They just have one hour to prepare and serve about 50 to 60 homeless people at one of the meeting venues of the Beacon House Association, an alcohol and drug abuse treatment center in San Pedro. They have been doing this as a family for the last three years. Their other four children also volunteer, but today they were busy with school work.The Buechses are part of St. John Fisher Church’s feeding the homeless ministry, one of 70 outreach ministries at the Rancho Palos Verdes parish that celebrated its 50th jubilee May 15. Archbishop José Gomez presided at a special Mass with 15 concelebrating priests, including Msgr. David Sork, pastor; Msgr. Steven Zak, associate pastor; and Msgr. Eugene Gilb, pastor emeritus. The five parish choirs (about 100 people in total, youth and adults) sang.In his homily, Archbishop Gomez urged parishioners to maintain their family environment, a factor that has kept the Buechses coming to the parish for the last 20 years. He also commended parishioners and the school community for their growing evangelization and outreach efforts throughout the years.Early daysAbout 250 families, residents of Rancho Palos Verdes and San Pedro, attended the first Mass at then St. Peter Alcantara Church, celebrated in the old Marymount College auditorium in San Pedro (currently a Salvation Army training facility), with Msgr. Thomas McCarthy presiding as the founding pastor. In 1962 the church changed its name to St. John Fisher, an English martyr, to avoid confusion with other St. Peter churches in the area.Tom Mattis, 83, a parish founding member, Bible study facilitator and leader of the groups who feed the homeless, has known all of St. John Fisher’s leaders and speaks highly of each. Msgr. McCarthy was a “fantastic speaker and organizer,” Mattis said, while his successor, Father Vincent Barrett (1974-85), was “a quiet guy and also a good organizer.”The third pastor, Msgr. Gilb (1985-99), was a “personable” leader who drew people with his “great sermons,” said Mattis. The pastor was succeeded by Msgr. Sork who since then has been working hard in conveying the importance of evangelization and outreach.“We have a lot of gifted people in this parish,” Msgr. Sork said of the parish’s 3,200 registered families, mostly white collar workers, business owners and a significant amount of retired professionals from the aerospace industry. The 2000 pastoral letter “As I Have Done for You,” from Cardinal Roger Mahony and the priests of the archdiocese on ministry, provided a real impetus for growth. “After that letter about lay involvement in parishes,” he said, “we had an explosion of ministries.”Outreach effortsMattis agrees that outreach is an important tool of every church. “Msgr. Sork is the outreach-type of guy,” he noted. “He has never cut the budget for outreach, and is very supportive.” A retired communications satellite designer and builder, Mattis was quick to say yes and seek support when, one day 11 years ago, an evangelical pastor asked him for support to feed the homeless in San Pedro. He knocked on different doors throughout the harbor city until he found the Beacon House right in front of the Los Angeles Port.Soon after he was forming two more groups of five to 10 volunteers (including families like the Buechses) to feed homeless children and their families at the Toberman Neighborhood Center in San Pedro and at the Christian Center in Long Beach. In total, the volunteers serve about 1,400 meals a month, worth nearly $50,000 per year.“We do this for the glory of God,” says Kent Buechs, who initially had some concerns about getting involved in the church ministries, but was inspired by the example of other parishioners like Mattis. “They teach us at church to love your God and to love your neighbor,” adds his wife Stella. “It is a very rewarding process.” Daughter Monika said she also loves spending that “quality time” with her parents.The family becomes very emotional when talking about the “joy” they received and how their lives changed when they started getting involved in different ministries. Before, they said, they used to spend their spare time with friends out of church, but today all their friends are fellow church members.While the women served the food to the homeless and engaged them in friendly conversation, Kent was already washing pans and cleaning stoves. At 7 p.m. everything looked pristine. Two hours of service on the site makes a difference in the lives of others and in their own lives, they said. “It’s about giving them dignity,” Stella commented. “A ‘How are you today?’ always brings comfort to others.” “They are great!” exclaimed a man they were serving.Growing in faith“People here have a willingness to look outside [the church and their neighborhood],” noted Katherine Coolidge, pastoral associate and former director of evangelization.But this could not be done without the emphasis the church leadership puts on adult and youth faith formation. There are about 15 small communities who gather for Scripture study, including one in Chinese. (In recent years St. John Fisher has drawn a diverse community, mainly Asians, Europeans and a few Latinos.)“Our vision is to be able to help one another grow in faith and put it into action,” Coolidge said. The church also supports communities in Mexico through its Agape ministry and partners with Sagrado Corazon Parish in Cudahy, where they adopt 20 families every year and have financially supported that church renovations on top of their generous contributions to remodel their own church.The first phase of the renovation process was recently completed. It includes a new rectory in the former convent building, a school grass play area, and expansion of the parking lot. The second phase involves demolition of the former rectory, utility upgrading and construction of a new church that will be completely visible to passers-by at the corner of Crenshaw and Crest Road. That phase will start in the fall and is scheduled to be completed by spring 2013. To date, parishioners have pledged $19 million of the $20 million-plus required.The parish is also updating its Website and revisiting the use of new technology and electronic resources to increase its outreach efforts. They have been “experimenting” with Facebook and Twitter for marketing and communication purposes and have already updated the database.Msgr. Sork said he would like to see — either under his watch or that of his successor — a pre-school and a chapel for perpetual adoration. In the meantime, he will continue supporting the outreach ministries at the “church on the hill.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0611/spfisher/{/gallery}