Diocesan News

Parishioners, pastor offer time, talent for hand-built pews St. Patrick Parish in Lincoln to celebrate groundbreaking Nov. 3

PEWS - Father Troy Schweiger (right), pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Lincoln, and parishioner Don Archer work together on pews for the new church building. Parish volunteers are assisting in the construction of pews for their new church, for which ground will be broken Nov. 3. (SNR photo by S.L. Hansen)

LINCOLN (SNR) - When Father Troy Schweiger started visiting members of St. Patrick Parish in Lincoln last year about building a new church to replace their decaying structure, he was impressed by their generosity. And not just in terms of monetary donations.

"People were saying, ‘Here’s our pledge, but we would really like to help out in other ways if we can.’" Father Schweiger recalled.

He had been pastor for only a few months at the time, but he had already learned that the parish is filled with hard-working, hands-on people. He began praying for a way to honor their desire to contribute more than money.

Back when the current church was built in 1908, people were able to help by hammering frames, laying brick and shingling the roof. With today’s building codes and the necessity of hiring contractors who are bonded and insured, that’s simply not possible.

As he delivered homilies about stewardship, Father Schweiger emphasized the "time, talent and treasure" principles. He offered his own talent – woodworking – as a contribution, and announced to the parish that he would build all the cabinetry for the sacristy.

A parishioner connected him with a farmer in Palmyra who had some burr oak trees in his bottomland that he was willing to donate for the cabinets. Last November, Father Schweiger and about 25 parishioners harvested them.

One tree was so large, somebody sat down and counted out the rings. It turned out the tree sprouted the same year the cornerstone of the current church was laid, 1908.

"You can’t tell me that’s chance," Father Schweiger grinned.

With the parishioners’ request to "help out in other ways" still echoing in his mind, Father Schweiger was juggling fundraising, coordination with architect Kevin Clark, and various other details, including finding affordable pews.

As he and the building committee were considering a purchase of pews – and considering the uncomfortably high six-figure price tag – Father Schweiger got a little nudge from above.

"The Holy Spirit said… ‘What about building some pews?’" he recalled. "So like any good person my thought was, ‘That’s nuts!’"

In the first place, Father Schweiger reasoned, they didn’t have enough wood. In the second, they didn’t have the industrial equipment that building pews required. Nor did they have a place to do the work.

But little by little, things came together.

More trees were donated and harvested, including 12 from a Syracuse farm and 13 from Msgr. Mark Huber’s family property near Steven’s Creek. The final tree came from Bishop James D. Conley’s home in Lincoln.

After mishearing the name of the craftsman Father Douglas Dietrich used to refinish the pews at St. Mary Church in Lincoln last year, Father Schweiger called the "wrong" person and ended up with Celtic crosses for each pew end, beautifully carved out of walnut that had passed from person to person – including Father Schweiger himself – over the years.

Father Schweiger also found a window-factory owner who was happy to lend workshop space and equipment. The only thing missing was a planer large enough to mill the curved seats.

The last piece finally fell into place when Father Schweiger did some research online and found a great deal on renting a large 30" planer and the purchase of an 18" planer and custom knives to shape the pew seats.

"We’ll just sell it on eBay when we’re done," Father Schweiger said.

Not surprisingly, parishioners have been incredibly helpful and enthusiastic. Afternoons, evenings and weekends, they work in shifts at various stations, assembly-line fashion.

"I like the fact that we’re involved in it," said Eric Martin, who has belonged to the parish for about six years.

Martin has very little woodworking experience, other than a few fix-it-up projects around the house. But he’s handy enough to work on the rough cuts.

Bev Williams was running the joiner planer with Father Schweiger’s mom, Mary Jo, last Saturday, prepping the edges of each board. There’s been talk of building a new church since before Bev joined the parish 25 years ago, and she’s glad to offer up her hobby-level skills to help.

"I thought it would be overwhelming, but it’s a lot of fun," she said.

She’s grateful to Father Schweiger’s leadership. "When you look at what he’s done and how he’s done it, it’s just amazing."

When the pews are built, they will be sent to a professional for staining and finishing.

"With all the work we’ve gone through and all the work we are going to do, I didn’t want to mess up in the end," Father Schweiger said. "These are going to be high quality."

Even so, he estimates the final cost of the pews to be less than one-fifth the price of having them professionally made.

Father Schweiger is looking forward to the day in late 2014 when the church is built and he can point out which pews came from the big 1908 tree, which came from the bishop’s tree, and so on – all the result of parishioners coming together to give their time and talent as well as their treasure.

"A building is a building, but this building is becoming a home," he said.

Groundbreaking for the new St. Patrick Church in Lincoln will be Sunday, Nov. 3 at 5 p.m. To see the plans, visit the parish website at www.stpatricklincoln.com.

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