By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Closing of St. Joseph’s Church in Binghamton brings Holy Trinity Parish a step closer
Binghamton —- The nearly 90 year history of a parish founded by the Lithuanian community came to an end with a final Mass on November 16. St. Joseph’s second church building, in the same location since 1950, sits directly across from the original church on Glenwood Avenue. Parishioners smiled, cried and talked among themselves prior to the Mass. Many also surveyed the church and its dozens of stained glass windows one last time.
“We realize that we have heavy hearts,” said Father George Sandor, OFM, Conv., Pastor of Holy Trinity Parish. “With every closing, the Lord brings a new opening.”
A week earlier, up the block and around the corner, the doors to St. Ann’s were sealed. They’ll remain that way until renovations are complete. That’s when the doors to St. Stanislaus Kostka, down the block, will be sealed. The former St. Ann’s church will eventually become home to the combined congregation to be known as the Church of the Holy Trinity. The Liturgy and Worship Committee chose the readings for the closing Mass that focused on loss and looked to God for strength. The epistle was also read in Lithuanian, the only language spoken at the parish until English was introduced in 1941. Brother Ed Falsey, OFM Conv., Administrator of Holy Trinity, delivered the homily. “We are all struggling with letting go, with accepting the world the way God made it,” Falsey said. “We can find peace and joy and the freedom of God. Then we become part of Jesus’ resurrection experience here and now. Letting go and letting God.”
Falsey noted that it’s a time of change not only for the local churches but also for the Syracuse Diocese and the Roman Catholic Church. “The Holy Spirit has called each one of us to be Catholic Christians in a deeper and more dynamic way than in the past. We are at a time of reorganization, a time of rebounding, a time of renewal. Our God is asking us to let go of what was so that we may be free to see what may be,“ saidFalsey.
After communion, parishioners made their way to the sanctuary. They took away the flowers, the candles, the altar cloth, the altar stone, and processional crosses. The bare altar was left while instrumental music played and a history of the parish was read. A Lithuanian hymn, “Sveika, Marija, Motnia Dievo” (Hail Mary, Blessed Virgin) was also sung. After a reading from the letter to the Romans, all joined in reciting Psalm 23. Parishioners were asked to write memories and resentments on slips of paper that were collected by the ushers. The papers were burned in a metal container in the center aisle, just in front of the sanctuary. It was consumed by flame which brought a puff of white smoke that rose to the ceiling and dispersed.
Then parishioners, some in traditional Lithuanian costumes, processed from the church for the last time. Some left bearing candles, the Book of the Gospels, altar cloths, and altar stone. Deacon Leslie Distin carried the Blessed Sacrament. After everyone exited, Brother Falsey locked the doors and sealed them with a red ribbon. A reception was then held at the former St. Stan’s Hall. “It would have been wrong of us to simply have picked a day to announce that we would no longer have Mass at either Church. We needed closure,” said Tom Kneebis of the Liturgy & Worship Committee of the Church of the Holy Trinity. The committee had no resource to draw on for the closing liturgy. “It was important that we ask parishioners to physically remove from the sanctuary various items that, as a whole, made it a church.” Kneebis said. “It was, in our view, critical that this be done publicly, with profound reverence, and with as much sensitivity as possible. The final act of closing and locking the front doors was essential for those present to understand the reality of what happened,” said Kneebis.
“The church is not the buildings, per se, as much love as we shower upon them,” said Father Sandor. “The church is the people and it is founded upon the word of God.” he continued. “ It’s the living stones. It’s not the literal stones of a church building. And I think people do understand that and appreciate that even though they’re grieving. So there’s both realities there. They do know that and they do realize there is a future for them in the new parish.” Kneebis noted that the process that’s forming Holy Trinity can serve as a model for the changes ahead in the Syracuse Diocese. “It can be done, however painful the process may be for those involved. We are called to be Church and we trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead us into a Church that may be quite different than we now know. Staying with what is comfortable and secure will not allow the Sprit to bring us into a new and more dynamic experience of God dwelling with His People,” Kneebis said.