St. Michael to dedicate new Erwin mission center

Sue Guinn Legg • Sep 16, 2018 at 7:53 PM

ERWIN — After seven years of meeting in nontraditional spaces in Erwin, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Mission has at last taken up residence in its permanent home.

The church conducted its first Mass in its new 5,000-square-foot mission center in late June and is planning a special dedication Mass at the center on Sept. 29.

Friends and supporters from across the country are expected at dedication service and the St. Michael is inviting the local community that has embraced it to attend as well.

Now located on 13.5-picturesque acres at 657 N. Mohawk Drive, the mission has come a long way since Oct. 23, 2011, when about 30 parishioners gathered for St. Michael’s first Mass at the Erwin Elks Lodge.

After three years of meeting at the Elks Lodge and another four years in the basement of house on Jackson Love Highway, the church has grown to more than 300 faithful.

Father Tom Charters said about 70 percent of the parishioners are young Hispanic families with children who account for St. Michael’s dynamic youth programs. And about 30 percent are Anglo retirees who live in the Erwin area and previously attended Catholic churches outside Unicoi County.

Together, the St. Michael parishioners enjoyed “quite the celebration” at their first Mass at new mission center on June 30, Charters said. They are looking forward to the Sept. 29 dedication Mass to be conducted by Knoxville Diocese Bishop Richard Stika with great anticipation.

Launched by the Glenmary Home Missioners organization that establishes Catholic churches in communities across the country where they do not exist, Charters said St. Michael will remain a mission until a formal church building in constructed on the property at some point in the future.

A space has been selected for the church building adjacent to the new mission center and was being seeded to provide a grassy play area for children on Friday. Richardson Builders, contractor for the mission center, are continuing work to level the property, finish the parking area and landscape grounds in advance of dedication.

Inside the mission, the finished work includes a large and sunny entry hall that leads to the a sanctuary/multi-use room where worship, class meetings, meals and other church activities all take place, an “atrium” education room for children, offices, a full kitchen and restrooms with showers to accommodate retreats hosted by the church.

Funding for the mission center has come from the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee, which purchased the property, and from people across the country and in Erwin, where St. Michael’s has been fundraising since its arrival through annual booth sales at the Unicoi County Apple Festival, tamale sales, fish fries and other activities that have been well supported by local residents.

As it continues building for the future, St. Michael holds great hope for its teens and children who are already distinguishing themselves as young worship leaders.

“We have a lot of active kids. But they are not just active at St. Michael. They’re active in school and athletics too. They’re just all around good kids, which says a lot about good parents,” Charters said

St. Michael’s youth soccer team is heartily supported by the parishioners who follow the team to all their out-of-town games. All of the mission’s high school and middle school students assist in worship. Several of the teens have attained the highest level of proficiency in worship assistance possible. And many of those who have graduated and gone on to college come back on weekends to help out.

A religious education program for pre-school children launched by St. Michael two years ago has grown exponentially.

Bilingual Mass is held each Saturday evening and Sunday morning at the mission and Spanish Mass is held weekly at two migrant farm worker communities in the area.

More information about the mission is available at www.stmichaelthearchangeluc.org and the St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Mission page on Facebook, or may be obtained by calling the church at 423-735-3433.

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