‘I don’t want anybody missing out on what we missed out on’

Recent reverts help keep music ministry alive at their local church

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

One couple’s return to Mass one Easter after a 15-year hiatus has proved a providential help for their local faith community.

Through that decision, Nettie and Greg Barr have helped ensure a future for the music ministry at the small rural church in Rio Grande. They hope their return to church life and ministry will be an encouragement for others who have drifted from their faith.

Nettie and Greg Barr with their grandchildren and dog at their home in Rio Grande.

It was over a year ago that the Barr’s began talking more and more about returning to the Catholic Church. They were once steady parishioners at St. Patrick’s Church in Rio Grande, but a combination of busy work schedules, travelling and difficulties in the community had been excuses to put their faith life to the wayside.

We’re not confrontational people, and because of difficulties in the past it was easier for us to go the other way and do our own thing,” said Nettie. “I used to travel a lot also with my work as a horse specialist, so work too became an excuse for missing church. And soon one week away from the church became two, then a month, then a year, and then suddenly – wow, we had been away for 15 years.”

Fr. Michael Dias says he has a list of people registered at his parishes that he does not regularly see at Mass. He continually offers prayers for them and gladly meets with them whenever he has the opportunity.

But they both sensed that a key part of their live was missing without the Mass. And it just so happened that, around the same time the Barr’s were discussing going back to church, Fr. Michael Dias – the pastor for the Catholic churches in Beaverlodge, Hythe and Rio Grande – showed up on their doorstep one day, lost and in need of directions.

“Before then we didn’t know Fr. Michael existed. We didn’t even know if Mass at St. Patrick’s was still going on,” Nettie recalled. “Father had been planning to visit the family who lived across from us but ended up in our backyard, I’ll say ‘by accident’, but was it really by accident? Or was it really God at work?”

Nettie had given Fr. Michael instructions on where to go and mentioned in passing that they were also Catholics. Fr. Michael instantly told them they were welcome any time at St. Patrick’s and went on his way. He then made an effort to reconnect with the family in the following days, pray for them and occasionally visit with them.

Through these visits, Nettie and Greg gained the assurance to come back – attending their first Mass in many years on Easter Sunday.

Greg Barr tends to some of the horses he and Nettie care for at their home in Rio Grande.

“We were hesitant to go back at first, not knowing how we were going to be received, returning to the community after such a long time away. But Father was really instrumental in giving us a different outlook on that and really embracing us,” said Nettie.

“We came to a crossroads where we didn’t want any longer to hold onto grudges of the past. And we realized God does not want us for a fair-weather friend. You have to do your bit if you really desire a relationship with Him.”

And when they finally did return, the anxieties over their reception soon evaporated. Even if some of the responses at the Mass had changed, and the Barr’s both forgot at what parts of the Mass they were supposed to kneel, everyone in the St. Patrick’s community made them feel at home.

Since returning to the Church, Nettie Barr now provides music during Sunday liturgy at St. Patrick’s in Rio Grande.

“I don’t think there was a single person who didn’t stop by and say how wonderful it was to see us. I get goosebumps still thinking about it,” Nettie recalled. “It goes to show how great the community at St. Patrick’s is. The people there are really the pillars of that church, and without them there would be no St. Patrick’s. They are beautiful people and they deserve much recognition and appreciation.”

Despite those many years of being “fair-weather friends” to God, since returning to Sunday Mass and the St. Patrick’s community, their faith has deepened and been renewed in immense ways.

This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the March 2022 edition of Northern Light