SPRING HILL — If you would like to learn more about the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America amid an atmosphere of merriment, St. Paul the Apostle Church will provide that opportunity at its fifth annual open house on Sunday.
The church will offer the community a free Fun Day, with the emphasis on fun.
"Every year, we put on an open house, trying to entice people," said the church's lay administrator, Gerry Miller. "In past years, we had it along with services, and I think some people felt tied into something."
While the church will have literature available about its teachings and practices, and board members and clergy will be available to answer questions, Miller wants to be sure no one feels pressured.
"We'll have on name tags, and if they have any questions, we'll be more than happy to answer them," Miller said. "But this is just a family fun day. There's no pressure."
The event will include activities for children, such as an inflatable castle, face painting, balloons made into shapes, games and prizes.
"We're trying to entice young families by putting on a clown show, with Ut-Oh the clown, and a bounce house," Miller said. "For the 'older kids' that are 60, 70, 80 years old, we're going to have the Spring Hill Guitar Club, with 20 people, playing inside."
The guitar club will perform from 2 to 3:30 p.m.
There will be a lunch of hot dogs, hamburgers, salads, beans, chips and hot and cold drinks.
"We'll have all the trimmings," Miller said, "so families can sit down and have a little picnic and get the information from us about our church and what we're trying to accomplish."
Miller said the parish council hopes to draw younger families to "come back to religion."
"The problem that I see in society today is that people who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s have gotten away from religion," he said. "It isn't until they are older that they decide maybe they'd better go back to church. Our hope is that we can draw two to three families and get them to come back to church or start going to church."
Miller said one question that is often asked is, "What is the difference between the Roman Catholic Church and the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America?"
According to its Web site, the Catholic Apostolic Church "is a completely independent and self-governing body, neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, but simply Catholic." There are only a handful of parishes in the United States, most east of the Mississippi River.
"We still have the Roman Catholic traditions and liturgy," Miller said. "If you were to come into our church and sit through our services, you would be hard-pressed to find any difference."
So why, in June 2000, did a group of about 15 people unite to form St. Paul the Apostle Church?
"We have open doors to everybody," Miller said, referring to his church's differences. "Our stand on abortion, gays, divorces and marrying people from other faiths is different. If you come to our church and one is Protestant and the other is Catholic, you are more than welcome to get married in our church, and you can raise your children in either faith."
One of the biggest differences, Miller said, is that their church is not accountable to the pope.
All people are welcomed to the sacraments when they come sincerely seeking God, says church literature, and baptism is open to anyone of the Christian faith.
Clergy may marry and are ordained without regard to gender or sexual orientation. A former associate pastor who helped launch the church, the Rev. Anne Stewart, now deceased, was the first female priest in the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America.
Miller said he really enjoys the closeness of his church community, which now has about 30 members.
"Part of it is because we're so small. When you go to a big church, nobody knows anybody," he said. "Here, if somebody gets sick, everybody calls to see how they're doing.
"We want to grow," Miller added. "My feeling is I would like to see us get up to about 75 families."