The people of Mary of the Visitation Parish in Becker and Big Lake are earnest in their zeal to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” an appeal heard at the end of each Mass.
“Our motto is to see Christ in others and to be Christ for others,” said Father Michael Kellogg, pastor of the parish. “We take that very seriously. We ask ourselves, ‘How do we leave our walls and go out and spread the Gospel message?’”
One way, they determined, was by going out into the community singing carols while collecting donations for area food shelves — an idea that unfolded over the course of nearly a year.
Gretchen Roe, the liturgist at the parish, along with faith formation directors Katy Lentz and Barb Olson, was instrumental in developing the Advent endeavor, which she said stemmed from the desire to mark the fifth anniversary of the parish merger combining the parishes of Becker and Big Lake into one parish community.
“We’ve done things in the past to try to get people to know each other, to try to get two communities to be one and to see each other as one family,” Roe said. “This event’s major focus was on helping others, rather than just ourselves. I think that was the crux of what people connected with — the opportunity to have fun as a parish family but also being engaged in outreach in the wider community and doing something to help others.”
In its early planning stages, leadership from the parish and finance councils and parish committees came together to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the parish as a whole and to develop a plan to implement the food drive. Roe said about 50 people attended the meeting.
“We wanted to do something that wasn’t overly burdensome, that appealed to and involved various age ranges and that used lots of gifts and talents so that there was a way for everyone to be included,” Roe said.
“That was the coolest part to see it come to fruition, to see how everybody took their own little piece in getting it done. It felt like everything fell into place. That was the truly awesome part for me to see that happening,” she said.
About 140 people participated in the event Dec. 9 in Big Lake with additional volunteers who were involved in setting up and behind-the-scenes work.
Phil and Mindy Henneman joined in the fun with their children: Emma, 14, Andy, 8, Maggie, 6, Addie, 4, Jack, 2, and Max, nine months.
While four-year-old Addie entertained herself by making snow angels in the yards of some of the neighbors, the older Henneman children rang doorbells and helped collect food. Phil and Mindy sang carols at the end of the driveways with the other carolers.
“It was extremely meaningful to us to see that this was for a good cause,” Mindy said. “I know the food shelves are low, especially this time of year. But most meaningful to me was to see the joy in the children’s faces when they experienced the generosity of people. As a parent, it changes everything when you see that your children have the realization that what they are doing is good and is making a difference.”
The parish collected 12 large totes of food as well as some cash donations. The funds and food will be split between the food shelves in both communities.
Mindy appreciated the opportunity for the whole family to do something together with the parish.
“It was nice for the parents to be included and, really, the whole parish,” she said. “Some were cooking the meal, some were sorting food that had been collected. It was nice to see all the different parts of the parish involved,” she said.
“It was really neat to have the intergenerational aspect, having kids serve along with all members. Our parish has done a great job of this. And it’s fun to see the old tradition of caroling come back.”
Father Kellogg also appreciated the span of generations, ranging from a newborn baby he had recently baptized to a woman he believes is in her nineties.
“We had fun going up and down the road laughing and singing,” Father Kellogg said. “From the young kids on up, it was a good bonding experience, a way for us to go out and share Christmas. It’s something we hope will become a tradition for years to come.”