Making that calculator sing at the church bazaar

My fingers flew over the calculator keys as customers lined up at the cashiers’ table with shopping baskets full of Christmas ornaments, cookies, used books, ribbons, fabric, jewelry, bowls, candles, plants and more. Compared to my recent experience at last week’s garage sale, where I was dealing in such small numbers I didn’t need a calculator, this was high finance.
This was the annual holiday bazaar at Newport, Oregon’s Sacred Heart Church, ironically scheduled on Nov. 1. On Halloween I was decorating a Christmas tree at the entrance to the hall, standing on a stepstool putting up lights and pine boughs and crawling on the floor trying to figure out how to plug in the lights, two trees, an animated Santa Claus and a boom box without blowing up the church. Meanwhile the tide of people bringing in cookies, pies, muffins and other baked goods never stopped. 
Other volunteers transformed the main hall into a wonderland of red, green and gold and turned classrooms into the Book Nook, Country Store, and Odds and Ends Room. Tables filled up with jewelry, holiday decorations, pictures, craft supplies, cookies and more, more, more.
This is our parish’s big fundraiser, and it is big. Volunteers spend months collecting and pricing merchandise and gathering donations for the raffle and silent auction. Two days before the bazaar, the religious pictures in the hall come down, replaced by quilts, paintings and signs urging people to buy more raffle tickets.
On Saturday, the kitchen area became a restaurant, where bazaar-goers noshed on soup, Chinese food, and pies, pies, pies (140!), served by parishioners turned waiters and waitresses. People started arriving before the doors opened at 9:00. By 10, the church parking lots were full, and cars lined the streets. It was loud, crowded and wonderful.
I was subbing for my friend Pat, who was sick. I had only planned to donate books and homemade loaves of pumpkin and banana bread, but I wound up staying to do a lot more. I don’t want to say thank you for getting sick—Pat, please get well ASAP—but I’m glad I got to do it.
I didn’t win the raffle, but I came home with two bags of treasures, along with a piece of apple pie and a warm heart.
Yesterday (Sunday), the bazaar reopened after the Masses, with all the leftovers on sale for half price. Whatever’s left will be donated to charity or saved for next year’s bazaar. When I return to church for choir practice on Tuesday night, the religious pictures will be back on the walls, and the tables back in their usual places, the warm feeling of family and friendship will remain.
I worked my way through college clerking at retail stores, selling sheet music, furniture, uniforms and housewares. Forty years later, the old skills still kick back in. If this writer gig doesn’t work out, I can always fall back into retail, at least once a year.

Hobnobbing with the Archibishop of Portland

 It’s not every day the archbishop visits our small-town church in Newport on the Oregon Coast.  In honor of Sacred Heart Church’s 125th anniversary, we welcomed Archbishop Alexander Sample, head of the Catholic church in Western Oregon, for a special Mass and reception on Friday night. It was the first visit by this archbishop, who took office in January 2013.

It was a big deal. Our songs and programs had to be approved by the archdiocese. The Archbishop needed three altar servers, one to serve, one to hold his staff, and one to hold the tall gold hat, the mitre, that he wore during Mass over his magenta beanie, I mean zucchetto. We had three lectors. The Knights of Columbus paraded in their regalia, and we combined the choirs from all the Masses for the occasion.

The church was packed, the yellow and white flowers and candles were glorious, and the music we had been practicing for weeks sounded good.

Archbishop Sample has a glorious tenor singing voice, and he sang most of the prayers. In his homily, he preached about the past and future of the church and our role as followers of St. Peter.

After Mass, we gathered in the hall, where it was so crowded and noisy my throat still hurts from shouting to be heard. And the cookies, oh Lord, for a cookie monster like me, it was heaven.

But the archbishop did not indulge. Instead he stood for over an hour as people lined up to meet him. He blessed the sick, listened to the stories of the old, young and in-between, and kidded the kids. In the picture above, he is talking to Rose Troxel, the church historian responsible for most of the photos and memorabilia on display behind them. Meanwhile, we all fell in love with the tall, handsome archbishop.

Sunday it was back to church as usual. I hope the archbishop got a chance to walk on the beach between events. He did take a few cookies back to his hotel room. He was due in Lincoln City for another Mass on Saturday. Meanwhile, my father is pretty impressed that I sang a solo for the archbishop and shook his hand, and I know the leftover cookies are hidden away somewhere.

Blessings for the Old and New at Sacred Heart

Last Friday night, Sacred Heart Church, where I work and worship, celebrated its 125th anniversary. When Catholics started holding Masses here in 1889, Newport, Oregon was a rustic fishing village with muddy streets, horses instead of cars, and open space where stores and condos sit now.

The original church, a tiny box of a building on Olive Street, disintegrated over time, with so many holes in the roof that parishioners tried to get to Mass early so they could find seats that weren’t wet from the area’s persistent rain. That church is long gone. The church building I know was built in 1952, the year I was born, at 10th Street and the Coast Highway. Brick on the outside, wood on the inside, it has weathered well, although sometimes the building cracks and snaps, and the scarred wooden pews creak no matter how hard you try to stay still.
New religious education building

Things change over time. A hall, chapel and vestibule have been added to the original church building, and the construction continues. On Friday night, after a celebratory Mass and dinner, we blessed a brand new religious education building and said goodbye to the falling-down edifice known as the Ministry House.
The new building is state of the art, light, tight, smelling of new carpet and fresh paint. We paid for it with pledge drives, car washes, dinners, and can and bottle collections, along with money from the church budget and the archdiocese. It took a little less than three years from idea to dedication.
Old Ministry House

We’ve been watching the construction for months. Finally our religious education director Sandy Cramer unlocked the doors and we crowded in, admiring the three upstairs rooms and the big room downstairs. Father Brian sprinkled holy water all around to bless the new building. We sang, we prayed, and we listened to the stories of the new building and the old one we could see out the window.

The Ministry House goes back to the early 20th century. It first served as a convent for several groups of nuns. It has been the Knights of Columbus headquarters, a homeless shelter, a retreat house, and a home for children’s religious education classes. Parishioners remember doing lessons with the nuns, playing flashlight tag in the spooky old rooms, singing songs and saying prayers. The Knights remember solemn meetings and raucous poker games.  But like the old church with the leaky roof, the Ministry House can no longer be used. Polluted with mold, mildew and asbestos, it has become so rickety it’s no longer safe. The plan is to salvage as much as possible, then let the folks from the fire station next door burn it down for practice.
We were invited to take a final walk through the old building. The lights were off. The mildew stench made it hard to breathe. Much of the furniture is gone. Yet it felt so homey. The stained glass, the comfortable couches, the bunk beds, and the old-fashioned kitchen reverberated with a century of prayers and laughter, study and meals shared while Jesus looked down from the crucifix. Saying goodbye was bittersweet, but buildings don’t last forever, and the new place will soon fill up with new memories.
Meanwhile, it’s the people who really make up a parish, and they will go on together into the next 125 years. This is my Oregon family, and I’m grateful for every one. God bless Sacred Heart.

The Spirit Fills the Church Bazaar

It started months ago with people gathering their unwanted possessions–their books and CDs, coffee mugs, unused popcorn poppers, china figurines, and Christmas decorations–and bringing them to the church. The donations piled up in the office, the basement, and the garage. As the time drew nearer, Father Brian started his post-Mass standup routine about the important of buying raffle tickets. You don’t have to be here, he said. We’ll mail it to you—I hope you don’t win a sofa. And if you don’t want any of the other prizes, we have money! For weeks, after Mass, people walked around with strips of gray raffle tickets and signed their names on big posters for donations and volunteer tasks.
Then the baking began. Zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, banana bread, scones, muffins, and thousands of cookies, not just chocolate chip but peanut butter, sugar cookies with green sprinkles, snickerdoodles, and Rice Krispy treats.
Halloween and All Saints Day came and went, pen scratches on the calendar compared to what was coming Saturday: the Sacred Heart bazaar.
On Thursday, workers took down the holy pictures and posters in the hall and the adjoining classrooms. They rearranged the tables, covering them with red and green cloths. They carried load after load of books, CDs, coffee mugs, popcorn poppers, china figurines and Christmas decorations from their hiding places into the hall. They set up signs for the Book Nook, the Country Store, Odds and Ends, the Cookie Walk. They set up tables near the kitchen where people could eat Chinese lunch or homemade pie.
On Friday, parishioners with dough and colored sprinkles embedded in their fingernails came in a steady stream delivering their home-baked contributions on holiday plates, in plastic bags, in aluminum foil.
On Saturday, parishioners, garage salers, and bazaar lovers were waiting at the doors at 9 a.m. With borrowed grocery store baskets in their hands and twenty-dollar bills in their wallets, they shopped and shopped, and, like the loaves and fishes, there was still more to buy. They bought raffle tickets and signed their names to spend hundreds of dollars on silent auction items, including paintings, quilts, and a dinner with Father Brian. They filled boxes with all kinds of cookies, filled them so tight they could barely close the lids.
When the bazaar ended at 3 p.m., there was still more left to buy. So on Sunday, the workers opened the doors again, and parishioners swarmed out of the 8:30 and 10:30 Masses to snatch those half-price bargains, not minding that the usual donuts had been replaced by leftover pie.
Then, sated, clutching their treasures to their chests, they went out into the rain while the exhausted volunteers counted the money and returned the hall to its usual holy appearance, knowing that Sacred Heart would thrive for another year.
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