As the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in LaFollette and Christ the King Church in Tazewell, Father Campbell has found a way to include nearby Norris Lake in a unique ministry that reaches parishioners at his churches and seasonal residents from out of state who spend their summers on the lake.
Father Campbell’s annual boat Masses are growing in popularity, with participation increasing each year as more Catholics in his neck of the woods hear about them.
He considers it part of his ministry.
“Jesus preached from boats all the time,” Father Campbell said. “And they really love it, especially the seasonal people because they come down on weekends and can spend more time on the lake. We get people to attend who generally don’t come to Mass. They hear about it and they come and join up.”
According to Father Campbell, 22 boats with about 130 people participate in the marine Masses on average.
The first marine Mass of the season typically is on Father’s Day weekend, according to Father Campbell, who said a number of boaters will arrive at the dock near where Mass will be held. Father Campbell then leads them from his pontoon boat to a cove, where the boats tie-up together.
Father Campbell’s boat is in the middle, with parishioners’ boats tied together around his. Father Campbell explained that during Holy Communion the body of Christ is the only species offered and that Eucharistic ministers are present to help distribute Communion. The Masses include music and afterward the participants share in a meal.
And what was the origin of the boat Mass?
Father Campbell said when he was the associate pastor at St. John Neumann Church in Farragut serving with the pastor, Father John Dowling, a women’s club made up of parishioners living in the lake communities of Rarity Bay and Tellico Village asked if a marine Mass could be celebrated.
Fathers Dowling and Campbell obliged, and when Father Campbell was named pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Christ the King, he brought the idea with him. He has expanded his ministry to include blessings of the fleet.
“In summer, the parish almost triples in size, with people from Ohio who come down to play on the lake. Many of them own houses and condos. It just seemed like the natural thing to do,” Father Campbell said.
Father Campbell’s marine Mass celebrations come naturally to him. He grew up around the water because his father owned a tackle shop and a charter boat business in Florida.
Father Campbell’s second and last marine event for 2012 was Oct. 27. However, cool, windy weather forced him to shift from a boat Mass to a dock Mass at Flat Hollow Marina and Resort near Speedwell. He also has held the Masses at Springs Dock Resort near LaFollette.
Before the Oct. 27 Mass, he took several Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., on a boat ride around Norris Lake.
Despite the cool, windy weather, Father Campbell said a boat Mass has never been cancelled due to weather. And he’s already looking forward to boat Masses next season and the foreseeable future.
“We have had 25 to 30 boat Masses and we’ve never had rain. I take that as a sign that God likes it,” he said.