WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Carolyn and Ken Fast find St. Joseph's provides a spiritual centre to their lives.
Ken Fast described living the faith in a rural setting as being "like one piece of cloth" – an integration of family, work and church life into one fabric, not something disjointed.
The positive aspect of such a church, like St. Joseph's Parish in Derwent, is that the parishioners know each other by name because they associate throughout the whole week.
"You don't fragment your life into all these different activities as is sometimes done in the city," said Fast.
"Cities and the suburbs have a sort of fragmenting impulse to them, almost centrifugal, to scatter your life in different directions. What's nice about a Catholic church here in a rural area is that it provides a centre so the same people you work with during the week, you also worship with."
Derwent is a hamlet of 100 residents, about 40 km north of Vermilion. St. Joseph's Parish is a mission church of Vermilion's Holy Name of Jesus Parish, pastored by Father Adam Deren.
At St. Joseph's, Mass is celebrated two Sunday mornings a month, one Saturday evening, and most Thursday evenings. About 50 to 60 people attend Mass there.
The parish's 75th anniversary was celebrated Sunday, May 5. The festivities included a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Richard Smith and some visiting priests, followed by a potluck supper at the nearby recreation centre.
New hardwood flooring for the sanctuary, new altar cloths, an improved sound system and a thorough cleaning were completed in preparation for the special day.
Fast and his wife Carolyn are cradle evangelicals, with both sets of their parents active in Christian ministry. She grew up in Belize, while he was raised in Peru and Ecuador.
Moving around a lot, both experienced various Protestant churches. When they met and eventually married, they delved more into Christian history and the roots of their faith. Ken said the different parts of their evangelical tradition found a greater completion in the Catholic Church.
The couple moved to an acreage near Derwent 14 years ago and started attending a Catholic parish for the first time. They have been active parishioners at St. Joseph's Church ever since.
"Because we are a smaller parish, people will volunteer to do things in the church. There is a lot of participation, and families take turns cleaning the church," said Carolyn. "For the 75th anniversary, everyone came together and decided how to go about it."
She said children who grew up in the parish and then move away to attend college or find work, remember the church with fondness. Their own son attended St. Joseph's Church from age 14 into his 20s. Now taking graduate studies in the U.S., he retains a sense of rootedness in Derwent.
Deacon Kenneth Noster, 61, president of Living Waters College of the Arts, was raised about three kms from the church. His father hauled in rocks that were used to build the church in 1938. Noster was baptized at the church. He's always felt a sense of belonging there because his family was part of building the church.
WCR PHOTO | KEN FAST
Parishioners worship in the 75-year-old St. Joseph's Church in Derwent.
"When the parish began, it was all newcomers who wanted to build something together to be able to share their faith," said Noster. "We've kind of got that same population again. The newcomers are the lifeblood of the parish. Young families are pulling together to make the parish an important centre for the formation of their children."
The threat of closing the church has resurfaced repeatedly over the years. The closure pressures seemed based on size, rather than how active the parish is, said Noster.
"If you only have 25 families, you don't cut it, even if those families happen to be full of young kids coming to Mass. In fact, what I love about this parish is that people don't miss Mass on Sunday. There is a real knowledge of their faith here," he said.
Anyone who sees the fruits of their labours would be hesitant to close St. Joseph's, said Noster. The parish is alive and vibrant. Church life in larger churches can easily become impersonal, whereas church life in Derwent is extremely personal.
"You can't escape facing your own spirituality more seriously, even as a child or young adult, when it's integrated with your social life, your interpersonal life with other Catholics," said Noster.
Likewise, he claims it's the smaller parishes such as St. Joseph's that produce the vocations. They have the environment for encouraging callings to the diaconate, priesthood and orders of women.
The Myshak family is another among the handful of families instrumental in building the church in the 1930s. Born and raised in the Derwent area, David Myshak was baptized at St. Joseph's, as were his children.
He agreed that the spirit of community has kept the church alive. By virtue of its small population, the parish does not have an active CWL or ongoing marriage preparation classes. However, the Knights of Columbus are active in Derwent, and certain programs such as RCIA are offered on an as-needed basis.
"In terms of numbers, we're small but active. Our activities have mirrored the life of St. Joseph in that regard," said Myshak.
He said it's been good to see the younger generation taking the reins as lectors, servers and in the choir.
"We are called to pass our faith along first and foremost to our families. When you see that happening actively, it's a small thing in a sense, yet it speaks to our larger calling, especially in this year of evangelization," said Myshak.
Glenn Spiess and his family used to reside in Lethbridge. So it was quite a change when they moved to the hamlet of Derwent in the autumn of 2010.
"Immediately, we found it a warm and welcoming community. People are alive in their faith here, and I could see they wanted to grow and learn and journey in their faith walk. That was something we desired for our family as well, and in this community we found that we could journey with them," Spiess said.
The family dove right into church life. Glenn is a reader, extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, a knight and has been involved in the music ministry. His son, Maximilian, has been an altar server, and his younger son, Benedict, is training to be a server. The family often volunteers to clean the church.
Maximilian enjoyed serving at the 75th anniversary, and especially enjoyed how collective contributions made the day so wonderful.
"Everyone helped out in some way, No one felt left out, and there was unity," said Maximilian. "It showed how a small parish can do big things. Just imagining that this church has been here for 75 years is kind of amazing."