Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Greenville Ephrathah

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets 

I moved to Greenville, SC from alluvial Houma, Louisiana in 1965 when I was 8 years old. Greenville was a hilly Baptist textile town, with disturbingly orange dirt. The local college was fenced-in Bob Jones University, the very Buckle of the Bible Belt. There were only two Catholic churches: St. Mary's downtown, and Holy Rosary (now Our Lady of the Rosary) near the closed Donaldson Air Force Base. Virtually all the Catholics were Yankees, and their faith and accents made them stranger than Martians to the locals. I remember my own culture shock: how can you have a parade without people on the floats throwing necklaces and candy to everybody? Do you just stand there and look at it?

But the Catholic minority has been putting down roots in the hard Piedmont clay for a few generations now. And like a transplanted grapevine, the Church has been shaped by the bracing Fundamentalist/ Evangelical terroir (I just wanted to say "terroir") of the Upstate. Among other distinctives, local Catholicism tends toward Scriptural literacy, an evangelistic readiness to explain the faith, and an appreciation for the Bible-believers' assumption that religion matters- and not just privately, but publicly.

In the last decade or so, this Upstate Catholicism has acquired...what, a momentum? a gravity? that continues to develop. I'm not gonna name names, but my wife and I think of all the people we know who weren't Catholic, and are now; people who were already Catholic, and decided to move here; and people who aren't Catholic, but are being drawn into the Catholic orbit. My parish has about 40 people in RCIA who'll enter the Church on Easter Vigil. And we wonder at this confluence. Is just by accident? Is it for some purpose? And it isn't just one church, but a coalescence that extends across parishes, and even rites. Nor is it primarily driven by the pastors. They play a critical leadership role, but the laity are self-motivating.

Our house nickname for this phenomenon is Greenville-Ephrathah, by which we mean that little nowhere Upstate South Carolina may be unknowingly preparing for an as-yet-unspecified role in some mysterious process. I'm uncomfortable thinking about it too explicitly- maybe it's supposed to be an inchoate (I just wanted to say "inchoate") je ne sais quoi (uh-huh) for the time being, and patience is required. It's scary, but in a good way. I've even been reluctant to make a peep about it here, but in the last year the energy has palpably increased.

Thus far there's been no reason for anything but optimism. But I'm reminded of the Catholic novel Morte d'Urban, in which great promise is ultimately dissipated. And if this swell of faith is indeed real and part of a larger plan, then Satan is sure to try to derail it. So my motivation for blabbing this on the net is that if something bad does happen here (I have no idea what, except it wouldn't be the usual), nobody should be discouraged, no-one should lose heart. If bad comes, it doesn't have to be the end; rather, through renewed faith & works it'll turn out to have been just an obstacle that was overcome.

And meanwhile, it's an interesting time to be Catholic in the Upstate.

But thou, O Greenville Ephrathah, though thou be little among the thousands of America, yet out of thee shall...shall what? what?