I arrived home late last night from a two day road trip back to the Kenai Peninsula.  I’ve had the good company for these parish visits of our Stewardship & Development Director, Mrs. Laurie Evans-Dineen.  Besides working with the local parish leaders to set up each of these visits and receptions, she is also becoming an accomplished photographer in the process!  I’m very grateful for her willingness to hit the road with me and visit the people that we serve.  Having an extra driver along is also a huge bonus.

We left Kenai last night shortly after 8:00pm for the three hour drive back to Anchorage.  As you may have noticed, we have nearly a full moon these days, and it made the drive home absolutely beautiful, with the snow covered ground and mountains glowing in the moonlight.  When we stopped at one point to change drivers, we had some pretty good viewing of the stars and the mountain range.  I’m still waiting for my first glimpse of the Northern Lights!

Our Lady of Perpetual Help was our first stop for this visit, arriving Wednesday afternoon a couple hours before the 6:00pm Mass.  A team of religious priests have served the Kenai Peninsula parishes for several years.  We are very grateful for the presence of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and their dedication to these four parishes and their people.  Presently there are two priests living in community here in Soldotna, and a third priest just arrived in the Archdiocese to join them.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) is a missionary religious congregation in the Catholic Church. They were founded in 1816 by Saint Eugene de Mazenod, a French priest.   Our Archbishop Emeritus, Roger Schwietz, OMI, is a member of their congregation.  In honor of their founder, the priests in Soldotna have a pet dog, whose name is – you guessed it – Eugene!

Our Lady of Perpetual Help has a relatively new church, dedicated I believe in 1995, and a lovely attached parish hall, built just a few years ago.  We had a really nice turn-out of parishioners for the Mass Wednesday evening, and the pitch-in dinner that followed.  I thoroughly enjoy mingling with the people at these gatherings, and sure hope that I get an opportunity to take advantage of the many offers to take me fishing!

This parish has a very warm atmosphere and welcoming environment, with seemingly many parish activities.  I had the good pleasure yesterday to meet a rather large group of quilters.  I don’t know anyone who does not appreciate the beauty of hand made quilts.  Well, believe it or not, the parish hall uses quilts for table cloths!  It was such a lovely touch, and brightened the space in a truly imaginative fashion.  They are treated with some kind of ‘Scotch Guard’ process, and evidently wear rather well.  They have two different  parish gatherings each year where the quilts are a highly sought after prize.

On Thursday we made the relatively short trip over to Kenai, which sits along the Cook Inlet to visit with Deacon Kevin, have lunch and do some sight-seeing.  The view across the Inlet is stunning, looking out at the Redoubt Mountain Range.  Both of these parishes are blessed with a dedicated Permanent Deacon, and each of them are doing some very meaningful ministry.

The parish here is Our Lady of the Angles, and we returned for the 6:00 evening Mass and another reception with this parish community.  Once again there was a good showing of people from the parish, and everyone enjoyed the chance to linger after Mass for fellowship and food.  Both of the priests are celebrating birthdays later this month, so there was a birthday cake and celebration thrown in for good measure.

For me, these parish visits are at the heart of my episcopal ministry.  Every bishop is a pastor at heart, and it is so good to be in the parishes – and especially – to be with the people.  As every pastor knows, when we make ourselves available to our people, they share many things with us, and I’m always happy to hear the things that are on peoples’ hearts.

For now, I’m pleased with the more casual nature of these parish visits, but eventually hope to put some kind of a formal process in place for listening to the hopes and dreams of all of our parish leaders and members as together we plan for our future.

Thanks again to to all for your hospitality.  Thanks especially for the ways you are living your faith and building up the Kingdom of God!  Next stops this weekend, Big Lake, Willow, and Talkeetna!

Enjoy the pics!  Thanks again to Laurie for the photography work.