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Children roasted marshmallows on the eve of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist June 23 at St. Joseph Parish in Zell. The event incorporated liturgical elements like the Liturgy of the Hours with time for fellowship and fun.
Children roasted marshmallows on the eve of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist June 23 at St. Joseph Parish in Zell. The event incorporated liturgical elements like the Liturgy of the Hours with time for fellowship and fun.
Photo Credit: Trenton Almgren-Davis | [email protected]

Parishioners at St. Joseph in Zell incorporate faith into fellowship as they increase focus on evangelization

On a warm Friday evening in Zell, folding tables in the St. Joseph Parish parking lot filled up with brownies, potato salads and more as people headed into the church. It was the eve of the solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and the faithful were there to celebrate.

Matt Blumenfeld of Ste. Genevieve Parish in Ste. Genevieve, left, sang “Ut queant laxis resonare fibris,” a Latin hymn to honor St. John the Baptist, during the blessing of the fire for the eve of the saint’s feast June 23 at St. Joseph in Zell. The parish hosted an evening of fellowship and evangelization that included prayer, praise and worship music and a bonfire.
Photo Credits: Trenton Almgren-Davis | [email protected]
“There’s a lot more to the Church’s liturgical life than just Sunday Mass,” said Matt Blumenfeld, who helped organize the event. “It’s not just the feasts that the rest of the world celebrates like Christmas and Easter. St. John the Baptist is a big deal!”

While living in Virginia, Blumenfeld and his wife, Tina, participated in a similar event at their parish. Now, as parishioners at Ste. Genevieve Parish, with two children enrolled in St. Joseph School, they wanted to bring similar liturgical-based events to parish life.

The St. John’s Eve celebration began inside the church with vespers, or evening prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, is a set of prayers recited at different times throughout the day by priests, vowed religious and laypeople, Deacon Allen Engelmann explained.

“The No. 1 prayer of the Church is the Mass, and the No. 2 prayer is the Liturgy of the Hours,” Deacon Engelmann said. “…The purpose of the Liturgy of the Hours is to sanctify the day, as we’re praying throughout the day. And we’re not really praying for ourselves; we’re praying for the whole Church.”

Following vespers, Deacon Engelmann blessed a bonfire, set up for proper disposal of blessed objects such as palms from Palm Sunday. (Another fire was dedicated to marshmallow roasting.) The Travis Lee Band, led by a St. Joseph School graduate, performed Christian music, and children passed out St. John the Baptist prayer cards as attendees enjoyed the food and fellowship.

Incorporating liturgical elements into social events is one way that St. Joseph parishioners are intentionally focusing more on evangelization.

“The group that planned this said, ‘We want to spread the Gospel,’ and they started talking to each other and coming up with these ideas,” said Father Henry Purcell, pastor of St. Joseph. “I said, ‘praise God,’ because that’s what I want — I don’t want to always be the one leading the charge. I want everyone to go, go, go spread the Gospel.”

Kayla Schmelzle of St. Joseph Parish helped her daughter, Avery, blow out her marshmallow during the bonfire for the eve of the feast of St. John the Baptist June 23 at St. Joseph in Zell.
Photo Credits: Trenton Almgren-Davis | [email protected]
Sherry Vaeth is a lifelong, fourth-generation parishioner of St. Joseph. While growing in faith was always a priority for her family and parish community, she’s seen a marked increase in conversations about evangelization as parishes regrouped from the COVID-19 pandemic and the archdiocese launched the All Things New pastoral planning process.

Vaeth is part of a recently formed evangelization team at the parish, working with the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Discipleship to create an ongoing plan for reaching out and spreading the Gospel in their area. Vaeth was inspired to take on the mission after attending an Evangelization 101 workshop at Ste. Genevieve Parish, where she learned about the power of personal relationships and testimony.

“I think the more that many of us bring up God’s name and feel that peace, that will show up on your face and make other people feel more welcome to talk about God,” she said. “If I talk more about it, maybe others will talk more about it.”

The group is in its early stages, but parishioners are dreaming big about their goals: empowering everyone to be comfortable praying and talking about Jesus in public; reaching out to people who have fallen away, especially young people; inviting people who show up for fundraisers or special occasions to join them for Sunday Mass every week; and learning how to accompany someone who decides to return to the Church after some time away, to name a few.

The group formed shortly before the All Things New Pentecost announcements about parish structures and priest assignments. Vaeth remembers thinking, “Why are we doing this? We may be closing,” she said. But they agreed that they wanted to be prepared to move forward with the evangelizing mission, no matter what happened.

Father Henry Purcell spoke with Brantley Flieg of Sacred Heart Parish in Ozora June 23 at St. Joseph Parish in Zell.
Photo Credits: Trenton Almgren-Davis | [email protected]
Starting Aug. 1, St. Joseph will share a pastor with St. Agnes Parish in Bloomsdale, about 7 miles northwest. Deacon James Basler of St. Agnes attended the June 23 event with his wife, Joanne. He grew up in St. Agnes Parish, while Joanne was raised in St. Joseph Parish. Family connections are often a common denominator across parishes in Ste. Genevieve County, and that helps motivate parishioners to support their neighboring parishes, he said.

“We all support one another. When (other parishes) have picnics or dinners or anything like that, you see all the parishes come in and be supportive in that respect,” he said.

Mickey Flieg, a parishioner at St. Joseph, and her sister-in-law Angie Flieg, a parishioner at Sacred Heart in Ozora, attended the St. John’s Eve celebration together.

“I love the way they’re incorporating the liturgical part of it, the feast of St. John the Baptist and the history of the bonfires. It’s nice to be able to put that liturgical part with the event, because it’s not just about the event, it’s about Christ,” Mickey Flieg said. “It’s just helping bring people closer, I think, by incorporating the liturgical form with it. We can learn more about our faith together in a fun environment, which can help with evangelization.”

Evangelization is important to her because “I know what kind of peace God gives, and I pray a lot asking God how to help others find the peace He has for them,” she said. “That would be a dream, a miracle, to see so many people fall in love with Christ and feel that peace.”

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