First off, apologies to everyone who reads this column and noticed that no church profile showed up for December. I got the time for the Sunday mass as wrong, and wound up arriving just as the service was ending. My next two Sundays were eaten up by a vacation, and since these post a week after the visit there was no way to get one in for December.
Even if I missed one of the Advent Sundays at the church, however, there was still plenty of Christmas spirit when I went in for what turned out to be Epiphany. The manger scene, wreaths, garlands, and other decorations still festooned the sanctuary and the hymns included “We Three Kings,” “What Child Is This,” and “The First Noel.”
As with any church where the congregation seems to know the various responses and prayers by heart, I felt I little rudderless at first. I certainly didn’t know the correct way to make the sign of the cross, or when to kneel on the rails provided in the pews, or how to apply the holy water from the basins at the entrance. Some help was available in the hymnals, however; the church didn’t have programs, but a guide inserted in a plastic sleeve gave a cheat sheet for the which responses were needed for certain parts of the service.
Overall, St. Mary’s came off as more casual than I may have expected. Plenty of people were in jeans, or donned winter coats if they found the cavernous interior too chilly. There were ceremonial aspects, such as the musical prayers and the lengthy period leading up to communion. When it came time for the communion itself, however, it was done via intinction: calling members up to take the bread and wine at the front of the church rather than acceptance at a rail at the altar.
Father Robert Washabaugh, the pastor known to most of the congregation as “Father Bob,” focused his sermon on what the new year would hold. Washabaugh said he felt it would be a year of blessing, and encouraged people to be active in the church's organizations; he said one’s ability to be more active and outgoing is determined only by an internal switch and whether you allow it to turn on.
“What you think you know is next to nothing, and what is in front of you is entirely adventure,” he said.
Anyone inspired to volunteer for the church will have plenty of options in helping to keep the church going. St. Mary’s is probably one of the most iconic churches in New London, an enormous stone structure visible from numerous points in the city. The interior is similarly impressive, with high stained glass windows and numerous murals and ornamental figures. A convent and rectory are nearby, along with a office, , and (a homeless shelter co-founded by St. Mary’s and ).
Washabaugh says the charitable work, including a Sunday meal program, are one of the ways the church stands out in New London. Perhaps more noticeable, however, is the diversity of the congregation. Washabaugh, who is fluent in Spanish, says about half of the members are Hispanic.
The church offers Spanish language and bilingual services, and takes into account which celebrations are considered more important in Latin America. Last Sunday, the Spanish language mass at noon was followed by an Epiphany party for this reason.
“The party life is a little bigger, because there’s different festivals that come up from different groups,” said Washabaugh.
David Morrison says he has been a member of the church for about 12 years, and enjoys the parish and teachings of Washabaugh.
“There’s an awful lot of nice people here, and that keeps us coming back to this particular church,” he said.
Edna Goode, a member for over 20 years, said she enjoys the close-knit congregation as well as the diversity of the members.
“It brings the whole world to us,” she said.
Sunday mass at St. Mary Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church takes place at 9:30 a.m., with a Spanish language mass at noon. For other services during the week, visit the church’s listing.