CORDELE, GA.- Jim Volz and Bill Epps were early for noon Mass at St. Theresa Church, Cordele Monday, May 25, Memorial Day. The pair of parishioners had to be, they were working after all. Volz is the parish council president, an altar server and Eucharistic minister. Epps, whose wife Carolyn, who also attended Mass this day, holds a number of positions at the parish as well, including Eucharistic minister and usher. Asked how they felt about being back at Mass, Volz said, “I haven’t missed one.” He served as Eucharistic minister for every online service including today’s which was streamed via the parish Facebook page. “I love being back here with my fellow parishioners though.”
“I’m happy we’re back,” added Epps whose wide smile was hard to hide from behind a white KN95 mask.
Mass at St. Theresa Church was indeed back after two months of solely digital observance. Normally pretty quiet on a Monday, this Memorial Day service had 26 parishioners socially-distance themselves throughout the pews of the small parish. The turnout was one that was both unexpected and very much welcomed by pastor Paulinus Chikelue Okpala who last week told the Southern Cross that he hoped 5-10 people showed up.
“It’s beautiful,” said Okpala of the turnout. “It is such a joy to welcome back our parishioners. We really missed them and we are glad we are able to start [Mass] today.
“The distancing has psychologically prepared people for the re-start. Now we will better understand the social-distancing and wearing of masks that is necessary to have attended Masses again.”
Of the more than two dozen parishioners in attendance Monday only a small few were not wearing masks, with one being a small child among a family of five. The new way of attending Mass did not seem to keep St. Theresa’s parishioners from partaking in the sacraments either.
Father Okpala served the Body of Christ with blue surgical gloves on. All who received the Body did so by hand.
Long time parishioner Jacqueline Ellis said she preferred to receive communion by mouth but understood the safety precautions now put in place. Still she was happy to be back at the parish. “It feels wonderful to be back,” she said through her mask. “We’re going to take adequate precautions but it’s wonderful to be back taking communion and being a part of the church family again.
“I missed my church family.”
Carolyn Epps and Billy Adams agreed. “I really missed the Eucharist and I am so glad to be back,” said Epps. You really don’t realize how much you missed something until after it has been gone.”
Adams, the church custodian, a parishioner along with his wife of nearly 40 years and father of Jason Adams, the pastor at St. John the Evangelist Church, Valdosta, said, “Being able to come back [here[ is a blessing. To be able to hear the Lord’s word together, to be able to take part in Mass is such a blessing. Adams was the other usher for afternoon service.
Father Okpala’s homily kept in the spirit of the Memorial Day holiday by focusing on “making sacrifices for others as Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us.”
“Every single day we make sacrifices, so today, Memorial Day, the message is freedom is not free, there is a cost,” said Okpala. “This is what Jesus teaches us every time we come to Mass, to put others first. That is what Jesus does everyday.”
Following Mass, which closed with a recorded rendition of ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’, the new COVID-19 precautions call for no choirs to better limit contact while adhering to social-distancing measures, Okpala added about the first service back, “It was a good opening for us.”