw the bell at the entrance of the church and asked what that was for, and again the priest explained what it was for and invited them all to ring it--which they did, quite loudly. He asked each of us all our names a few times and then said again, "Let me know if you want me to find someone to sit with you. We'll see what we can do to make mass easier for you."
Despite the fact that he was a very nice priest, and very helpful to someone who didn't even belong to his parish, I still didn't take this as a "sign" that we were supposed to belong to this parish. Mostly, because even though I appreciated that he was willing to find someone to sit with the kids while I took Anna and Henry in the back, I was doubtful that that person would feel comfortable enough to prod and nag the kids to make sure they were kneeling and not sitting, or standing and not slouching. My kids have a really hard time with sitting still and with standing upright, it seems, and taking advantage of those moments when you're distracted, so I have to be very consistent and firm with them. Not only that, but Luke tests everybody--whether he knows you or not. He is not shy at all about pushing his limits with someone new.
And so, I was back to thinking we had to go to St.Huberts and stay there. I went there again and Max complained about the "squishy seats" that make him "fall asleep" at St.Huberts. At St. Bernard's there are no cushioned seats and he declared, "I won't fall asleep in these pews!" All the kids seemed to really like St.Bernards.
And here I finally come to the end of my very long story.
What I finally took as my cue from God to go to St.Bernard's was when I was looking at St.Bernard's website--and found that they have an 8:00pm mass on Saturdays. I had to check and re-check the times to make sure I was reading it right, because I had been on their website before and there were no evening masses listed before. I couldn't believe it. This definitely felt like a sign from God.
No matter that 8:00 is a late time for Mass--it is a minor inconvenience compared to having to take all five children to morning mass.
Not only that, but it meant that I could resume my "church training" again and leave the smaller kids at home with Dennis.
It also meant that Dennis wouldn't have to rush home from work in order for me to rush all the way to Chanhassen just to make it to mass late. Not once have we been on time because it is nearly impossible, now that we live so far away. He could now come home from his mass, we can all have supper together and then go to mass without rushing.
Best of all, it alleviated my biggest concern--that the kids attention wouldn't regress any since I wouldn't have to leave them in the pew by themselves while tending to the smaller kids. And a good thing too, because I'm in the middle of church training Luke, and as I said--he's a tough one that needs constant supervion!
God seems to agree with my plan of church training the kids, which gives me a measure of comfort. Not only does He seem to agree with it, but He has somehow made it possible for me to keep on going with it. I had no idea how it was all going to work out--but somehow He had it all worked out for me.
I still don't know how the 8:00 pm mass came about--if I just missed it the first few times I looked at the website, or if it's something new.
No matter what, it is God-inspired. What seems like an odd time to the rest of the world, lays out perfectly for the family with 5 restless kids.