Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church…Unusual Service…Not Welcoming

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Summary
My visit to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, a Roman Catholic church on Huffman Road, was an interesting contrast with my visit to Holy Family Cathedral this summer. Not greeted by anyone in the church either coming or going, I felt much the same as when I meet with a similar lack of reception in many Protestant churches. However, it was a most unusual service with a visiting 77 year old priest from Oklahoma City presiding. Well lit for a Catholic church, Seton is wonderfully accented by floor to ceiling stained glass windows behind the alter. A strong church voice in the area of “Right to Life”, this priest, Fr. Daniel McAffrey, drew the attendees attention to the Churches position in this area. Rarely do I hear this kind of “message from headquarters” in any church service. If this is the position of the Catholic Church, it seemed appropriate to share it in a service of this type. The other bright spot was the choir/musical group of seven, including two of the group who played guitar, plus a pianist. Unfortunately, I drifted back out into our community without any personal connection being made with this church.

Catholics Tend to Not Be Evangelical
My experience with Catholics is they really are not looking for new converts. New members tend to come from “cradle Catholics” and from a steady influx of Catholic believers from outside our borders. So, I was not overly surprised by a lack of a greeting or even a bulletin being handed to me as I entered Elizabeth Ann Seton’s sanctuary on October 19, 2008 for the 11:30 a.m. service.

Except for a large cross behind the alter, Seton seemed architecturally similar to a Protestant church. Modern in design, sparing of ornamentation, it was exceptionally well lighted for a Catholic church which often are quite dark. It appeared quite full with approximately 300-400 worshipers. The musical group was quite delightful, small in number, but having great voicing. The guitars played by several of the group and the piano added to it’s refreshing character. The group sang hymns most pleasing to the ear. At one point, they stopped singing for 7-10 minutes which I felt was an uncomfortable pause.

Unusual Priest
The visiting priest this day was Fr. Daniel McAffrey from Oklahoma City. As the readings from scripture were introduced he asked for our attention because “These are love letters from God.” (Isaiah 45:1, 4-6) This 77 year old priest, spoke on “Right to Life” issues. Saying he was ordained 50 years ago, he presided with a generous sense of humor.

He noted that contraception and sterilization was taking married couples away from God. Saying marriage brings new life into the world, he further noted 80-90% of Catholics were contracepting. Priests are silent on this issue, he added. With 50% of Catholics divorcing, he questioned the role or lack of role the spiritual life played in this, i.e. rosary, confession, reading the bible, etc. Further compounding these issues is the fact that 62 is the average age of priests in the U.S., and 70+ is the average age of Catholic sisters in the U.S.

Consistent with a previous article in this blog, he noted that in other areas of the world, Alaska was being viewed as a foreign mission, with Fr. Jaime, a Bishop in the Philippines being one such proponent.

What’s the Solution?
Fr. McAffrey said the solution was to return to God. Pleading not to be arrogant, as picking up your cross is tough. He called attention to marriage being about children and intimacy. He noted there would be a woman physician available to counsel couples about these issues after the service. Whether you agree or disagree with his position, he was clear and gently pleaded for Catholic mind share on these issues. It was refreshing to hear these issues discussed openly, to know that some churches still care to share church-oriented teachings with their parishioners.

The Eucharist
Very practical and teaching-oriented, Fr. McAffrey clearly explained the sacraments, preparations, and prayers during the Eucharist. There was a great tide of attendees who participated in this ritual, so much so that it appeared they would run short on the Eucharistic emblems.

In conclusion, it was an interesting visit. I had little contact with anyone during the service, except for the Catholic version of “Meet n’ Greet”, The Peace. I’m guessing Catholic churches are not warm because they don’t have to be. Catholics come to church because of very strong programming to attend services. I’m still hoping to find a Catholic Church that is genuinely warm and outgoing, and welcoming to visitors. I tried several times to take pictures of the stained glass to accompany this blog article, but found the church locked, even when I was assured it would be unlocked.
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