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ST. MARYS — Hundreds of area residents will gather next week for a unique religious event consisting of fellowship and food on a St. Marys farm.
Bishop Joseph Binzer, of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, will travel to Wilker's Farm, located at 10675 Tri-Township Road, St. Marys, on Thursday to preside over the Catholic Rural Life Conference of the St. Marys and Sidney Deaneries Rural-Urban Mass. The Mass, which is open to the public, will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday in a tool building on Wilker's Farm. Seating for 300 people has been arranged, and attendees are encouraged to bring soil to be blessed. Catholic Social Action Office Regional Director Pam Long said the mass is a unique experience for area residents.
"One of the great things about this is that it is a gathering together of people who farm and also their neighbors and people in the communities that live around the farms," Long said. "It gives us all a chance to worship together."
Holding the Rural-Urban Mass on a farm, Long said, is unique.
"Bishop Binzer, the archbishop of Cincinnati, is going to be presiding at it," Long said. "This is going to be the first time that Bishop Binzer has presided over the Rural-Urban Mass in the area."
Ron and Deb Wilker bought their farm in 1987, and they farm 250 acres in addition to raising 65,000 laying hens, according to a news release issued by the Catholic Social Action Office. The couple has six children, Isaac (Heather) of Florence, Ky., Matthew (Kelly) of New Bremen, Jennifer (Kevin) of Morgantown, W. Va., Anthony of St. Marys, Eric of Manchester College and Angela of the University of Cincinnati. Wilker continues to work as a mechanical detailer on the farm, while Deb Wilker is a substitute bus driver. The two agreed that farming has been "good" to them.
"It has taught our children many life lessons," Deb Wilker said in a news release. "We couldn't imagine doing anything else."
Long noted the couple raised their family on the farm.
"They are a Catholic family that raised their family on the farm," she said of the Wilkers. "That's also something that is important for the mass — to be able to celebrate those families that have combined their family life with farming and faith."
Holy Rosary Parish aided in the coordination of bringing the Mass to St. Marys and also arranged for a meal to be provided afterward.
"The people of Holy Rosary Parish have made arrangements so the Knights of Columbus will come and fry chicken and people are going to carry in the side dishes, the salads, the desserts, so people will be able to have a full meal," Long said. "So, not only will we be sharing together in prayer, we also will be sharing together at supper. That'll be unique, too, for us. Being able to have a chicken dinner afterward is just going to be wonderful for everyone that's there."
Attendees are asked to bring a side dish, salad or dessert to the event, she said. In addition to the chicken from the Knights of Columbus, beverages will also be provided.
"The Diary Farmers of America are donating chocolate milk and white milk for this event," Long said. "We're very blessed to be able to have so many people helping out with this Mass."
As part of the occasion, a number of families will be recognized for their dedication to farming.
"As a part of the mass, we will be recognizing families who have been farming for over 100 years on their land," Long said. "We had 16 applications, and the 10 oldest families will receive a plaque this year for their work."
The Rural-Urban Mass, Long said, is one of the major events put on by the Catholic Rural Life Conference. The group typically holds the mass in the planting season or harvesting season, though this year's event fell in the middle. The Catholic Rural Life Conference, she said, is comprised of people who have a connection with faith and farming.
"These are men who are farmers as well as a Precious Blood Brothers, who really try to work hard at helping people understand the connection between their faith and farming," Long said. "We're always open to having more people who would want to join us for that."
In addition to the Rural-Urban Mass, the Catholic Rural Life Conference of the St. Marys and Sidney Deaneries, chaired by Vern Seger, has also offered Rural Plunges to junior high school and university students, according to the news release. The group meets at 7:30 p.m. on the second Monday of the month in January, March, May, September and November at the St. Charles Senior Living Community, 2860 U.S. Route 127, Celina. Meetings are occasionally held on the second Monday in July, as well.
Reservations to attend the Rural-Urban Mass can be made by calling the Catholic Social Action Office at 937-224-3026.