By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
WEST LIBERTY — A town of 3,736 best known for agriculture and a meat-packing facility is now home to the only Byzantine Catholic community in Iowa.
Bells jingled, prayers were chanted and luminous icons seemed to gaze at the 20 or so people who participated in the first service of this Eastern rite mission at St. Joseph Church on Sept. 7.
The 21 Eastern Catholic Churches in the world are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, but differ in their celebration of liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, Canon Law and spiritual traditions.
“The thing about being Catholic is that the faith is universal, but it’s expressed in so many ways,” observed Adam Kemner, a Byzantine Catholic who serves as a liturgist during services and lives with his family in Clarence. He and Deacon Sergio Ayala, who serves as chaplain at Tyson Foods in Columbus Junction, petitioned to establish a Byzantine (Eastern rite) Catholic community in the area.
It’s something Kemner and his wife, Lynsey, prayed about for several years. As a student in the Master of Pastoral Theology Program of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Kemner began to make connections with people who could make it happen.
He and Deacon Ayala met last year during celebration of a Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy at St. Joseph Church in Columbus Junction. Bishop Martin Amos gave the homily at the liturgy and has been receptive to the desire of Catholics of Eastern rites to form a community closer to home.
“[I]f I have faithful of a different (Eastern) rite within this diocese, I am to provide for their spiritual needs,” Bishop Amos noted in a dispensation dated Aug.15 that acknowledges and supports the mission’s founding. It comes under authority of Bishop John Kudrick of Parma, Ohio, for the Ruthenian (Byzantine) Catholic Church.
About four families with a total of eight adults and 25 children comprise the Byzantine Catholic community, which does not have a priest to regularly preside at the Divine Liturgy. So Deacon Ayala, a member of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church (Eastern rite), has received permission from his bishop to exercise primary liturgical ministry. The deacon presides at Saturday evening Vespers and a Sunday morning service called Typika (Rite for Holy Communion without a Priest.)
Deacon Ayala says Typika is similar to a Communion service in the Roman Rite, but involves more solemnity, and also recitation of the beatitudes and psalms. Another difference: While the Roman Rite uses unleavened bread, Catholics of Eastern rites use leavened bread, both of which must be consecrated by a priest. Bishop Amos granted permission for a priest of the Davenport Diocese to consecrate the leavened bread during the Saturday night Mass for use in the Typika the following day.
For the first Typika service, those in attendance — from infants to adults — communed with pre-consecrated bread cut into cubes and added to a chalice of wine. They received Communion on a spoon. Father Bryan Eyman, protopresbyter for the Midwest Region of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, brought the pre-consecrated bread during a visit to the new Byzantine Catholic community in late August. Fr. Eyman serves as pastor of St. Athanasius the Great Byzantine Catholic Church in Indianapolis.
Fr. Eyman noted that Catholics of Eastern rites use leavened bread “as a sign of receiving the living body of Christ.” Families take turns baking the bread each week, and mark it with a special seal before it is consecrated by a priest.
At least 25 families must belong to the community before a priest is assigned to meet pastoral needs, such as presiding at Divine Liturgy, baptisms and weddings, Deacon Ayala said.
“One of our goals is to make ourselves more public. Eventually, we hope to get 25 families and set up an actual mission and hopefully (with even more families) to establish our own parish … We’re anticipating the possibility of Iraqi and Syrian refugees coming to this area, and our goal would be to be a spiritual home to them,” Deacon Ayala added.
“The great thing is we’re in communion with Rome. We hope and pray that we will be the bridge between the Orthodox and the Roman” churches, said Ted Tenney, a convert to Eastern Catholicism.
The former Southern Baptist lives in Farley, Iowa, with his wife and 14 children. He brought several family members to the Typika service, a roughly three-hour commute. But it’s worth it. “We were actually considering moving to Texas just so we can get to our rite,” Tenney said.