Over the past two years, Waynesboro residents watched the construction of a magnificent stone church building on a hilltop west of town. The faithful and generous investment of time, skill and treasure from St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church’s members made this building a reality. The church held an inspiring dedication service for the new building on the Fourth of July.
If you are surprised to read about a Catholic dedication service from a Protestant pastor, you have not met Father Rolo Castillo. Father Rolo is St. John’s priest, a member of the Waynesboro Ecumenical Pastor Group, and a gracious man. Father Rolo twice invited our local pastor group to view the church building while under construction. The first time we met in the building, the walls were bare, and utility carts filled the nave of the sanctuary. On the second visit, the contractor had painted the church’s walls with rich hues of color and had installed the pews, which he protected by covering them with black plastic sheets.
All the pastors were full of awe within this holy structure. Father Rolo, who loves technology, bubbled with excitement as he demonstrated the church’s cutting-edge sound system. He read a psalm and played a song from his iPhone; both resounded from the speakers. The words and music filled the sacred space and presented us with a brief moment to praise God.
In June, Father Rolo sent invitations to the pastor group for the dedication service of the new church building. He asked us to wear our vestments and his congregation would provide handmade stoles. When I arrived for the dedication service, the parking lot was nearly full and attendants were directing cars to park on the grass. I parked the car, put on my black robe and followed a white-robed priest who walked toward the church’s side entrance. When I entered the building and turned toward the chapel’s entrance, the surprised greeter asked, “Are you supposed to go in there?”
I responded, “Yes.”
Father Benjamin Badgett of St. John’s Episcopal Church and a member of the Waynesboro pastor group opened the chapel’s door and said, “Yes, she’s with us.”
Father Benjamin and I exchanged greetings with Rev. Paul Pingel. As Pastor Paul and Father Benjamin put on their white robes, I glanced around the chapel and noted twenty-two Catholic priests, all were male, and all were wearing white robes. I offered up a silent prayer, “God, although I am the only woman in this room and the only pastor in a black robe, may I serve You well today.”
Soon, Father Rolo entered the chapel with a huge smile and a joyful presence. Our pastor group expressed our congratulations and posed for a selfie with Father Rolo, our colleague and friend.
As our group stepped outside of the chapel, a female member of the Catholic church ran up and hugged me. She shared that she profoundly missed the community Lenten lunches and expressed her appreciation for the ecumenical pastor group’s participation in the dedication service.
Father Rolo directed our attention toward the Bishop’s arrival. Bishop Barry C. Knestout was adorned from head to toe in beautiful vestments (white of course). Father Rolo introduced us as the ecumenical guests for the service. Each of us shook the Bishop’s hand and expressed great honor in making his acquaintance.
We followed the Bishop to the processional line, which was forming in the gathering space at the rear of the sanctuary. As all the priests, deacons, altar servers, and pastors lined up in the narthex, I turned to Pastor Pingel and said, “Oh, I feel so holy.” He laughed with affirmation.
The special ecumenical guests were the first pastors in the processional. John, our seminary guide, asked who would like to be first in line. Pastor Pingel, a gentleman and kind soul, motioned to me with his hand that ladies should go first. However, I declined by saying, “For this occasion, ladies shall not be first.”
We lined up according to years of service in the ministry, with Paul being first. We processed in and sat on the front row.
The two-hour worship service was one of the holiest services I have experienced in ministry. The music lifted spirits in praise and adoration. The Bishop’s anointing of the Lord’s table took our breath away. The burning of incense stretched smoke toward the heavens. The unison voices of the priests in the Eucharist liturgy were powerful and inspiring. The Bishop’s sermon attested to the historical clarity and the steadfast witness of the parish in the community. The first Catholics in the Shenandoah Valley established St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Staunton, which then formed the mission parish, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, in Waynesboro. After 88 years, the Waynesboro mission parish outgrew its first building. The new beautiful church building dedicated to God’s glory is now the sacred place where the community of faith carries on their steadfast witness and worships God in spirit and truth.
After all the items were dedicated, the assembly celebrated the Eucharist. As Protestants, we went forward and received a blessing rather than the elements of bread and wine. We approached Father Rolo, who etched the sign of a cross upon our foreheads. We returned to the front pew, where I knelt on the prayer bench and wept: In the Eucharist, one of the holiest moments of the service, separation remained. I wondered if Catholics felt similar grief five hundred years ago in the Protestant Reformation when Catholic and Protestant separation occurred in the church.
The celebration continued in fellowship outside with refreshments. Numerous members, musicians, and priests expressed their gratitude to the ecumenical pastor group for participation in the dedication service. The greeter, who I earlier had surprised, approached me and said with a smile, “I am so glad you were here to celebrate with us today.” Her sincere words and smile sealed the holy worship experience with love and unity.
The two oldest creeds in the church, The Nicene Creed and Apostles’ Creed, include the belief in “one holy catholic church.” Whenever the letter “c” in catholic is lowercase, the word refers to the universal church. Over the years, I have learned more about the universal church when united in faith than when divided in doctrine. This awareness of unity started in college when I was the token Presbyterian at Appalachian State University’s Baptist Student Union.
On Oct. 31, 2017, Protestant churches celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. In preparation for the 500th anniversary, I met with a member from St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church rather than with a Protestant friend. This lifelong Catholic taught this lifelong Presbyterian about his passionate faith and his passion for growing roses. His love for roses reminded me of my dad, who had a similar passion. We ended our conversation without answers to the differences in doctrine but united in our stories of love for Jesus.
A few days later, I found a red rose in a vase on my office desk along with a card that read, “From the cradle Catholic.”
Whenever churches emphasize the goodness of God’s love rather than the division of doctrine, they fully realize the body of Christ. May we, both Catholics and Protestants, as members of the body, serve together in the kingdom by discovering unity in God’s love, strength in the Spirit, and hope in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Rev. April Cranford, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Waynesboro, is a columnist for The News Virginian. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of The News Virginian.