26 April 2024

On the pub’s breakfast menu: Men returning to their faith in God

| John Thistleton
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Men at a long table

Resuming after the COVID-19 lockdown, a handful of men belonging to the Catholic parish of Goulburn began meeting regularly. Now there are about 25 coming for breakfast for a spiritual and mental health boost. Photo: Michael Lamarra.

Every second month in Goulburn a small group of men get together for breakfast and contemplate their faith in God and mental wellbeing.

A guest speaker shares some of their experiences going through life and the role their faith has played.

Mary Queen of Apostles parish priest Father Joshy Kurien asked a volunteering parishioner Michael Lamarra to resume the parish’s Men’s Breakfast after its membership fell away during COVID-19 restrictions.

Since then attendance has been steadily building on the Saturday mornings they meet in the Tango Room at the Tattersall Hotel.

“I think there is a turn of people going back to their faith,” Michael said. “COVID was a time when people had time to just reassess things and put things in perspective.

“Talking to a lot of priests and in lots of different ministries, there is this undercurrent of people turning back to their faith, whether it is Catholic, Anglican or whatever,” he said. “There was a period there where a lot of people were going away, so now there are a lot of people coming back.”

Michael believes people are realising life is more than the 9-to-5 grind. Coinciding with the breakfast group’s reconvening, the Old Cathedral’s restoration has helped recapture parishioners’ interest.

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The breakfast group’s most recent speaker, military chaplain Father Damien Styles, who served at Goulburn as an assistant priest in about 2004, is based in Canberra and has been deployed several times including in East Timor and Afghanistan.

Michael said he was an inspiring speaker. “He has amazing stories, both as a serviceman, as a chaplain, what he had to deal with, what the soldiers have to deal with.”

Another guest speaker, Councillor Daniel Stickland of Goulburn spoke about men’s mental health. Chanel Bourke, a clinical psychiatrist and specialist spoke about physical and mental wellbeing and its connection with longevity and quality of life. Priests from outside the parish including St Christopher’s Cathedral administrator Fr Trenton Van Reesch and Father Joseph Maria Buckley of the Pauline Fathers Monastery at Penrose have also spoken at the breakfasts.

“I have tried to keep the line-up based within the faith as well,” Michael said. “Something to do with mental health or wellbeing, or issues men face and often we don’t handle them very well. If we have an open discussion forum about those sorts of things, that’s a positive way to get those messages out in a very informal, relaxed environment.”

Goulburn parishioner Michael Lamarra presents military chaplain Father Damien Styles with a replica Abrams tank

Goulburn parishioner Michael Lamarra presents military chaplain Father Damien Styles with a replica Abrams tank, similar to one the cleric has served in. Photo: Matt Casey.

Beginning at 7:30 am, the breakfast meeting begins with a prayer, followed by parish announcements for upcoming events and whether volunteers are needed and an update on the men’s choir, which another parishioner, Stephen Hart, is leading.

While the Old Cathedral’s famous Hill organ is sounding the best it has ever sounded in the past 60 years after being refurbished, the requirement for singing is not as demanding, according to Michael.

Nevertheless Stephen was able to get a group of six or seven men together for six weeks of preparations for St Patrick’s Day and the choir is now aiming for more performances for mass and occasions like Anzac Day.

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The men of the parish help maintain surrounding church properties at Marulan, Taralga, Crookwell and Laggan, act as altar servers and help with plate collections during mass. The breakfast group meetings are keenly anticipated.

“A lot of the men look forward to that social interaction and for a few of the men I know, that’s their special outing for the two months and they really enjoy that camaraderie, sitting down sharing a meal, conversation,” Michael said. “It’s very important to them.”

The breakfast meetings aim to reconnect men with their faith and are not restricted to Catholics or regular mass goers. Lapsed and non-Catholics are welcome.

Getting together with priests away from the church is a reminder they are ordinary men, too. “It’s casual, relaxed and you can open up and talk to them; it removes that barrier from the pulpit; they are sitting next to you, having a coffee, enjoying a meal, having a laugh and they are there to support and help,” Michael said.

He hopes to invite a street preacher to the next breakfast meeting in June. If you would like to attend a breakfast, contact the Mary Queen of Apostles parish on 0403 631 797.

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