We Walk By Faith

Starting in June earlier this summer, our Sandusky Catholic Parishes began scheduling weekly walks at various locations throughout Erie County in a program called Friday Fitness & Fellowship. Each week on Friday mornings at 9:00, a small group gathers at a predetermined location – usually a park or trail or some other outdoor site – to take a mile or two walk through the area. We have had a few rainout cancellations, but most of the scheduled walks have taken place. I am blessed with a current work schedule that typically allows me to take this hour or so each week to spend some quality time getting my head back on straight as I share some fresh air with some great fellow Catholics – many of whom I did not really know well at all as recently as this past May. My wife is typically off on Fridays so she has joined me on most of the walks, and our daughter has taken part in quite a few as well, although she’s had a few summer obligations and is currently in band camp and cheer practices in preparation for the new school year right around the corner. So her availability for the remainder of these walking Fridays is unlikely.

Each week they take a group photo and post those to the church social media pages. I don’t have all of them, but here are a few:

June 4, 2021 – Downtown Sandusky

June 11, 2021 – Sheldon’s Marsh

June 25, 2021 – Huron River Path

July 2, 2021 – Hoffman Woods

July 9, 2021 – Castalia Quarry

July 30, 2021 – Huron Lake Front Park

August 6, 2021 – Sorrowful Mother Shrine

Regular readers of the blog know that my wife took a tumble a few weeks ago and ended up with an eye injury. (See Guardian Angels on the Court for that story if you haven’t read it previously). In the process of her fall, she bent her eyeglass frames and we had to order new frames for her lenses. So she was without glasses for a bit. Her unaided eyesight is pretty poor and she had no old prescription backup pair to wear. She had to suffer through that week with poor vision, but luckily I was able to drive her to and from work.

It just so happened that the week she was glass-less was also the week that the Fitness & Fellowship group photo ran in the local newspaper. The president of her company saw our photo in the paper and sent it to her. She joked to him that not having her glasses that Friday = she was simply walking by faith and not by sight – tying it to a popular church hymn based on one of St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians!

So we’ve walked several different parks and trails over the past few months. The most recent walk was on August 6th. I think this was originally supposed to be the final walk in the series, but everyone was having such a good time gathering each week, that they added in extra dates to extend the schedule. But this past walk was meant to be a little bit different. The meeting place was to be at the Sorrowful Mother Shrine in Bellevue and our morning walk would consist of an outdoor Rosary walk – followed by the opportunity to individually stroll the grounds further, celebrate the sacrament of confession, attend a small group Mass, and have a fellowship lunch.

Our daughter was signed up to attend Catholic Youth Summer Camp at camp Damascus that same week in central Ohio. Her schedule included a Sunday through Friday program with a closing Mass on Friday early afternoon for all families to attend prior to retrieving their children. My wife and I originally thought we were destined to miss the Fitness & Fellowship walk at the Shrine due to the drive time necessary to pick Kassidy up. But as we reconsidered the route – and the fact that going to the Shrine would already put us about 30 minutes closer to our destination – we decided that we could probably make just the Rosary walk itself, and leave prior to the other scheduled events.

As I said, Fridays are usually my wife’s day off, but a heavier workload with a short staff has left her routinely going in early, staying late, and working some weekends recently. This past Friday was no different, so we decided it would be best if I drove her to work at 6:00 for a couple of hours and then planned to pick her up at 8:30 on the way to the Shrine walk. As I drove to get her Friday morning, I had my car radio tuned to Annunciation Radio and had the pleasure of hearing the live morning show segment that I think they call Taking a Walk with Fr. Jeff Walker.

Fr. Jeff Walker (you get the play on words with the segment title) was an associate pastor at our Sandusky Catholic Parishes for three years from 2017 through 2020. Prior to entering the seminary, Fr. Jeff had worked as a ride operator at Cedar Point and is still quite fond of the park and its thrill rides – often talking to the kids in our parishes (and adult enthusiasts like myself) about his favorite rides there and even working Cedar Point into a homily or two. He gave some of the most thought provoking homilies and was very engaging to talk to regardless of the subject matter of the conversation. Fr. Jeff is the kind of guy who could make a discussion of paint drying on the wall engaging and interesting on so many layers (not that he ever talked about that particular topic to my recollection). When COVID hit in early 2020 and everything – including weekly Masses – was shut down in March, Fr. Jeff soon fell into a weekly pattern of hosting Facebook Live video chat events. He interacted with many of our parishioners answering questions or acknowledging comments they posted in the chat about everything under the sun – theology and spirituality, food and entertainment, sports and recreation… And there were often questions about Cedar Point as well. Despite being stuck at home and unable to attend Mass or interact with our priests in person during the COVID lockdown, Fr. Jeff was able to bridge that gap and make us all feel like we still had that human connection. There were a few joint sessions where our other priests would join in as well – and those were especially fun to watch. Our pastor Fr. Monte Hoyles did a few cooking videos with Fr. Jeff and Fr. Chris, and our 2020 summer seminarian Kyle also took part in a few of the online videos. Much of the credit for those video lifelines goes to Fr. Jeff and our communications coordinator, Chloe.

It was also during the lockdown that Fr. Jeff got word from the bishop that he would be reassigned to a new parish in July of 2020 near Bowling Green University. We were still locked down when that transfer took place. They had a drive-by farewell after his final video broadcast Mass in July, but our family was unable to attend to say “Thank you” and “Goodbye.” So despite the regular Facebook interaction before he left Sandusky, we had not seen him since before the COVID shutdown in early 2020. This past Friday, it was such perfect timing that his regular radio segment: Taking a Walk, with Fr. Jeff Walker – came on just as we were about to go take a walk with some of our fellow Sandusky parishioners. Not the least bit a coincidence!

Fr. Jeff’s segment actually started just as I was pulling around the block to my wife’s office. I often listen to Catholic radio when I am driving around town solo, but my wife or I usually mute the radio when we are driving together so that we can talk to each other about our errand running or weekend plans or whatnot’s. This particular time, I made sure to leave the radio on when she got into the car and let her know who was on the airwaves so that she wouldn’t reach up and hit the radio mute button. We had a few laughs as we listened to Fr. Jeff for the few minutes that he graced our car speakers.

We arrived at the Sorrowful Mother Shrine, greeted by Deacon Phil who was to lead the rosary. We were also introduced to the father of Fr. Monte Hoyles who decided to join the group walk after he read about it in our bulletin online. He mentioned that the Shrine was only about 10 minutes or so away from his own home in Attica – so it made sense for him to join us. After the completing the rosary, my wife and I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Hoyles about his son and about the Shrine and just enjoy his company for about 20 minutes or so – until we got pretty close to our departure window. It was a beautiful day for a drive and my wife and I both agreed what a wonderful morning encounter it was to meet the father of our pastor. What a coincidence it was that he happened to be there when a few days earlier we hadn’t even expected to be there ourselves!

And then the truly spiritual experience took place. The kids at CYSC were truly on fire with the Spirit when we arrived at the auditorium where the closing Mass was to take place. As the parents and families filed in, the campers were all fully engaged in various worship and praise songs with their music ministry. For at least 20-30 minutes they hooted and hollered and danced (and who knows how long they had been singing before we even arrived) until finally the camp leaders transitioned over to welcoming the families in attendance. They gave any of the kids who felt moved to do so the opportunity to come to the microphone and give a short witness of their camp experiences. They directed the kids who wanted to speak to get up into lines on either side of the stage to wait for their turn on center stage as they alternated from the left and right side lines. Neither my wife nor I expected our daughter would take part in that voluntary faith witnessing as she is often more reserved when it comes to public sharing. We were wrong.

Several of the kids got up and spoke about their experiences that week, most of whom had some pretty powerful encounters with the Holy Spirit. About midway through the session, my wife leaned in to me and asked, “Is that Kassidy up there in line on the left?” Sure enough – she was two or three deep in the line! Thank God for my wife’s repaired eyeglasses because I would not have been able to recognize our daughter from the distance we were seated without Linda’s eagle eye. They had a large video screen displaying a close up image from the center stage camera, but I was able to tell when Kassidy would be the next up even before she walked into frame – so I had my phone’s video camera prepared!

When she came to the mike, she was more enthusiastic than I had seen her in an extremely long time. She was actually working the crowd as she got herself prepared to tell her brief story. Each of the kids was prepped to introduce themselves and where they were from. Kassidy plugged her hometown and its claim to fame – Cedar Point. Apparently one of the camp counselors close to the stage yelled out to her that he used to work there (this wasn’t audible to those of us deep in the audience, but she explained that to her mom and I later). Her response was “Yeah! I live five minutes from there! Okay, let’s go!” She then went into an explanation of how on one of the first days at camp three counselors prayed over her hip, which has been bothering her for several years from dance. After their prayers, she said that her hip was not bothering her and the pain she often felt from it was gone. As she further explained the experience, she shouted that she hoped to change lives and to continue to praise God after she came back home because He is a miracle worker!

On the way home, she described to her mom and I another experience she had while in small group prayer. As they were in the small group, they were told by a leader to leave room in the circle for Jesus to join them. As they were praying, she felt her hand drop to her side and she felt the grasp of another hand reaching to touch her own. She was very specific as to how it felt – not just the grip, but the temperature – and even the orientation and positioning of her own hand and that of the hand which touched hers. She recalled this so vividly that she showed each of us separately how it felt by taking our hands into hers and shifting the placement of our grip upon her. She actually shook her head “NO” until she got the exact grip and orientation and then exclaimed that was exactly how it felt. She was absolutely convinced that it was the hand of Jesus entering into their circle to hold her hand in that moment.

As we drove home, she continued to tell us other stories and encounters and about some of the gifts that campers received after asking of the Holy Spirit. She described a few faith healings that she witnessed other campers experience – similar to her own hip experience. They weren’t all hugely dramatic, but they were collectively very powerful. In the process she asked us if we had ever heard of or seen people “Resting in the Spirit” as she described the process and what she had seen. We immediately told her that she had experienced that very thing when she was a nine month old baby! Of course she did not remember it, but I told her that I’d written about it here as a flashback in part of my blog post Touched by Heaven

It was obviously a very powerful week for her and she is already looking to make plans to go back again next summer. She had first gone to Camp Damascus for a long weekend earlier this spring with much of her class from school as part of their Confirmation preparation. But she seemed to have a much more powerful encounter during this longer session and not being surrounded by other kids that she already interacted with on a daily basis. Two of her friends had also attended separate individual weeklong sessions in the few weeks prior to her. It sounds as though both had similar experiences while they were there.

We were on a tight schedule to get home by Friday late afternoon. After a brief diversion to the school’s practice field where fall sports photos were being taken around 6:00, we decided to go over to Cedar Point to get something for dinner. We walked around a bit after eating, stopping to listen to a few country music songs at the Red Garter Saloon on our way out. As we came back toward the front of the park, we realized that we were just a few minutes shy of the nightly parade celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the park. So rather than leave we decided to stay and watch. After the parade, the performers put on a show at the center stage area. We’ve seen the parade a few times, but have never backtracked over to the after parade show. For whatever reason (it had been a long day for all of us and we knew Kassidy was still quite exhausted from her camp experience) we decided to stick around and wander back over to the center stage area to watch the parade’s after-show. In the huge throng of people trailing behind the parade floats trekking back toward the stage area, we bumped into Dan (the fellow who drove me home from the recent ACTS men’s retreat that I blogged about in Doves and Cardinals). Dan and I chatted for a bit as we walked, but then got separated as he made his way to his favorite vantage point. He apparently had seen the show several times already on earlier park visits and had scoped out his spot. I discovered later that his was a prime spot for the camera when I saw a closeup of Dan’s face on the big screen during an audience camera pan.

Kassidy saw a few other familiar faces by the railing as we approached the stage area and moved down further trying to improve our position – she saw a husband and wife who are affiliated with her school. And then I heard another very familiar voice speaking right behind me to those familiar faces as we moved away. I immediately stopped my wife and daughter (who hadn’t yet heard or seen the new arrival) and turned around happily surprised to see Fr. Jeff Walker in this massive sea of a crowd! I immediately rushed over to greet him and quickly described the “coincidence” of how we had just heard him that morning on the radio – mentioning one of the brief opening talking points he had discussed with the radio hosts → if you had to pick one which would it be: shark diving, sky diving, or bungee jumping! We chatted for just a few seconds about his radio response to that question. He asked if we had seen the Cedar Point 150th Anniversary show before. I was just starting to tell him that this was our first chance to see it when the loudspeaker interrupted me to announce that the show’s performers were secured in place transitioning from their parade floats to the physical stage. The stage crew then dropped another crowd control barrier allowing the horde of onlookers to surge closer toward the stage. We didn’t get the chance to visit any further with Fr. Jeff as the music started and the crowd swelled, but it was enough of a brief conversation to bring about big smiles to all of us for the chance encounter!

Our Friday included a Rosary walk which we thought we were going to miss, meeting the father of our pastor, hearing our daughter publicly and passionately express being on fire with the Lord, and bumping into a few friends at Cedar Point. It was a tremendous day with many God-Incidences – bookended by visits with Fr. Jeff Walker!

Praise God!

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