Cluster unity, gratitude as six parishes host Harvest Mass

Photo Caption: Father Daniel Ebker, pastor of St. Mary, Canton, and St. Michael, St. David, gives the homily at the Sept. 21 Harvest Mass at Dickson Mounds near Lewistown.

By: By Jennifer Willems

LEWISTOWN — With the sun shining through a thick canopy of leaves, the members of six parishes in west central Illinois gathered at Dickson Mounds last Saturday to thank God for their blessings and seek his support as they prepare to bring in their crops.

The Harvest Mass drew more than 350 people from St. Mary in Lewistown, St. Rose in Rushville, St. Patrick in Havana, Immaculate Conception in Manito, St. Mary in Canton and St. Michael in St. David to the park. A catered dinner followed, with parishioners filling picnic tables under the trees to feast on fried chicken, pork tenderloins and hot dogs.

While Masses have been celebrated in other parish clusters as implementation of Growing in Faith Together began in July, this is the first time people from all the parishes in a cluster have come together like this, according to Msgr. Paul Showalter, vicar general and chairman of the Diocesan Planning Commission for the GIFT process.

Father David Whiteside, pastor in Havana and Manito, said they hope to make this an annual celebration.

“I think it’s very important and beautiful for us to express our faith in this way of unity between the Catholic churches in the area,” he said in greeting people before Mass began.

Msgr. J. Brian Rejsek, pastor in Lewistown and Rushville, said the planning committee had envisioned a gathering for about 150 people, but the numbers quickly grew.

“The whole idea of the cluster, as it’s coming about in the diocese, is great for us because we’re so expansive,” said Msgr. Rejsek, who was the principal celebrant for the Mass. “We go all the way from Rushville to Manito. If you travel that it’s about 60 miles.”

In addition to bringing people together at a central location like Dickson Mounds, the outdoor celebration provided the right focus, he said.

“If we had had it inside a building we wouldn’t have had that beautiful, special moment of the bales of hay and all the flowers,” he told The Catholic Post. “The people here are outdoor people. The weather is perfect and it is the harvest.”

“As we gather here today for the very first Harvest Mass, for the very first time when all of our parishes get together, it’s good for us to remember that we are not alone,” said Father Daniel Ebker, pastor in Canton and St. David, who gave the homily.

“Sometimes we get so isolated in our parishes that we forget that we are Catholic, that we belong to the Catholic Church — not to St. Rose or St. Michael, not to St Mary or St. Patrick, but to the Catholic Church,” he said. “We are one church, one people. Sometimes we forget about that.”
Corn and beans are not the only things they are called to harvest, important as those are, he added.

“The more important thing to think about is the harvesting of souls,” Father Ebker said. “Jesus says we have to plant, we have to sow, we have to reap, to bring in the harvest. We are the workers.”

In thanksgiving for God’s bounty, parishioners from each parish brought forth offertory gifts from the land before presenting the bread and wine that would become the Body and Blood of Christ.

Musical leadership was offered by St. Mary’s Choir in Canton with instrumental assistance from St. Rose in Rushville, led by Brett Isley.
Isley, who farms about 30 acres of corn and beans and serves as an account manager for Pioneer, said despite a wet spring that delayed planting by as much as 30 to 40 days, the corn harvest is expected to be good.

“For the most part we’ve gotten a very, very good crop,” he said of the farmers he serves in west central Illinois. “There are some growers starting to harvest corn right now. It’s good yields — we’re surprised. . . . I wouldn’t call it phenomenal, but very good yields.”

The lack of moisture late in the summer has caused the plants to die about two weeks prematurely. The ears of corn have developed, but high winds could cause the stalks to break and send the corn to the ground.

“What we need now really for the corn harvest is dry weather. The rain’s not really going to help us for corn,” Isley said.

The soybean yields are harder to predict, he said.

Dan Zinck, who has about 2,000 acres in the Canton area and is a member of St. Mary Parish there, asked people traveling country roads to be understanding in the days ahead.

“It will be a late harvest. Be patient — farmers will be putting long hours in,” he said. “They’re just trying to get their job done, so don’t go flying around combines. That’s the thing that scares us the most. That big equipment is huge. It doesn’t stop on a dime like a car does.”

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