by Jill Esfeld
LEAWOOD — “I think whenever people are setting up their own lawn chairs, it really does give you that family feeling,” said Liz Hagen, the minister of belonging and hospitality at Church of the Nativity here.
That family feeling pervaded the evening of Sept. 9 when more than 300 people gathered, with their own lawn chairs, for Church of the Nativity’s parish block party.
Happy to be together after months of separation due to Covid, parishioners were eating hot dogs, socializing, playing games and engaging in one more activity you don’t always find at a block party — praying the rosary.
Led by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, the diverse crowd joined in praying the luminous mysteries, while the sun went down and the stars came out.
“I love it,” said pastor Father Mike Hawken. “And you know what? I had a man here who we just celebrated his 90th birthday, and I had a baby here that’s three weeks old and I just baptized her last Sunday.
“And we had every age in between.”
The idea for a block-party rosary came about last May when Hagen attended the School of Faith Rosary Tailgate at the Fiorella’s Event Center in Overland Park.
“That sparked the interest,” she said. “I thought ‘Hey, we could bring this home, we could do this in our own backyard.”
Father Hawken loved the idea.
“It’s a rosary-praying parish,” he said.
The original plan was to welcome everyone back and celebrate the end of the COVID pandemic.
“And, of course, COVID is still with us,” said Father Hawken. “But this being an outdoor event, we were able to have it safely.
“And we need to pray more at this time than ever.”
Archbishop Naumann was pleased to have the opportunity to pray with his church family.
“Thank you for allowing me to crash the block party here,” he said. “And my compliments to the weather committee tonight: They did a great job.”
The weather was perfect and, with the help of the Knights of Columbus, so was the food.
“Our Knights rallied,” said Hagen. “We wanted to keep it simple — didn’t want to stress out over anything. And they did a great job.”
The Knights made sure everyone had plenty of hot dogs and chips, and Andy’s Custard supplied the block party with dessert.
Rosaries were distributed to the children in attendance and all were blessed by the archbishop.
“As we contemplate the mysteries of [Jesus’] life, death and resurrection,” he said when beginning to pray, “may they help us open our hearts to the truth and beauty of our faith.”
Archbishop Naumann prefaced each mystery with a brief meditation.
“Several people mentioned how inspired they were and touched by his meditations,” said Hagen.
The archbishop was inspired by the people, too.
“It’s beautiful to see so many families together,” he said. “Thank you, parents, for bringing your children.
“One of the great ways to strengthen family life is praying together and to expose children to this at an early age is wonderful.”
“Everything came together for a great experience,” said Hagen. “And, yes, people are asking if we’ll do it again in the spring.
“So that is a definite possibility.”