Catholic News Service
Auxiliary Bishop Edmar Peron of Sao Paulo, Brazil, shares a laugh with a man at the Sao Martinho de Lima Community Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Feb. 22. 
Catholic News Service
Auxiliary Bishop Edmar Peron of Sao Paulo, Brazil, shares a laugh with a man at the Sao Martinho de Lima Community Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Feb. 22. 
Faith and fun? These two ideas are not diametrically opposed to each other, although we can sometimes feel the "brimstone" simmering in the background. And let's face it, on a national and global level, the church has been through tough times in the recent past. Even on the local scene we have not always been proud of what our leaders have done.

However, I know for a fact some people follow parish picnics like groupies follow rock bands. It is most amazing. We receive calls at our diocesan newspaper around this time of year from people who want to make sure we have their names and addresses so we can send them the picnic schedule as soon as we have it.

Parish picnics are most assuredly fun for the folks attending and a good workout for those on the various committees who don't seem to mind all the hours it takes to prepare for an annual event.

I participate with a friend from another parish who persuaded me that I wanted to help her out in the hamburger stand about 10 years ago. Now, I realize, I'm disappointed if she doesn't send me an email inviting me to "work" in the stand. Why is that?

Basically, it's fun. I see people I hardly know or have never met. I fill orders for food and people give me money, challenging my skills as a cashier. I interact with everyone, and the camaraderie and community that forms that night astonishes me.

When I see these people the next year it's as if we have seen each other every day when we haven't really spoken for the intervening months. Not only fun, the outing is truly satisfying.

One of the parishes draws a crowd because parishioners make their own sauerbraten and German noodles called spaetzle. This requires lengthy preparation that the "cooks" don't mind at all. They spend the day cooking together and then take turns at the picnic scooping up the compliments as they ladle food onto plates.

What looks like work to one person turns out to be someone else's fun. Maybe being a lector at weekend liturgies doesn't work for everyone, but there's a cadre of folks who love to proclaim the word, and most do it very well.

Others sign up to be ushers or greeters or extraordinary ministers of holy Communion. Maybe calling their participation "fun" is slightly inappropriate, but it is fun, exhilarating, humbling and profoundly spiritual to distribute the body and blood of Christ to people in your parish community.

Not to be overlooked are the humorous stories that a priest might tell. On a pilgrimage to Italy, a group of us prayed every morning as a bus chauffeured us from one site to the next. Our chaplain began each day with a humorous story before we prayed.

Here's one of Father Vince's "stories." A pastor and the organist in a particular parish weren't getting along. Their disagreements eventually spilled over into the worship service. One Sunday, the pastor talked about tithing and why everyone should consider doing their fair share. Immediately after the pastor concluded his remarks, the organist played "I Shall Not Be Moved."

At the next worship service, the pastor talked about the need for stewardship. The organist followed with "Jesus Paid for All of Us." Another time, the pastor talked about the problems of gossip. The organist followed with "I Love to Tell the Story."

With all of this back and forth week after week, the pastor became very discouraged. He talked to his congregation about leaving. He told them he was thinking of resigning. The organist began to play "Lord, Why Not Today?"

The pastor informed his congregation he would resign, telling them it was Jesus who led him to that church and Jesus who would lead him away. The organist finished with "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."

The writer is editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.