BANGOR, Maine — They did not look like they were doing a good deed as they carried the nearly life-sized pieces of a manger from storage into St. John Catholic Church.
One week before the celebration of the birth of the Christ child, members of Cafe, the parish’s young adult group, appeared to be absconding with the Wise Men rather than lovingly preparing them to be displayed on the altar of the York Street church.
“For me, Cafe is a place where I can hang out with folks who think the way I do,” Jon Josefowicz, 29, of Bangor said as the sun began to set Dec. 18.
Cafe, an acronym for Catholic Adult Faith Exploration, meets Sunday evenings at the parish hall at St. Teresa Catholic Church in Brewer.
Josefowicz, along with the Rev. Seamus Griesbach and others founded the group about 2½ years ago.
“There were opportunities for Catholic young adults in other parts of the state to get together, but not in Greater Bangor,” said Griesbach, who is called Father Seamus by his flock. “Plus, it’s good for the parish community to see different age groups doing for and giving to that community and the greater community.”
Attendance averages about 10 per session, the priest said. Similar groups are active in Portland and Waterville.
About half a dozen members of the Bangor-area group helped move the manger scene, intended to be displayed outdoors, from the garage attached to the rectory to the meeting hall in the church basement before the sun set. After taking a break while a Christmas concert was presented, they moved the pieces upstairs and set them up on the altar for the final week of Advent.
The set was given to the church two years ago in memory of Alyssa M. Buzzard of Bradford. She died at the age of 5 on May 28, 2009, as the result of injuries she suffered two days earlier in a car accident on Route 222 in Levant.
The family previously has displayed the manger scene outside their home, according to Griesbach.
Cafe member Justin Vroom, 26, grew up in Bangor attending St. Mary Catholic Church but now lives and works as an engineer in Camden. He attends Mass at Our Lady of Good Hope in that town but often comes to Bangor to participate in the group.
“It’s nice to be able talk about faith with like-minded people,” he said. “It also keeps me connected to Bangor and friends here.”
The priest described Catholics under 35 as Catholics “in isolation.”
“This is the first generation that’s grown up as a kind of minority but without being a part of a minority community,” he said.
Vroom said that he recently saw a list of all the children with whom he took his first Communion. He recognized many of the names as people who had attended Bangor High School with him.
“I’d see a name and say to myself, ‘I didn’t know she was Catholic,’” he said. “Public schools are very secular. It’s not a place where religion is talked about.”
Griesbach, 33, said that his generation of Catholics does not know what it is like to feel Catholic both culturally and religiously.
“We did not grow up in a time when every parish had a school and few of our friends growing up were Catholic,” he said. “American culture has been very secular for the past 40 years. We grew up with a world view, but it didn’t include faith.”
While the group was designed with twenty- and thirtysomething Catholics in mind, about a third of the people who regularly attend are not Catholic, according to Griesbach. Non-Catholics dating Catholics and friends of Catholics also attend the group, as do people wanting to learn more about Christianity and Catholicism.
Controversial topics such as same-sex marriage, birth control and abortion have been discussed thoroughly and civilly, according to the priest.
“People pass through Cafe at a certain time in their lives,” Griesbach said. “They are seeking a greater commitment to something.”
The group has included several young couples who have their first child, Griesbach said. Cafe participants offer support after the birth.
“We try to get a hot meal to their door every other night the first week they are home with the new baby,” the priest said.
Griesbach said that fostering a feeling of community, whether it pertains to Cafe, the parish, Greater Bangor or the worldwide Catholic Church, is one of the goals he hoped to foster when the group started.
“We don’t know what the church will look like in 25 years,” the priest said. “People who are now in their 20s and 30s are the ones who will have to navigate that.”