Sunday, February 2, 2003

A WaPost article on Anne Buening's first Sunday as a parish administrator

For the moment, Buening and her parishioners aren't focused on breaking barriers. Instead, they are busy trying to repair the spirit and the infrastructure of their church community after their pastor left last year following allegations of solicitation of a male prostitute.

.....She has her work cut out for her. The church, at the heart of the community of wooden shingle houses surrounded by chain-link fences, for the past nine months has been sick with its scandal. Buening's predecessor, a popular pastor known for community activism, was removed in March. He was sentenced in August to a year of supervised probation for filing a false report of a carjacking.

.....The pastoral council meeting minutes from November conveyed a sense of desperation: "It is time to start fixing what needs to be fixed. God is preparing us for something good -- something good and great can come out of this mess, and we can experience resurrection."

Where others might have seen a run-down parish, Buening saw an opportunity. As she drove around the parish neighborhood south of Baltimore, she said, "I liked its comfort -- it felt like the Midwest," where she grew up. "What I saw was a community that lives its faith."

At the 11 a.m. Mass yesterday, she was the first to speak after the organ stopped playing inside the gray, boxy, modern church, where the stained glass is made up of rectangular figures.

"This is my very first weekend here, and I want to thank everyone for your kind notes and warm hugs," she told the 100 or so churchgoers by way of introduction. "My commitment is to walk with you."

Without further preamble, she listed the parish's most pressing problems: The boilers are malfunctioning. The roof is leaky. The school is in debt. And the church financial records are in a shambles.

"It's your community, it's your parish, and you have the right to know," she said. "I can't do this alone. I need you. I need your help."

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