Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Well this is new to me, but with all the activity in our life right now I thought this might just be the way to keep you all informed. This first entry will try to document how we were led to this ministry – it took over 3 years so it’s a bit lengthy, so get a cup of coffee, here we go:

This adventure actually started when I was laid off after 20 years in high tech and couldn't find work. At the time I was close to being ordained to the Permanent Diaconate in the Catholic Church. With no job prospects I decided to try to leverage my management skills in a ministerial role. Two weeks later I was hired as Administrator of the Sacred Hearts Retreat Center in Wareham.

This is a facility owned by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a missionary order initially started in France, but now world-wide. After managing this property for about 3 years I mentioned to one of the visiting priests of the Congregation that my wife and I had always thought of doing missionary work later in life, while we still had our health. He replied that if we wanted to see a missionary parish, we were welcome to visit his on Nassau. About a month later, that is exactly what we did.

We visited Fr. Martin Gomes at St. Joseph's parish in Nassau. It was clear that once you left the casinos and resorts of Paradise Island on Nassau, you soon discovered the homes of the local Bahamian people who work as waiters, waitresses, groundskeepers, maintenance workers, etc. at the resorts. Many have no running water and must carry it from the corner spigot to have water at home. Home may be a cinder block cube with a tin roof. Electricity may simply stop. Yet, they always have a smile and a good word, and welcomed us as long lost friends.
On Sunday everyone showed up in their Sunday best and it was clear they wanted to be at Church. Every verse of every song was sung. The sign of peace required everyone to leave their pews and everyone hugged everyone. It was a celebration, and we felt right at home.
At the end of our stay we told Martin we thought this was something we could do and he suggested we meet the Archbishop. We were willing, but we were leaving the next day - his response to that was, "You're not in Boston anymore." He picked up the phone and 20 minutes later we were sitting in the office of the Archbishop of Nassau, Archbishop Patrick Pinder.
We had a wonderful conversation, with our learning he had 20 parishes with no clergy at all and we began to realize there were people here who wanted to worship who had no clergy to lead them. We traded email addresses and promised to stay in touch.

When we returned to the US and word got out we were seriously considering this as a missionary effort, other priests we knew from my work at the Retreat Center who had been assigned to the Bahamas told us that if were serious we should go back in the summer. Our first trip was in DEC when it was 70 degrees everyday. In AUG it can be over 100 and there are bugs - big bugs. They also suggested we go to one of the outer 'family' islands to get away from Nassau and experience a different part of Bahamian life.Over the year I emailed the Archbishop our ideas and questions and when he heard the suggestion about returning in the summer he agreed, "Why not 3 weeks in AUG and I think you'll enjoy Andros".

So we flew into Nassau, met the Archbishop and collected keys then we flew to Andros. The plane was a 20-seater and 15 minutes later we were on the ground.Our ministry for this trip was to serve 3 different communities. We were to stay at St. John Chrysostom parish in Fresh Creek, while also serving a US Navy base (AUTEC) that does underwater acoustic testing primarily for submarines, and Christ the King parish in Cargill Creek about 40 minutes south.

Andros is the largest Bahamian island geographically, but it is only populated on the very east coast, the rest of the island is pretty much swamp.We were met at the airport on Saturday and after unpacking, and settling in, we heading off to AUTEC to do the Saturday evening liturgy. The people were great and the service seemed to be received very well.

The Sunday routine was rather busy. One of the local men, Peter, arrived early and took the van to go pick up local people who have no way of getting to church. Peter also played a drum, the only instrument at St. John's. Again the people were wonderful, very welcoming, enthusiastic, and involved in the service. As soon as it ended, Peter drove the local people home and then we drove about an hour to Christ the King for an11AM liturgy. As we drove we stopped at towns along the way and picked up those who had no transportation. Once we arrived and unloaded, another local man, Harold, took the van to pick up the locals near this church. Here we had not only a drum, but also an electric keyboard and once more the people were welcoming and enthusiastic and we felt right at home.After we were finished the same routine happened in reverse. Harold took the locals home, when he returned all the folks from other townships piled in and we headed back to St. John's, dropping people off along the way.

Once back at St. Johns, we had a few moments to catch our breath when we discovered a local homeless man sleeping on the church property. He became our friend and we would share a sandwich with him from time to time. Initially this was a concern for me - I didn't know this homeless man or how safe or risky it was to be feeding him. My wife's response was one that taught me a bit about what our attitude should be. "Frank, he's hungry, where else should he go if not the Church?"

With weekend liturgies over Ginni and I toured the island, got acquainted with some of our parishioners, and decided that we would try to initiate mid-week Adoration at both parishes. We scheduled a Holy Hour for THUR night at St. John and FRI for Christ the King. Once more, both were well received and the people complimented us on the service and my reflection.

After the 2nd weekend liturgy a young mother approached us about baptizing her daughter. The child was 1 and Ginni and I set up a time for her and the God-parents to come to the rectory for a Baptism Prep session and we planned to baptize her the following SUN.

When I looked into what we were to use for a Baptismal Font we discovered that they used one of the Corning Ware bowls in the kitchen. The same one we had made tuna noodle in the night before. We thought we should try to elevate and consecrate a specific font used just for baptism. Ginni found a very nice set of stainless steel bowls and we set aside the largest one, as well as a conch shell we found at the beach. On SUN, before the entire community, I consecrated the bowl and shell as the baptismal font - then we used them to baptize the little girl.

At the end of our stay we left Andros and returned to Nassau. We met with the Archbishop confident the heat and bugs (which were intense) were things we could deal with. He encouraged us to write up what we thought we might need as a model for ministry, which we did, then put our house on the market.

A year later we returned a 3rd time, letting the Androsians know we were trying to sell our home to come here permanently, but the housing market was making it impossible. While we wanted to go, we have financial obligations that necessitated selling the house.

When we returned to the US after this trip, several people suggested renting. Our contract with the realtor was up and so, we took it off the market, offered it as a rental, and were swamped with people. There is a lot of detail in how all that went down, but suffice it to say, we quit or jobs in July, our home is rented, our vacation cottage in NH is rented, and our work permits have arrived. Soon we will have dates for the move from Archbishop Pinder and we will be off.


Alberto & Meredith Jimeno said...

Mr. Tremblay - congratulations and best wishes on this new chapter of your lifes. Sounds like it is going to be an unbelievable experience! Make sure you pack a fly rod and some Crazy Charlies!


Liza said...

Congrats Ginni and Frank! Joe and I can't wait to hear from you after you're settled in on Andros. Looking forward to your blog posts!

Frank said...

Frank and Ginny,
this is a wonderful way to stay in touch. While you had told us most of the story, it has quite an impact when read as a whole. We know God is with you in this ministry.

Frank and Ellen

Adam said...

We hope you made it to The Bahamas safely. Good luck on your new adventure and have fun! The blog is great!!

-Adam & Lori Najjar

Liza said...

Hope your tummy is feeling better Frank!