WASHINGTON—It’s not every day that a priest makes a seven-hour drive from his parish assignment to the nation’s capital to deliver an invocation to the House of Representatives.
But Jan. 27 is just such a day for Father Jeffrey Kirby, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Church in Indian Land, S.C., just across the state line from Charlotte, N.C.
Father Kirby was scheduled to deliver the invocation Jan. 28. Of course, more eyes may be on the Senate, if the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is in session.
In a Jan. 22 phone interview with Catholic News Service, Father Kirby said he got the invitation courtesy of the area’s member of the House, Rep. Ralph Norman, R-South Carolina. Parish life “drew the attention of our local congressman,” the priest said, characterizing the impending invocation as “a way to honor the parish.”
Our Lady of Grace has already been honored in other forums. Last year’s Lancaster Awards, which covers all of Lancaster County, voted the church “the best place to worship in Lancaster County,” Father Kirby said.
It was as much a surprise to him as anyone. “We’re in the Southeast,” he said. “We’re not in Catholic Boston or Catholic Philadelphia.”
But Our Lady of Grace, established three-and-a-half years ago — Father Kirby is the founding pastor — is aiming to ” implement the real model of Vatican II, (St.) John Paul II and Pope Francis,” he said. “We’re doing a school outreach, massive networking and outreach with community groups, local networks and government entities.”
Rather than reinvent the wheel at the parish level, Our Lady of Grace parishioners — while they maintain a prison ministry and kitchen ministry at the church — volunteer at the area’s existing service opportunities. The parish, though, Father Kirby told CNS, runs its own prison ministry and kitchen ministry.
“I think what’s unique is that we are supporting other entities in their work, obviously, with our volunteer hours,” he added. “That’s just catching people off-guard.”
The parish rolls have swelled from 300 households at its founding to 1,000 today. The helping hands are welcome. “We’re in a bubble of wealth” in the parish due to a retirement community nearby, Father Kirby said, but 63% of county residents live below the poverty line.
As for the prayer, Father Kirby went back nearly two centuries to Bishop John England, the Diocese of Charleston’s first bishop, when its territory covered South and North Carolina and Georgia.
Bishop England addressed the House in 1826. “I used some of his language in my prayer,” Father Kirby said. “I put in a little footnote that the prayer was inspired by Bishop John England.” He added when he sent it to Jesuit Father Patrick Conroy, the House chaplain, “his office emailed me back and said, ‘That’s great!’ They loved the historical connection.”
With impeachment as just the latest manifestation of partisan divisiveness in Congress, “the instruction for the prayer is not to address issues,” the pastor said. “But in the prayer, I certainly pray that our elected leaders will focus on the common good, the public benefits, peace and justice for all, and various things.”
“We ask you to bless this House of Representatives, made up of these leaders, and to bless their work during today’s session. Grant them prudence and fortitude,” Father Kirby wrote in his prayer. “May they seek your divine wisdom and give you due homage in all their deliberations and decisions. May they always seek the common good, the public benefit, and true justice and peace for all.”
By Mark Pattison