Doing their part: Billy Don and Mary Jane Clark of St. Paul Parish in Electra exemplify that rural parishes flourish with parishioners’ stewardship
It could be a form of nearsightedness. After being so involved at St. Paul Parish in Electra for more than 50 years, Mary Jane Clark can’t see what others see clearly: the service that she and her husband, Billy Don, contribute to the parish is worth noting.
She’s quick to deflect any recognition for their stewardship at the rural parish just south of the Oklahoma border.
She said, “St. Paul is a very small parish. It takes all of us. The people at St. Paul all have a job. Everyone contributes. It’s not just one person or one family. Everybody has to do their part.”
Mary Jane’s part includes serving on the pastoral advisory council and bereavement committee; being a reader; helping with religious education, sacramental preparation, and vacation Bible school; and coordinating snacks for the school kids.
What she’s given to the church, she’s gotten back “multiple times,” she said.
Her most fulfilling service is bringing the Eucharist to the sick and homebound of the parish. “It’s a very interesting, very rewarding ministry. The one thing they all have in common is they’re just very, very appreciative,” explained the retired teacher, who shares the devotion to the Eucharist.
Her husband is just as involved in the parish. Like his wife, Billy Don serves on the bereavement committee and the pastoral advisory council, adding the council is “a really small group, and anyone who wants to attend is welcome.”
He chairs the parish finance council and is a reader at Mass.
“We’re a small parish. We all have to pitch in. If we don’t pitch in, we don’t have a parish,” he said.
Father Joseph Moreno, pastor of St. Paul as well as St. Jude Thaddeus Parish in Burkburnett and Christ the King Parish in Iowa Park, explained the necessity of parishioner participation. He said, “In small parishes, especially because they are rural, we would not be able to manage without them.”
The time and attention of the pastor is sometimes stretched thin between the three parishes. He said, “I spent 30 years in corporate management before I went to seminary, and I learned to surround yourself with people who have the skills and abilities you don’t have. They have the ability to be there — people who can take care of things, who have ownership in the parish.”
The Clarks, Fr. Moreno said, “are my ‘go-to’ people when something needs to be done.”
Billy Don is a great liaison between the pastor and the community, according to Fr. Moreno. “He knows people.”
Electra’s population is less than 3,000, and it’s likely Billy Don knows almost everyone. He spent 40 years as a librarian, teacher, and administrator at Electra High School and has a long record of community volunteering.
He has been on the Board of Directors of the Electra Hospital District for more than 40 years. He serves on the Nortex Regional Planning Commission and is a former chair of the Electra Public Library Advisory Board.
Fr. Moreno nominated the couple for the Light of Christ Awards, an honor the Advancement Foundation for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth created to recognize individuals and couples for their service to their parish.
Pastors of each parish were invited to nominate an individual or couple who exemplifies the four pillars of Christian stewardship: prayer, hospitality, formation, and service.
The Advancement Foundation hosted the second annual Light of Christ Awards on June 24 at Holy Family Parish in Fort Worth. At the ceremony, 47 individuals or couples were presented with certificates in appreciation of their stewardship.
Clint Weber, president of the Advancement Foundation, said Light of Christ award winners “exemplify the light of Christ through your lives of Christian stewardship and leadership and live out your baptismal call in an extraordinary way, using your God-given gifts, and deepen the life of the Church through your service in the parish, through your discipleship, embracing stewardship as a way of life.”
Mary Jane said, “We’re stewards. We are given these things, but they are not ours. They are ours to share. That’s what I feel like I’ve been called to do. It’s not that we have that much, but we have been blessed.”
Lessons in generosity came early in life from her father. She recalled, “I was brought up with the attitude of ‘This is what you’re here for, and you can’t out-give the Lord.’”
The Clarks say stewardship is not a sacrifice, but an investment in the future of the parish and a remembrance of the faithful German Catholics who built a church and school in the nearby German farming community of Mount Carmel in 1907.
Billy Don, who entered the Church after they married, said, “It’s very important to me that we have a Catholic presence in our community. It was founded by people who were very, very strong in their faith. I feel like I owe it to those people to maintain what they started.
“It’s important that others can see our faith and see what it’s like and see how we practice,” he continued.
Mary Jane appreciates the closeness of the small parish of about 100 faithful. “We know everybody. We’re human, and we have our shortcomings, and we have our talents and gifts, but it’s a family.”
Fr. Moreno extended the family comparison, referring to the couple affectionately as the “grandparents of the parish.”
He said the Clarks “treat the parish like it’s their home,” greeting each person with a smile and a kind word. Like so many others in parishes across the diocese, they do their part to live and share their faith for this generation and the next.