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Ministries offer members more

Some people call them "mega churches" _ the large churches with thousands of members.

With nearly 3,000 parish families and a weekly attendance of about 5,000 people, Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church is a Goliath on the church scene. For more than 80 years, the New Port Richey church has served its members and the community through a variety of ministries.

To spread the word about the many church ministries, Our Lady schedules periodic Ministry Fairs, which help maintain the heart and soul of the parish _ member involvement. The assistant pastor, Father Greg Ryan, said the festive events offer an overview of the more than 30 ministries that operate in the parish _ and not just on Sundays.

"You have to become involved," Ryan said. "You just can't go in for a sermon. The priests and sisters don't do all the work anymore, and that is what makes the church work. You have to get the people motivated to let them know they are the church and there are things for them to get involved in."

Through the church's visitation ministry, led by Sister Christina, church members visit six area nursing homes and at least a dozen adult congregate living facilities. Ryan said about 400 to 500 people live within the parish boundaries and would like to come to church but can't because they are in a hospital, a nursing home or are shut in.

"Since they can't come to us, we go to them," Ryan said. "We have four priests and two sisters, and we can't possibly do it all. During the fair, we got about another 25 volunteers to visit. It was wonderful."

The church also reaches out to the poor in the community, Catholic and non-Catholic, through the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Funds come from church members, and canned goods are collected each week from church food bins filled by the members. The church distributes about $2,500 a month in food and from $4,000 to $5,000 each month in cash, housing and utilities for the needy.

The youth ministry is headed by full-time youth minister David Sepik, who is married and has two children. Sepik uses volunteers in his ministry to assist at career nights, speak at youth meetings, talk about alcoholism at Alateen get-togethers and act as chaperones and drivers.

One of the church support groups is the Widowed Peoples Group. Ryan said that widowed people have a difficult time during the first year _ especially if they hibernate. Many members end up joining the church's hobby club, the bazaar club or the Rosary Society.

Father Ryan describes the 160-member Rosary Society as the backbone of the parish. It sponsors and organizes many of the church fund-raisers, rummage sales, dinners, parties, dances and more.

Ryan's voice takes on added emphasis when he talks about the youth ministry. Sister Christa is in charge of the religious education classes, which include a Sunday school attendance of about 500.

"In order to provide for the kids, we need to be a force of kindness, gentleness, love and compassion." he said. "They might not see those qualities the rest of the week _ hopefully they see it in their family and at school but maybe not.

"Those kids need teachers. They need everything to run a mini-school. Instead of only treasure (money), we need the time and talent of volunteers _ time and talent that can't be bought."

Ryan was a quick study on the church's economics when he joined Our Lady six months ago and first met with Father Gerard Powers, the church pastor, and Father Richard Jankowski, assistant pastor.

"I sat down and looked at the needs of the parish," Ryan said. "Sure the parish has money problems _ the budget here is big. We are just now putting a new roof on the church. That cost $125,000. Our monthly electric bill runs $3,000."

Also, he said, budget changes have made some former paid ministry positions into volunteer ones. But Ryan said even that all fits in with the focus of Vatican Council II when the church was reformed in the mid-'60s.

"The document on lay people stated that the church is the people, and the people are lay people, priests, sisters, monks, bishops _ they come in all forms _ and that all of us have a responsibility and an opportunity to be full members by participating in the life of the church."

Asked about his life at the church, Ryan said: "I do a variety of things _ what is it called, a jack of all trades but a master of none."

However, listening to him speak about the many church activities, you get a picture in stark contrast with his modest description.

Born and reared in Clearwater, Ryan, 31, pastored Clearwater Central Catholic High School for two years and was assistant pastor at Incarnation Parish in Tampa for three. He said for now he is quite content being where he is, working for Father Powers, whom he describes as a "very good man and a good pastor." Down the road he sees himself as a college chaplain, perhaps at the University of South Florida.

The Our Lady ministry in which he seems to receive particular enjoyment is the ministry to engaged couples.

"I am not a marriage therapist nor someone who judges whether they should even get married. Basically, I try to be a friend to them," he said.

"I like to encounter people at peak moments in their lives. Marriage is a peak moment, first Communion, confirmation. That is the exciting part about ministry. They say you get more out of it than you put in. That's why I became a priest."