February 12, 2021

‘A hopeful moment’

Church dedication points to a positive future for Greenfield parish in a time of pandemic

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson pours chrism oil on the altar of St. Michael Church in Greenfield during a Jan. 30 dedication Mass of the recently renovated church. Looking on is Father Douglas Marcotte (partially obscured), pastor of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis who grew up in St. Michael Parish. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson pours chrism oil on the altar of St. Michael Church in Greenfield during a Jan. 30 dedication Mass of the recently renovated church. Looking on is Father Douglas Marcotte (partially obscured), pastor of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis who grew up in St. Michael Parish. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

GREENFIELD—The dedication of a church is a joyful time for a faith community.

But the Jan. 30 dedication of the renovated St. Michael Church in Greenfield was marked by a special joy—and hope.

That’s because the $2.7 million project began shortly before the suspension of public celebration of worship in churches across Indiana on March 18, 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The dedication of the church now comes at a time when there is greater knowledge on how to protect people from the virus, how to treat those infected by it and shortly after the launch of vaccines.

(See a photo gallery from the dedication)

Father Aaron Jenkins, pastor of St. Michael Parish, described the dedication of his faith community’s renovated church in the broader context of the pandemic as “a hopeful moment for us.”

“It’s a visible sign that things are getting better,” he said in an interview with The Criterion.

In remarks at the end of the liturgy, he spoke to the limited number of parishioners who were able to gather in the church.

“It’s a glorious thing that God has given us the grace to get through all this and especially to be able to continue this project during this time [of pandemic],” Father Jenkins noted. “That speaks volumes to your commitment to this project.”

But as a sign of the continuing effect of the pandemic, the renovation was not entirely completed in time for the

Jan. 30 dedication Mass.

Installation of decorative wooden panels that will adorn the back wall of the church’s sanctuary was delayed because of issues related to the pandemic. So, during the dedication Mass, worshipers instead saw plywood panels at the back of the sanctuary.

Father Jenkins found a spiritual lesson in this: faith is always under construction.

“It’s providential in some way that it’s not finished,” he said at the end of the liturgy. “It reflects our own faith. As we build this beautiful church … , we need to build up our own faith and build it up well. We can’t just come here and worship. When we leave this place, we need to spread Christ’s joy and his love and help with charity throughout this community.”

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t the only challenge that St. Michael Parish has faced since it was founded in 1860.

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson noted in his homily at the dedication Mass how the Indianapolis East Deanery faith community has lived through wars, natural disasters and times of social unrest in its 161-year history.

“Through it all, however, has been the constant divine assurance of God’s faithful presence with those who put their faith in him,” Archbishop Thompson said. “Throughout the course of these experiences, many have found solace in the sacred space of a church…whether for individual devotion or communal gathering…to lift mind and heart in prayer.

“As we dedicate this church, we pray that it be a great source of consolation, inspiration, invitation and dedication for all who seek refuge in the Lord. May those who call this place their spiritual home be steadfast in welcoming, praising, serving and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.”

The parish’s church, built in 1966, has inspired a generation of believers. But no major work had been done to the church since its construction.

The yearlong renovation project was significant, said Father Jenkins.

“The church was basically gutted and everything new put in,” he said. “The walls remained and major structural items remained. But there’s a new roof. Even a lot of the walls were cut so that we can have more viewing space in the narthex now.”

A major change in the church building is its interior reorientation. When it was built in 1966, a large clear window stood above its back entrance while a tall wall stood behind the sanctuary.

About 15 years ago, a colorful stained-glass window of St. Michael the Archangel was installed in the window above the entrance.

The renovation project turned the interior around, putting the stained-glass window behind the altar in a place where worshipers can see it and a large crucifix at its base during liturgies. The change also allowed for the construction of a large narthex behind the new entrance to the church.

Father Jenkins said the renovation “does a great job of respecting what came before us.”

“The beauty that was already there has not been taken away,” he noted. “I think it’s only been enhanced by the design.”

St. Michael parishioner David O’Donnell agrees. A retired engineer who supervised construction projects at Eli Lilly and Company, O’Donnell was involved in the development of the parish master plan beginning in 2012 and helped oversee the renovation project, visiting the parish daily during the renovation to check on the work.

“[The reorientation] gives it a totally different appearance, a different look, a different feel,” O’Donnell said. “And that’s a beautiful piece of stained glass. You see the crucifix, and it’s enhanced by the stained glass.”

St. Michael Church has been a special place for the parish’s executive assistant, Christie Murphy. It’s where her children were baptized, received their first Communion and entered more deeply into their faith.

It’s also where her father, the late Deacon Wayne Davis, ministered from his ordination in 2008 until his death in 2019.

Yet the Jan. 30 dedication stands out for her.

“It’s probably one of the most exciting things that I’ve experienced in this parish,” Murphy said after the dedication Mass. “It’s been so anticipated. All of the parishioners have really contributed to the success of the campaign and to the building.”

She and other women in the parish assisted in the symbolically rich Mass by preparing the altar for the liturgy of the Eucharist. Minutes before, Archbishop Thompson had anointed it with chrism oil, rubbing it across the altar’s entire surface.

Murphy and the other women carefully used towels to soak up the excess chrism oil. She was pleased that such a mundane act of cleaning could become a sacred act of worship.

“It felt like we were ministering to Christ as we were trying to clean the altar and make it beautiful,” Murphy said.

She wished that more of her fellow parishioners could have been there to share in the church dedication. Seating was limited due to ongoing restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“We wanted to fit more people in,” Murphy said. “That was hard. It was great that so many people were here and able to experience it. But I just wish that we could have had a full church.”

Murphy’s desire to gather with more parishioners points to her and O’Donnell’s belief that the renovation is a sign of a positive future for St. Michael Parish.

“I think parishioners will be excited when they are in the renovated church and see the expanded narthex,” O’Donnell said. “I think the pandemic has maybe sapped some energy from all phases of life. Hopefully, it will inject a new enthusiasm.”

“We’re a very faithful parish,” Murphy said. “We’re an engaged parish. Going forward, that’s just going to continue. The changes to the building will help inspire changes within the parish. We’ll become more active and cohesive. It breathes a new life into the parish.”

(For more photos from the dedication Mass, click here. To learn more about St. Michael Parish in Greenfield, visit stmichaelsgrfld.org.)

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