In Your Midst
The return of children to St. James Parish
April 98

Of all the challenges faced by our Cathedral parish in recent years - the artistic demands of an award winning restoration, the million-dollar campaigns to fund capital concerns, the increasing needs of our community's aged, poor and homeless - perhaps one of the most significant changes has been the return of children to our parish community.

An altar server kneels during Mass
If you were a parishioner back in the late '60s, you no doubt recall the painful and difficult decision to close the Cathedral parish school because the student population had dropped dramatically. At that time, an encroaching business and retail community had driven many residential neighborhoods across the lake and into the suburbs, takang young families and children with them. St. James became a parish of mature retirees and young singles who were comfortable in First Hill apartments and condos. As a natural result of this migration, parishioners of St. James soon saw an end to their angelic children's choir, a dramatic decrease in baptisms and a severe shortage of altar servers. The children's religious education program in those days was frequently comprised of only a handful of grade school children.

Eventually, in the early '90s, as the pendulum made its predictable return and urban demographics observed an influx of thirty-something aged couples with children back to the First Hill community, our cathedral parish quietly geared-up for the spiritual needs of children returning to St. James. Perhaps you have noticed that our childreds religious education programs are today overflowing, that we have not one but three children!s choirs, and at times there seem not to be enough Masses available for all the baptisms desired.

Having for many years now been a part of the children's religious education and sacramental preparation team, today the two of us find ourselves blessed to be in the company of so many children and young people who are fellow members of our faith community. They are community members who, in many ways, are sharing with all of us their fledgling journeys of faith. Perhaps you have noticed these young community members who are in our midst as ones who serve. literally! We are speaking of course about the Altar Servers of St. James Cathedral. These boys and girls, young men and women embody not only the hopes and dreams of our parish, but the trials and tribulations we all experience in our journey of faith.

Of the sixty Altar Servers necessary to support the Cathedral's weekly schedule of Masses, funerals and weddings, and other prayer services, fifty are now parishioners between the ages of 10 and 18. (it was just three years ago that our Altar Server program attracted only one or two children each year). As they make their commitment to enter the Altar Servers program, each of our young "recruits" attend introductory training sessions before being paired with a "veteran" server and assigned to a Sunday Mass. Its these experienced servers who continue to mentor and guide the younger ones until they too can flawlessly perform the duties of serving at St. James Cathedral's beautiful liturgies.

Many of our servers give of themselves under less than ideal circumstances, whether its dealing with the dynamics of a broken home due to divorce or death of a parerit, or attempting to integrate themselves into a new culture after arriving from a distant land, or the constant juggling of school and/or work demands with their volunteer efforts or just the simple act of motivating themselves to arrive at St. James for "one more important service." Their actions require more than just a sense of duty. This kind of devotion requires a love of community and a strong belief that livirig ones faith is not achieved through acts of solitary devotion, but through acts of community engagement which lead one to Christ.

"St. James portrays goodness through out the community," comments one of our high school-aged servers, "(from) its glorious architecture to volunteers who devote time to continue this excellent reputation. I feel privileged to serve God and the community at St. James."

Love of community and a "living your faith" doctrine is alive and well among our servers - and when asked, they weren't afraid to tell us about it. "At first, serving was a scary experience. I was one of the first girls and it was hard ... but serving is a lot of fun. I get the chance to help my community and God." One of our experienced servers sees an opportunity to become more involved within the church, "You become familiar with people, the Mass, the way things work ... you're serving God and experiencing how things are."

After beginning as servers, many of our young people have become more and more involved with other ministries at the Cathedral - eucharistic ministers, lectors, choir, even witness speakers for our Sacrificial Giving program. "My need to do something in the church helped me to meet many of my more spiritual needs. it gave me an avenue to give back to my community..".

Through our work with the children and young people of St. James Cathedral, we are acutely aware that God has blessed us with His presence through our experiences with others. Perhaps one young altar server best expresses the value of service within our community of faith. "The reason why I spend my Sunday's altar serving is because I believe that it's a good way to help out God and the church."

John and Rose Dolan, parishioners for the past 15 years, have served as Eucharistic Ministers, team teachers in the Children's Religious Education program, chairpersons of the annual parish picnic, and participants in Great Music for Great Cathedrals. Currently, Rose is the coordinator of the children's Altar Servers program and teaches confirmation classes to high school aged youth. John serves as the Cathedral Master of Ceremonies. Both John and Rose hold full time positions in one of the downtown Seattle law firms.

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