By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Last summer, shortly after moving to Louisville, Anne Redinger attended Mass at St. James Church in the Highlands.
Following what she thought was a moving and inspirational homily by St. James’ pastor, Father Gary Padgett, Redinger said she looked around and wondered why every pew in the church wasn’t full.
“When Father Padgett was finished preaching people were clapping,” said Redinger.
It turned out that several other parishioners were wondering the same thing and talking about how to re-energize the parish.
With Father Padgett’s blessing, a small group came together under the guidance of fellow parishioner Don Mucci to discuss a revival of St. James.
They are known as the GROW (God Renews Our World) Group and have been making significant changes in the parish for the last six months.
They found ideas and inspiration in a book they’d all read: “Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost and Making Church Matter.”
The book, written by Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran, details problems the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Md., had faced and how the parish was rebuilt.
One of the first major changes at St. James is the addition of a 7 p.m. Sunday Mass. This Mass has replaced the Saturday evening service, which Father Padgett said was poorly attended.
The first Sunday evening Mass was celebrated on Easter Sunday. Since it was Easter, Father Padgett said, his expectations were low. To his surprise, 130 people showed up.
“Many were people we’d never seen before,” said Father Padgett. “Many said they were responding to the door hangers.”
The door hangers — which were placed on the door knobs of homes around the neighborhood — invited people to visit St. James.
Thirty members of the GROW Group fanned out across the Highlands, visiting 2,000 houses, the first time they placed the fliers, Father Padgett said.
Members of the GROW Group — about 30 and growing — said they also wanted to make the parish a more welcoming place for young families. As Bob Van Bruggen put it: “If you do something for children, you do it for the parents.”
Van Bruggen, who has been a parishioner of St. James for five years and is a member of GROW, has been instrumental in converting the church’s old baptistry into a “parent-child chapel,” where a crying child can be soothed during Mass.
Members of GROW also have coordinated childcare services for the 11 a.m. Mass on Sunday.
Redinger said she remembers times when she and her husband would take turns carrying their young child into the church yard to soothe him during the service.
She said it’s important for couples with small children to be able to experience Mass together. That’s why she was excited, she said, to help with these initiatives.
They are using St. James School’s childcare area for this purpose. Members of GROW said that parishioners have made use of the childcare service every week since it’s been available.
Van Bruggen said he heard from a couple with an autistic child who told him they were thankful for a safe place to leave their child during Mass.
Other initiatives that have come out of the GROW Group are a hospitality team, a men’s Bible study group and a women’s Bible study group.
Father Padgett and the members of GROW said during an interview at the church’s rectory that, above all, their mission is to reach out to the community and let people know that St. James is a welcoming place for all.
“When we are baptized, we are called to live our life in reaching out to everyone,” said Father Padgett. “Every Christian person is called to grow the church.”