The Thursday Morning Friends Group
Father had given a homily and when we spoke about the number of single people in our Parish alone – 577 – we asked what we were doing for them. We realized that probably not all of them were widows or widowers. So here is a group of people that need something, we’re not exactly sure what, but we’re hoping to fill that need. –Mary Bissaillon
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A priest from the United States was visiting a small village in Haiti just months after the earthquake in 2010. The young priest, upon speaking with one of the village elders, noticed a reserved reticence in the man as he was asked his approach to healing the spirits of the villagers. Aware of the urgency of the situation, Father pulled no punches and told the Haitian gentleman, “Don’t worry, my friend, I’m here to help. Why do I sense you lack faith in me?” The Haitian relayed his concern. “Padre, we’ve had trouble with the Americans – the psychologists. They take our young people into dark rooms to talk about their problems. Instead of spending more time in the sun with nature – something that typically cheers people up – they take them by themselves behind closed doors. Instead of surrounding them with friends and family, they do these one on one sessions, where they focus on all the devastation and loss they’ve experienced. Instead of giving them work to do and home-cooked meals, they gave them time to languish, and some even got pills to take! Padre, after a while, we realized none of our people were getting better, and so we sent them away. We are grateful for the Americans’ help, but… our people need something different.”
The young priest thought about for a minute. “You’re right. You did the right thing. What people need most… is other people.”
When we share, we care, and we can only share with other people (cats don’t count). There’s over 500 single people in this Parish, and these are the ones particularly susceptible to the spiritual side effects of loneliness. We are truly social animals. In adults, loneliness is a major precipitant of depression and alcoholism. And it increasingly appears to be the cause of a range of medical problems, some of which take decades to show up.
According to psychologist John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, loneliness sets in motion a variety of “slowly unfolding pathophysiological processes.” The net result is that the lonely experience higher levels of cumulative wear and tear. In other words, we are built for social contact. There are serious, life-threatening consequences when we don’t get enough. We can’t stay on track mentally. And we are compromised physically. Social skills are crucial for your health.
We function best with a diverse group of people around us, and so a few of our plucky parishioners started the Thursday Morning Friends Group (it is exactly as it sounds). Taking place the first Thursday of every month after the 8:00 am Mass, and lasting until 11:00, the group focuses on the quality of relationships. Numbers aren’t important. Just as you don’t measure the quality of your social life against your tally of Facebook friends, the TMFG isn’t out to set records. To find out what they were all about, we asked them. This is what they said.
Damian: So you started in the Bereavement Ministry, and you recognized the need for connection and how we’re all in some kind of pain…
Mary Bissaillon: And not only that, we’re all different. We all grieve in our own way and the Bereavement Ministry may not be what someone needs – specifically.
DH: And so you started the Thursday Morning Friends Group. This is a good sized parish and the best part of being in a big parish, is the opportunity to join some diverse, small groups. So tell me what you do in this ministry.
Marilyn Marr: Well, I’m not a widow. We just moved here a year ago and just love, love , love this parish. My idea was to get into as many groups here as I could to meet people. It helps me when I go to Church and can look around and say “Oh, I know her or I know him”. It makes it a real community for me. So when I heard about this group I told Mary that I would commit to one Thursday a month and help her get it off the ground. You know, make a friend, be a friend.
DH: So tell me about some of the activities that you do.
MB: The first meeting was a brainstorming meeting with 50 people and we had all kinds of ideas. Unfortunately the second one didn’t attract as many people. So we went into the narthex and had our own brainstorming meeting and we came up with the idea of a Potluck Breakfast. Well that was fabulous, and the turnout was great.
DH: It was fabulous – not huge – but the spirit of the room was alive.
MB: We had 17 people and that was marvelous. It’s nice to build mountains but you can’t always do that if you start with molehills. And I am so fortunate to have met Marilyn, because we bounce well off each other – very compatible.
DH: You mentioned mountains and molehills and sometimes we focus on getting our “numbers” up but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the quality of the relationships within the ministry itself, so sometimes it’s good to keep it small. These ideas that you are referring to – what are those ideas?
MM: Well, we’re going slowly. First of all, a lot of the snowbirds are leaving so I’m not sure what we will accomplish over the summer months but next month we are going to take a trip and visit the Retreat House for the Diocese. I’ve never been there or even heard of it, so we set up a meeting and we will go up for a tour. Father will say Mass. We’ll have lunch together, and it will just be sort a day of fun and activity – and that’s really what we’re all about, right?
DH: That’s very important. So when do you meet and do you have a format of the meeting or how does that work?
MB: It’s kind of informal. Our goal is to just bring people together. We are learning more and more that there are so many people… alone. They want someone to reach out to them but they don’t know where to go, so hopefully we can fill that need.
DH: I think loneliness is like the number one scourge. That’s what our culture does. All the technology, the way our cities are designed to isolate and we go to our homes – our fortresses – and spend time in solitude. But the sharing and the caring is the most important thing. This is all about people.
MB: Yes. Absolutely. I love this parish. As you drive in it says, “All are welcome”.
DH: Is there any sort of spiritual component to this, or is it all just play?
MB: We start with a prayer and end with a prayer, so we keep it pretty light.
MM: My motive is certainly spiritual – the idea of connecting. To me, our Eucharistic celebrations are communal experiences. Being in a community that you can feel part of is what is important. Finding ways to connect as a body to the body of Christ.
MB: But Marilyn, I have to tell you, when I looked around Church this morning, I recognized so many people. So many visitors walk in and say how beautiful the church is, and I say ‘yes, and the people are great too!’
DH: Ha! Well thanks for hanging around and talking. And thank you for bringing more community to our community.