SUFFIELD – At Suffield on the Green, a community fair held annually in September, Cheryl Taylor of South Windsor stepped under the Sacred Heart Parish tent to take a closer look at the brochures and flyers. It was a Saturday afternoon, and she picked up that week’s Sunday bulletin and began to browse.
“My daughter moved here and I don’t think her kids are in CCD classes, so I thought I’d pass this on,” said the grandmother of three, ages 16, 13 and 3. “If I can catch that 3-year-old,” there might still be some hope, she suggested. “You have to look to the grandparents. You know how parents are today.”
Mrs. Taylor, who regularly attends St. James Church in Manchester, said she was in Suffield babysitting her grandchildren while her daughter was at an out-of-town wedding. She said she was also searching for Mass times for a local Catholic church.
“I’m taking those girls tomorrow,” she said with determination, once she found the Mass times in the bulletin. “I’m going to take them to Sacred Heart!”
Mrs. Taylor was one of many people, from near and far, who stopped by the Sacred Heart Parish booth on Sept. 10-11 for more information about the parish and its many offerings and activities.
Each year, the Friends of Suffield, organizers of the annual event, invite civic and religious organizations in this town of 16,000 with visible colonial roots to set up booths to make themselves known in the local community.
The fair also offers crafts and food, and the proceeds from booth rental space are distributed to the local community in the form of grants. This year, recipients include the Crossroads Food Pantry, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and the senior center.
“It takes place on our historic town green. In colonial times, that’s where all important events took place,” said Father Michael C. DeVito, pastor of Sacred Heart. “It’s an important opportunity to be out there with other churches, to greet visitors and to show that we’re a strong presence for good in the community.”
Sandwiched between booths for the Turning Point Wellness Center and Wilma’s Scoop du Jour ice cream, the Sacred Heart booth offered prayer cards as well as brochures and flyers about Pope Francis, religious education classes for youth, the adult and youth choirs and the Knights of Columbus.
There were also order forms for the Women’s Guild’s quick breads, apple pies and chili, the sale of which support its scholarship fund.
To draw people in, the booth offered free water and hard candies, and a prize drawing for a basket of fair-trade products. The most popular items at the booth this year were the free ceramic cross Christmas ornaments. A side table provided an opportunity for kids to take a rest and color.
Every two hours, the booth was staffed by new volunteers – at least two adults and two teens, who worked together. Lori Sych, a parishioner who is also the secretary of the Friends of Suffield, is knowledgeable about the overall event as well as her church’s presence at it.
“We’ve never had a problem with people stepping forward and greeting people with a smile, so it’s been great,” she said of the parish volunteers. She said Sacred Heart also makes an effort to bring in teens who need community service hours for confirmation. “They talk to other kids in the community and that’s great to see.
“I feel proud to promote our church,” she added. “If people are new to my town, it’s great to be an ambassador for our church. It’s just a way for people to get to know about our church and about us in a non-pushy manner.”
Over the years, she said, visitors to the booth have asked her about the difference between the two Catholic churches in town, Mass times and the requirements for various religious education programs. So she believes there is a real need to provide information, even within the Catholic community.
“Father DeVito is very big about us being there and being supportive of the local community,” Ms. Sych said.
Donna Swols, Sacred Heart’s director of religious education, said that in past years she received numerous questions at the booth about church programs for young people, especially from young families who had just moved into town.
“A lot of young families are busy, so they try to find something that accommodates their needs,” she said. In response, she said she tells them about religious instruction classes that are offered at multiple times for their convenience, including right after Mass. “Frankly, it’s a marketing thing.”