Sue Tambasco is the president of the 3rd Order in St. Petersburg. Recently she took some time to answer some questions about their collaboration in the Order's redemptive ministry.
1) How many members are in the 3rd Order in St Petersburg? Any new members?
We currently have nineteen active members. Of these seven are fully active, while five show up when they can (age and health problems). We are excited to now have seven brand new members to the 3rd Order. Also, we have three who are interested to enter formation.
2) What is attracting so many lay people to desire to share in the spiritual goods and redemptive work of the Order?
This is a good question. Things were not always so good with the 3rd Order. I took a two months away from the 3rd Order to be with my parent helping them out and sort through health issues (Dad 92 and mom 90 this year.) I am the primary caregiver. I let the vice president take over. I than took off for a week of prayer and solitude to evaluate my life. It came to me that we need to start over. My main question was what was keeping people from looking at the 3rd Order. What were the excuses I heard? Who in the 3rd Order was capable of doing anything? How did outsiders look at the 3rd Order? What were my challenges with the 3rd Order that could be someone else's? Would we be able to revived this 3rd Order or not? No one wants to be part of a sinking ship.
The first change we made was to change the meeting time. Weekends were out. There are only four a months compared to 25 weekdays. People were not willing to giving up their weekend. Professionals look at this as relaxing time, parents for kid’s sports, and people like me were having to make choices between meetings and family events. We moved to nights that created another of issue. Many member don't drive at night. We set up a way younger members would pick them up and found some really do drive at night. We skipped having a Mass each meeting, most were already attending daily mass. We limit the meeting to 1 very structured hour. If you have been part of a network group you can understand this and these are the type people we trying to look at the Order. Those in the professional world realized this would be one intense hour, no wasted time in their schedule. We include prayer for our monthly mission, time to share (optional: 2-3 people)) how the Mercedarian Spirit played out that month in some way in their life, news, and 30 minutes of formation. Those 5 years or more in the 3rd Order must go to formation 4 times a year, the other meetings they have the option to spend time in the chapel praying for the new people. We allow only half the active group to pray so there is always active members in formation with new people.
We opened the year with inviting new people to an open meeting... ok... two of us invited people and people and people. One other brought an aunt not really interested but to bring someone. The priest also invited some. We put it in bulletins, on the Diocesan calendar, and 2 of us went thought dozens of brochures. At the meeting set people shared what the Order meant to them, Father shared a little history, we gave them the meeting outline, and we had food! It set the tone, brought in new interest and God has taken it from there. We will be a scheduling another open meeting for in two months. Hopefully with the new member it will grow again.
One other thing I see as very important. The group loves seeing all our priest at the meetings, even to just stop in and say hello. For them to get to know all the Priest, not just the spiritual director, has allowed then to grow and experience the order in a greater way. It makes them aware of the bigger family they are now part of, lets them see different missions and personalities are priest have.
3) What are some of the redemptive activities of the 3rd Order? (collecting goods etc.)
When the Master General was here last, and the time before, we had a chance to talk. He supported and encouraged us to continue our mission. Each month we pray and collect for a community need. The list is compiled at the beginning of each year and times for the receivers needs. Sometimes we have a place selected but will contact them as we get closer to see what is needed. Examples school supplies for needy kids when school starts, blankets for the homeless when winter begins, food for the food banks when school get out and needs are up etc. We also include the Orders local house and Seminary. We started this program for a couple reason. One; many of our members are up in age and could not do more than this. Two; it puts the Mercedarian name out in our community at many levels and locations.
However, now that our 3rd Order is growing we are now in the process of picking a secondary mission that is hands on. I have met with three small groups from our Lay Order for input. We have decided on a adopting a nursing home or special needs home. This has been wild in many respects, some of the member insist they need intense training, some will not go in neighborhoods they have not been in thinking they are not safe, some say no nursing home since they just lost parents, and so on. I realize I will just need to make a decision and let God take over the rest. I have a certain one in mind but need to find time to talk with Father James (who handles Eucharist Ministers at St Jude's) and one more person who I know is often there. Hopefully it will be sorted out in the next few weeks.