Jenny Hollmeyer, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish, gets some air as she tosses a beanbag during a round of cornhole. The game was among the many activities at the parish picnic this summer. (Courtesy Mike Barsotti)
Jenny Hollmeyer, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish, gets some air as she tosses a beanbag during a round of cornhole. The game was among the many activities at the parish picnic this summer. (Courtesy Mike Barsotti)

STAYTON — COVID-19, testing, masks, hand sanitizer, vaccines, contact tracing. It seems the most common words in our vocabulary for nearly two years have changed. Is there no normal?

At Immaculate Conception Parish here, the pastoral council decided to plan something beloved but canceled last year: a parish picnic. With public gatherings now allowed — adhering to safety protocols — it was time to come together again and celebrate community.

Father Luan Nguyen, pastor, wrote a welcoming letter, mailed to all parishioners, inviting everyone to come and celebrate. A committee was formed and planning took off. 

The local Knights of Columbus offered to cook hamburgers and hot dogs. Resers Fine Foods provided potato and macaroni salads and baked beans. Parishioners brought a salad or dessert. Members of the Latino community contributed colorful and delicious flavored water.

The summer day began with a bilingual Mass, and more than 250 parishioners joined the joyful celebration that followed. The street was shut off, the decorations were festive, the outdoor games and activities were plentiful. 

Of course, not everything can go according to plan. The day was hot, so helium balloons would not stay up, but a balloon arch did welcome all. Likewise, the balloon animals could not be made, as the heat made the balloons pop when being twisted. And the face paint that was planned would drip down faces. So instead the vender brought a giant tortoise named Steve, and he was the hit of the party. Many horse and buggy rides were provided by Mill Creek Carriages — until the horses had enough of the heat. 

Children and adults alike enjoyed basketball, cornhole, bubbles, Jenga, sack races, sidewalk chalk, horse shoes and more. Father Nguyen even tried his luck playing cornhole.

The day was much more than a picnic. It was a day to celebrate being together as a parish family. The joy and laughter shared changed the vocabulary, at least for a day. Greetings, sharing, hope, blessings, great food, community. That is the language of God’s love.

Brand is a member of Immaculate Conception Parish.