As some of you know, I recently relocated to the Bishop Hodges Pastoral Center in Huttonsville, West Virginia to begin a year-long missionary program run by the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. I decided that I wanted to start a series on this blog dedicated to my time here, so I’m introducing Missionary Musings, where I’ll share stories, adventures, and epiphanies from my work and leisure in the Mountain State.
Staff for the Bishop Hodges Pastoral Center’s June programming, three week-long sessions that combine service work with retreat-style activities, are normally given a week and a half of training before they start their work. Due to circumstances related to my last job, I was unable to make training, so I was given a staff manual and a whole twelve hours to attempt to learn it by myself. Because of my lack of training, I wasn’t given the same responsibilities as the other staff members for the first session, but I wasn’t allowed to be a passive observer, either; I was thrown in head-first, caught up mostly in the behind-the-scenes chaos of managing and serving some 50 high school students without fully understanding the structure of the program or my duties as a staff member. This included tasks like driving teens to work sites (which was unsettling for me, a new-ish driver who has never navigated mountainous terrain before), cleaning up after meals, and doing whatever the staff told me to do during evening activities.
Being dropped into a new environment and being expected to do a job without much preparation or know-how would normally send me into a panic. But I was surprisingly level-headed throughout the entire first session, never once feeling like I was completely unprepared or in over my head. I had no idea what was going on about 90% of the time. Given the fast pace of my work, though, I really didn’t have time to understand what was happening. I didn’t have time to process the work I was doing. I just had to do it.
As I read the manual on the day of my arrival at the pastoral center, and as the first week of programming got underway, I prayed for the same thing each day: the readiness, strength, and willingness to do whatever was needed of me. I learned through the program directors a few days after programming began (and through the last page in my manual, which I didn’t even glance at as I read it the first time) that there was a single word for what I was praying for: “alacrity,” which the manual defines as a quick and joyful readiness. The word is a sort of motto for the pastoral center’s June programming staff, and for good reason. The program is only in its second year, so details are still being hammered into place. Sometimes plans to send crews to worksites fall through, leaving directors scrambling to find new worksites while juggling other tasks. The staff has to be flexible and ready to change plans in an instant. Given my very limited preparation for the program, I saw it as more than just a coincidence that the theme of my prayers matched the expected attitude of the staff.
As week one drew to a close, I also remembered a prayer that I recited during Eucharistic adoration after Holy Thursday mass this year, a prayer asking for the readiness to do God’s work at a moment’s notice. I thought that God was done answering that prayer when I was offered the missionary position two months ago, because I had more or less forgotten about that prayer in the weeks that followed my interview. Even though I can be short-sighted, it’s comforting to know that God keeps my prayers and my needs in his heart long after I think they’ve been met.
I finish this post not in the retreat center of Bishop Hodges, where I stayed for June programming, but in a small house on the camp side of property, in preparation for July. For four weeks I will serve as a summer camp counselor, leading groups of youth in traditional summer camp activities. This time I will get a week of training before camp begins, but the camp still promises to be a challenge, perhaps an even bigger one than June’s programming, given the fact that I’ve never worked with kids before. But I have no doubt that God’s grace and strength will be present to me the same way it was during June programming. In fact, I think he’s already started to show me that he’s anticipating my needs for the next month. A few nights ago, as I was setting up icons and candles in the pastoral center’s chapel for Eucharistic adoration, I discovered an icon of St. Maria Goretti in my pile of materials. Only weeks before leaving for West Virginia, I had started attending mass at St. Maria Goretti parish in Madison. It was there that I learned that Maria Goretti is revered as the patron of young people, and I had begun praying for her intercession after I accepted my new youth ministry position. I had nearly forgotten about her when I arrived in West Virginia. During adoration that night, I sat before that icon and thanked God that she had shown up in my life again at exactly the right time, before I would start working with young children.
If these first weeks of programming have taught me anything, it’s that God’s timing is perfect. He answers prayers at the exact moment they need to be answered. He gives all things in their due time. He’s blown me away with his faithfulness since my arrival in West Virginia, and I’ve only been here for three weeks.
I can’t wait to see what the next 49 weeks hold.