As the cooler weather approaches, attendance at Holy Spirit Church in Hamburg could swell to 120 people on Sunday afternoons for Mass.
Parishioners then return on Wednesday evenings for religious education and sacramental preparation. And now the mission in Ashley County is adding a youth group. With the help of the Missionary Carmelites of St. Teresa, pastor Father Stephen Hart is able to offer a lot of ministries for the mission church of 60 families. But there is so much more that the church could do if it didn’t have to allot most of its income to paying off its mortgage debt.
Beginning Sept. 14 the Diocese of Little Rock is kicking off the second year of One Church: Unite Arkansas in Faith and Mission, the diocesan mission program. This year’s partner is Holy Spirit Church.
The Main Street church that was once a Firestone tire store was built in 2013 to replace a church that was too small and needed major renovations. Of the original loan it secured through the Diocese of Little Rock, $160,000 is still owed. All of its Sunday collection goes toward paying for the mortgage and utilities.
“Without the debt, the parish could look more realistically at what every other parish has to do to support itself,” Father Hart said.
Father Hart said the mission is looking to become more self-sufficient. His salary and benefits are covered by the other two churches he oversees, Our Lady of the Lake Church in Lake Village and Holy Cross Church in Crossett. The salary for three sisters is covered by the Diocese of Little Rock and a Catholic Extension grant, Father Hart said.
The sisters lead the faith formation programs, but they are also training parishioners to lead the ministries themselves.
“The whole design is to raise up leadership,” the pastor said. “It is not simply to take just things over themselves but to provide what is needed to educate but then to form the next generation.”
With donations from One Church, the goal is for the Hamburg church to pay off its mortgage and then refocus its money for other ministries and programs.
Through additional donations or in-kind services, the church would like to repair its leaky metal roof, which was not updated when it moved into the building six years ago. The church has a parish hall, which is divided into three rooms for religious education or sacramental preparation classes. Father Hart said he would love to see those rooms painted and maybe some statues could be installed in the building. The church building also includes a kitchen, office and storage area.
A bigger goal is to install a playground for the families.
“We have a spot where we were considering purchasing playground equipment and mulch to make it a more hospitable place,” Father Hart said.
Through One Church, parishes around the diocese might also want to support Holy Spirit Church by hosting health, eye or dental screenings to benefit the community.
“My hope that Holy Spirit will continue to grow as a community having its earthly needs met so we better minister to the spiritual needs of the people of Hamburg,” Father Hart said. “The whole motive behind (One Church) is we attend to these things so we can minister to the people, bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ and bring the sacraments to the people.”
One Church was founded by the Diocese of Little Rock in 2018 as a way for a growing church to get a one-time boost to become a thriving community. From September to August, one church is chosen as a partner to get financial support and in-kind donations toward helping them reach their goals. The first partner from 2018-2019 was St. Luke Church in Warren.
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