Pastor's Message

Dear Parishioners: 

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is substantial, and we have all been affected by it in one way or another. There are really no areas of our lives that remain untouched by its impact. We see not only impacts to the physical health of our world, but also the crushing economic impact the pandemic has had on families and businesses and organizations of all kinds. Revenue is decreasing such that some organizations have been forced to close, while others have had to lay off employees in an attempt to survive financially. 

Unfortunately, the economic downturn has greatly impacted churches too; Immaculate Conception Parish is no exception. As I have shared with you before, like most organizations our revenue has decreased substantially during the pandemic. We have cut expenses tremendously, and yet our must-pay expenses still outpace our income. After cutting our nonpayroll expenses as low as they can go, we now have no choice but to cut expenses associated with staff salaries. 

While we have been able to maintain our entire staff at full strength since the outbreak of the pandemic, we can no longer sustain that spending; we have to be good stewards of the financial resources you, our parishioners, have blessed us with and cannot spend our savings down to nothing. Therefore, like many organizations in the country, we too have had to eliminate some staff positions. 

After much prayer, and analysis of our financial situation by our Finance Council, our parish has had to eliminate three staff positions because we simply cannot afford them any longer. The positions affected are those of the Director of Music Ministry, the position of Pastoral Associate, and a custodial/cleaning position. Similar positions have been eliminated in parishes throughout the Diocese; we are not the only parish having to make these tough decisions. Although we held out hope that the economic downturn would not impact our staff members directly, it now has. 

I can assure you that this was a decision of last resort, and we have made every effort to charitably assist the staff members affected by this unfortunate reality. 

We do not know when we will begin to recover financially; in the near-term, however, we will rely on volunteers to assist with music at Masses, and we will begin to reorganize the remaining staff to cover the job duties of the other eliminated positions mentioned. We will continue to stay focused on our core parish mission, which is to lead all to their Home in Heaven with our Lord. 

Our parish income is derived solely through your generous contributions and donations to our parish in thanksgiving for what God has given you and your family. Giving out of thanksgiving is at the heart of stewardship in the Catholic Church. 

For it is through this authentic stewardship giving of your time, treasure and talents in thanksgiving to God that our parish will most effectively recover financially. Let us continue to pray for one another, and especially for those former staff members who have now been effected most directly by this unfortunate economic situation. 

In Christ, through Mary the Immaculate Conception,

Fr. Cook

Dear brothers and sister in Christ,

Despite some of the limitations caused by the pandemic, I trust that you had a beautiful Christmas season. We know that God’s Grace was given to us in abundance this Christmas, and we thank our Lord for that! Unfortunately the community is now feeling the affects of COVID’s rapid spread from those Thanksgiving and Christmas family gatherings. Eighty-four of North Carolina’s one-hundred counties are now in the “red alert” category, which is the critical category for the spread of COVID19; Henderson County is one of those red counties. Because of that fact, and in an abundance of caution to do our part to stop the spread of the virus, we must return to certain limitations that we had in place earlier in the pandemic.

While Sunday Masses will continue with our current precautions in place, no groups however small may meet in campus buildings. The State of North Carolina highlights that the critical spread is due to gatherings of those from different households so, in the Secretarial Directive issued on January 6, 2021, the State asks that we limit our travel and public interactions for the purposes of work, school, healthcare purposes, or caring for family members or to buy food. Additionally, the State asks that there be no gatherings of those who do not live in the same household; if groups must gather, says the Directive, those gatherings should be outdoors. While our gathering for Mass is Constitutionally protected, we are going to do our part to follow these recommendations in non-Mass settings. Therefore, all group gatherings on campus are canceled with immediate effect, and indefinitely.

Additionally, we must redouble our efforts when we gather for Mass: continue to wear masks and social distance at Mass, including keeping your mask over your entire mouth and nose; wash your hands often, and use hand sanitizer prior to entering the church for Mass.

Also remember that gathering at Mass can be one of the most risky things you can do; even with our precautions, gathering for Mass with those from various households can be an opportunity for a rapid spread of COVID19. The risk exists, so please stay home if you have tested positive, are sick, or have even minor symptoms; if anyone in your household has symptoms or has tested positive; or if you are over 65 and/or are in a highrisk category. The dispensation from your Sunday Mass obligation is still in place.

Some have asked questions regarding the COVID19 vaccine, as it relates to Catholic moral teachings. As we know, some vaccines and medicines are made using cell lines gathered decades ago from the bodies and organs of aborted babies. All currently available COVID19 vaccines have some connection to those cell lines. However, the Church teaches that receiving any of the COVID19 vaccines is morally acceptable for Catholics because we have the certain knowledge that this is not formal cooperation in the abortions which occurred decades ago.

Thus, the Catholic who receives these vaccines does not formally cooperate with moral evil, nor is it a moral endorsement of the use of such cell lines in the development of the COVID19 vaccines. However, the Church tells us that we must not become complacent in encouraging vaccine developers to find alternative methods for vaccine development other than the use of cells from aborted babies.

Be assured of my prayers for all of you!

Fr. Cook

During the winter months, confession will be held indoors from 9:30am to 10:30am on Saturdays, with both priests available. No signups will be required; however, you must wear a mask at all times while indoors (unless you qualify for an exemption per State guidelines). This means masks must be worn while standing in line, and while in the confessional. Also, you must maintain social distancing of six (6) feet from nonhousehold members while waiting. As long as these guidelines are met, we will continue to have confessions without signups.

May God bless you all,
Fr. Cook

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

What a joy it is to celebrate the Christ Child coming into the world for the salvation of mankind. This Christmas is certainly one in which we find ourselves in hopeful expectation of emerging from a long darkness caused by the pandemic, but that is what the event of God joining the human condition in the man of Jesus Christ is all about.

Our Savior coming to earth affirms our hope that God always cares for us and loves us, and never leaves us to fend for ourselves. Christmas reminds us that God loves us so much that He joined us in the struggles and challenges of our humanity in becoming Man.

On this Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us especially be reminded that we continue to be cared for by our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, even during times of struggle, and He has not left us alone. As we celebrate Christmas, and the Feast of the Holy Family backtoback this year, let our families join the Holy Family in resting in the great joy and hope that came to earth on the first Christmas, in the Person of Jesus Christ.

It is my prayerful intention that you have a blessed, holy, joyful Christmas and rest in the peace of the coming of the

Lord! In Christ our Savior,
Fr. Cook

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I hope you and your families had a blessed Thanksgiving, in whatever manner you chose to share that holiday. Know that you were all in my prayers as I am thankful for you all, and your prayerful support.

As I noted last week, Christmas Eve is on a Thursday, Christmas Day is Friday, and then the Saturday and Sunday Masses will be held on our typical COVID-era schedule.

And I also remind everyone that your obligation to attend Mass for Holy Days (e.g., Christmas) and Sundays has been suspended by our Bishop, who reminds us to “… exercise prudential judgment in deciding whether to attend Mass.”

In an effort to keep COVID-19 from spreading through our community, please continue to make prudent decisions on whether to attend Christmas Mass with your family; if you have out-of-town visitors, or a large number of family visiting for Christmas, consider not bringing everyone to Mass.

You can also consider signing up for only one Mass during that four-day weekend, since seating capacity will be very limited at all Masses. Given that there is no obligation this year, there is no need to observe both Christmas Day and Sunday Mass during this four-day stretch. Become comfortable with the idea that attending just one of the Masses offered through the four-day period may be a prudent choice for your family.

All the Masses – those of Christmas and the Sunday immediately following – are in the Christmas Octave, so attending only one Mass within that four-day period (Dec. 24th through Dec. 27th) will still be a great celebration of the Nativity. Look for our Christmas Mass schedule to be published soon.

I know the traditions of Christmas are very important to all of us which, for most, include attending Christmas Mass with extended family and visiting friends. Things must necessarily be different this year, so let us all be prudent in preparing for that reality. However, let us also continue to pray for an end to this pandemic, and a return to normalcy.

Please be assured of my prayers for a blessed Advent for you and your families!

In Christ, through Mary the Immaculate Conception,
Fr. Cook

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As the temperatures cool, and the fall colors slowly disappear we all begin to turn our attention to our seasonal plans for Thanksgiving, and the Advent and Christmas season. Unfortunately, we also still have the realities of the pandemic hanging over those plans. With vaccines on the horizon we know that things will improve in due time. The current reality, however, is that our entire State is experiencing increasing numbers of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations; clearly, we are not out of the woods yet.

Our goal is to help our community by doing our part to slow the spread of this virus. We know that large gatherings increase the risk of spreading the virus. Therefore, our current Mass practices (masks, distancing, sign-ups, and a reduced capacity) will continue for the foreseeable future, including the Masses of Christmas.

Christmas Eve is on a Thursday, Christmas Day is Friday, and then the Saturday and Sunday Masses will also be held as normal; that is four straight days of Masses. Typically, we would remind you of your Mass obligations for both Christmas and the Sunday immediately following.

However, recall that your obligation to attend Mass for Holy Days and Sundays has been suspended by our Bishop, who reminds us to “… exercise prudential judgment in deciding whether to attend Mass.” Make prudent decisions in whether to attend Christmas Mass with your family; if you have out-of-town visitors, or a large family, consider not bringing everyone to Mass.

Also, consider signing up for only one Mass during that four-day weekend, since seating capacity will be very limited at all Masses. Given that there is no obligation this year, there is no need to observe both your Christmas Mass and Sunday Mass obligations during this four-day stretch. Become comfortable with the idea that attending just one of the Masses offered through the four-day period may be a prudent choice for your family. Look for our limited Christmas Mass schedule to be published soon.

I know the traditions of Christmas are very important to all of us which, for most, include attending Christmas Mass with extended family and visiting friends. Things will definitely be different this year, and I write this to help us all prepare for that reality. However, continue to pray for an end to this pandemic, and a return to normalcy. For we know, in Christian Hope, that it will be soon.

In Christ, through Mary the Immaculate Conception,

Fr. Cook

Good Samaritan Fund Update

“It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

The Finance Council and I have been working on how to securely administer the Good Samaritan Fund which is designed to help the needy in Henderson County.  There are more people asking for help since the Covid-19 pandemic, yet our parish office cannot yet open to the general public, as  we must follow all the safety and  security guidelines established by the CDC and NC government. It is no longer feasible to administer charitable distributions from our church office during the pandemic, nor do we perceive an ability to do so in the future, for the safety and security of our staff. 

For the last few months, to honor the intent of the donors, the Finance Council has been evaluating which   Henderson County charities are currently providing these services required by the needy.   

The Finance Council has recommended four local charities: Interfaith Assistance Ministries (IAM), The Free Clinics, Safelight and Open Arms Pregnancy Center.  I support, and have accepted, these recommendations as these charities have a proven process to screen, track and fairly administer the distribution of food, clothing, health care, and help with rent, utilities, and transportation. All these charities are supported by our parishioners and many of us volunteer or work for them. These charities rely on fundraisers which were cancelled this spring and the fall events may also be cancelled or go virtual.  Regardless, their funding is reduced, and we are in a position to help through our Good Samaritan Fund. 

Earlier this year we made a donation from the Good Samaritan fund to IAM and to a family whose breadwinner is suffering from cancer and is unable to work; we have also continued to financially assist families who come to us in need.  I have authorized donations to the four selected charities who can spread our gifts to more of our neighbors in need. Giving is not God’s way of raising money; it is God’s way of raising people into the likeness of His Son.

God bless you and thank you for your continued generosity.

Fr. Christian Cook

Pastor

Immaculate Conception Church

Good Samaritan Fund Update

 

 

“It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

 

The Finance Council and I have been working on how to securely administer the Good Samaritan Fund which is designed to help the needy in Henderson County. There are more people asking for help since the Covid-19 pandemic, yet our parish office cannot yet open to the general public, as we must follow all the safety and security guidelines established by the CDC and NC government. It is no longer feasible to administer charitable distributions from our church office during the pandemic, nor do we perceive an ability to do so in the future, for the safety and security of our staff.

 

For the last few months, to honor the intent of the donors, the Finance Council has been evaluating which Henderson County charities are currently providing these services required by the needy.

 

The Finance Council has recommended four local charities: Interfaith Assistance Ministries (IAM), The Free Clinics, Safelight and Open Arms Pregnancy Center. I support, and have accepted, these recommendations as these charities have a proven process to screen, track and fairly administer the distribution of food, clothing, health care, and help with rent, utilities, and transportation. All these charities are supported by our parishioners and many of us volunteer or work for them. These charities rely on fundraisers which were cancelled this spring and the fall events may also be cancelled or go virtual. Regardless, their funding is reduced, and we are in a position to help through our Good Samaritan Fund.

 

Earlier this year we made a donation from the Good Samaritan fund to IAM and to a family whose breadwinner is suffering from cancer and is unable to work; we have also continued to financially assist families who come to us in need. I have authorized donations to the four selected charities who can spread our gifts to more of our neighbors in need. Giving is not God’s way of raising money; it is God’s way of raising people into the likeness of His Son.

 

God bless you and thank you for your continued generosity.

 

Fr. Christian Cook

Pastor

Immaculate Conception Church

 

 

Dear Parishioners,

The Church in the United States marks our annual observance of October as Respect Life Month. Although we are not to dismiss or ignore the many significant threats to human life and dignity (racism, poverty, and the like), the U.S. bishops reaffirm that “… the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.” During this month of October, let us renew our commitment to protect the most fundamental of all human rights – the right to live for children in the womb.

The Holy Father, Pope Francis, has expressed his support to the Bishops of the United States in their efforts, observing that if we fail to protect life in the womb, no other rights matter. Pope Francis shares with all of us that abortion is not primarily a Catholic or even a religious issue, it is first and foremost a human rights issue.

The Right to Life, of the most vulnerable human beings – that is, infants in the womb – is always under attack; and as we approach a national election in the United States in November, it is very appropriate that Respect Life Month precedes this election because, as the Holy Father reminds us, abortion is the preeminent human rights issue.

In this bulletin you will find the first of a two-part document on the challenge of forming your conscience in order to properly fulfil your political responsibility, as a Catholic in this election. Part I of II is called “Our Call as Catholic Citizens,” and is a teaching document issued by the Catholic Bishops of the United States. Part II, “Making Moral Choices and Applying Our Principles” will be published in the next bulletin.

I encourage all of you to prayerfully enter into Respect Life Month and pray for the preservation of the lives of the unborn. And I direct all of us to properly form our consciences in preparation for exercising our obligation, as Catholics, to be a voice in the public square and in the voting booth.

In Christ, through Mary the Immaculate Conception,


Fr. Cook

As we continue to try and manage our lives, both spiritually and practically, in the midst of a pandemic, there continues to be much activity around the parish.  Our primary focus right now is preparing our school for face-to-face learning, starting in September.  It is quite the challenge, both in taking the proper steps to ensure a safe environment for our teachers and students when they return, and in wrapping up construction.  Continue to pray for Immaculata Catholic School, and all involved.

We said goodbye to Fr. Taylor last week, as he headed out to his new assignment at St. Leo’s in Winston-Salem, and today we have both a coming and a going!  After eight weeks with us, our seminarian,  Christopher Brock, will be returning to his studies as a second-year theologian.  We involved Chris in as many activities we could, to help him learn about the realities of parish life for a priest.  We only wish he could have gotten to know more of you but, in this very unorthodox time, his activities were necessarily limited.  He absolutely enjoyed his time here at Immaculate Conception. Please continue to pray for him, and his vocation; with God’s Grace, he will be ordained to the priesthood in 2023!

This weekend, we also welcome the arrival of our new Parochial Vicar, Fr. Jonathan Torres.  Again, because of these times in which we live, his arrival this weekend will be a bit muted.  I realize, at least initially, it will be difficult to get to know Fr. Torres until our parish activities resume.  But those of you attending weekend Masses will come to know him through the Masses he offers.  It is a joy to welcome him to our parish, as I am certain he will serve you well.  Please continue to include him in your daily prayers, as he begins his life as a priest of Jesus Christ here at Immaculate Conception.

Know of my prayers for all of you, as we continue in Phase II of our pandemic protocols through August and into early September.  Remember, although we cannot yet engage in typical parish activities, the best “group meeting” we can have is that of coming together as one at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; the best “prayer group” we can engage in is the highest form of prayer there is, which is the Mass; and Adoration of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is yours to behold every time the priest raises Him above the altar at Mass.  Cherish these things, enter fully into them, and the Lord will continue to grow the virtue of Faith in your heart.

Fr. Cook