The majority of parishioners who were in Holy Angels Church, Hamilton, the afternoon of Nov. 19 readily admitted that it was the first time they had ever witnessed a Ritual for the Suspension of Use of a Church. And they unanimously and quickly agreed that they hoped it would be the last time.
Although the occasion elicited emotions of sadness and tears in having to deal with the reality that their beloved South Broad Street worship site was no longer their place of worship, smiles and warm sentiments surfaced as they shared many memories from years past.
Some of the parishioners like Debra Embert and Pat Langon spoke about their experiences as new arrivals to the parish.
“I didn’t know anyone,” said Embert, who arrived to Hamilton in 1985. But once she found Holy Angels Parish, it didn’t take very long for her to realize that the church was not only a beautiful place to worship and grow in her faith, but it also provided her with a haven where she formed friendships that she values now 32 years later.
Citing a list of pointed memories from Holy Angels such as her two children receiving their Sacraments and attending the parish school, the support she received following her mother’s death, and having the opportunity to work in the rectory and with ministries such as vacation Bible school and youth group and being a member of the folk group, Embert said attending the Rite of Suspension of Use was important because it allowed her one last time to reflect on the beautiful church building as it was when all of the memories were made, the opportunity to gather with other members of her parish family with strong ties to the church and offer prayers for what will be and what is yet to come.
Langon, who served as co-chair of the Transition Team, was a new arrival to Holy Angels Parish after moving to Trenton from Boston in 1991. Admitting she underwent a significant search for a new spiritual home, Langon remembered how happy she was to attend her first Mass in Holy Angels Church where she met Franciscan Sister Kathy Ganiel and ended up joining the folk group. Having previously been taught by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia in other parish schools, Langon said she recalled breathing a deep sigh of relief and thinking “I am finally home” when she learned that Holy Angels too was staffed by sisters from that order.
Over the years, Langon had gone on to become very involved in the life of the parish, serving as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and on the Women’s Retreat Committee for 27 years. With housemate Nancy Opalski, a member of the parish for 60 years, the two facilitated a monthly faith sharing group and helped to maintained the parish garden. Langon is also currently a co-chair of the Faith In Our Future Transition Team and is now part of the Pastoral Plan Writing Team.
“My first encounter was one of unconditional welcome,” Langon said. “My relationship with my God has grown and evolved through my relationship with my Holy Angels family and now my St. Raphael-Holy Angels family.”
Unlike newcomers Langon and Embert, lifelong parishioner Linda Richardson smiled when she said that even during the more than 10 years she and her family had moved from Hamilton and lived overseas while her husband was in active military duty, “I still claimed Holy Angels as my home parish.”
However, Richardson’s roots in Holy Angels run deep. She had received all of her Sacraments in the parish, including marriage and she fondly recalls her children being active – her son as an altar server and her daughter in the folk group. Richardon was also employed there for 11 years as the founder/director of Holy Angels Pre-School.
“I am so very grateful to have been part of a very special faith community for many years and I feel that God is now going to help our parish to grow stronger and become more welcoming,” she said. “I trust God will guide us during this time of transition.”
Embert, Langon and Richardson, along with Deacon Bob Tharp, who joined Holy Angels with his family in 1970, admitted to finding closure by witnessing the Rite of Suspension of Use of Holy Angels Church.
“It means a lot to me to know that the church building will not be torn down but that it will continue to afford our Coptic brothers and sisters in Christ a beautiful place to call their own and where the worship of God will live on, more memories will be made and a community will continue to grow and thrive there,” said Embert.
Though Deacon Tharp found the ceremony to be a bit anticlimactic after having served as the deacon for the last Mass celebrated in the church in July, he said, “I do think [the ceremony] was good for the people of the community to come together one last time to reflect on their history and on the events that had taken place at the various locations within the building.”
While it was painful for him to witness the rite and the process of watching a worship community lose its history and its future, he takes heart in knowing that 96 years ago, there was a faith community who celebrated having a new space to worship their God and celebrate the Sacraments in their lives and that soon there will be a new Coptic Christian faith community will come to this place, full of hope and excitement knowing they have a new space to worship their God and celebrate the Sacraments in their lives.
Langon spoke of how the decision to close Holy Angels Church came as a great shock and resulted in deep emotions for the members of the congregation. But the Nov. 19 ritual was important because it allowed the community to gather one more time to remember those bonds of faith, love and friendship, she said, adding that the ritual also signaled a time for she and fellow parishioners to move forward and be reminded that “our God is an indwelling God and that we bear the Light of Christ within our hearts and can move forward with confidence that we are not alone.”