Jennifer Barton
August 9, 2022 // Diocese

Holy Smokes! – Serving Up Communal Life

Jennifer Barton

Grilling brings people together, no doubt about that. The scent of cooking meat floating on the summer breeze, chairs gathered around a sizzling grill, and laughter and conversations all draw people in like nothing else in American culture.

A love of cooking over an open fire motivated Father Michael Ammer, Parochial Vicar at St. Jude Parish in Fort Wayne, to use his gifts – and his Yoder pellet smoker – to dish up a hearty portion of communal life along with brisket and pulled pork. “In order to have brisket or pulled pork or ribs, you can’t really make it just for yourself, you have to cook it in large portions, so I’m forced to have people over,” he joked. That’s what his ministry is about – getting to know his parishioners and building community at St. Jude. 

Open to members of the parish community, Father Ammer began his ministry – now called Holy Smokes – last year. Almost immediately after his ordination, he went to Warsaw to pick up his new grill and got cooking. 

He recalled one of his first parishioner cookouts, in which two families who had been active in the parish for years met each other for the first time. “That was a good one,” he said.

Since its kickoff, Father Ammer has worked to expand the ministry, hosting a neighborhood cookout and a handful of “Barbeque and Bourbon” nights. Though he doesn’t plan any talks in advance and likes the more relaxed atmosphere of these nights, he has been party to fruitful conversations during these events. The next event is scheduled for Sept. 10 at 6:30 p.m. and interested parties can RSVP by calling Kris Church at the parish office.

He has also hosted other priests from around the Fort Wayne-area for fellowship and outreach. And certainly, Monsignor Robert Schulte, Pastor of St. Jude Parish, “has not complained” at all about Father Ammer’s savory ministry.

Additionally, there’s something to be said for the collective experience of grilling. “I have a lot of guys come up to me, especially before Mass, saying ‘so what are you cooking now?’ The funny thing is, I usually do have something on the grill at that moment,” Father Ammer said. 

Parishioners who want to partake in the priestly cookout can simply call the parish office and request a day. He has received a good deal of interest from members of the parish, but still has many openings available, particularly on Sunday afternoons, that singles, couples, or families can select to attend a cookout at the rectory.   

St. Jude parishioner Crystal Myers not only attended a Holy Smokes event, she created a wooden sign for Father Ammer’s ministry. She recalls his first Mass at the parish and how he mentioned that parishioners often invite priests into their homes. He turned the tables by opening his home to “those who would like to share a meal with him,” she said. 

I recall thinking how bold of an invitation that was, only because I’d never heard of any priest doing something similar. It made me excited to see what else he was planning to bring to our St Jude.”

Myers describes herself as in introvert who would not have been “brave enough” to accept his invitation herself, though her mother-in-law, Elizabeth, was. A group of the Myers family attended the barbeque along with another parish family. They spent the time eating and “getting to know each other in a very welcoming environment where you could feel the Holy Spirit was present.”

She says his ministry is about creating opportunity – “Opportunity to meet someone you may have otherwise never gotten the chance to know. An opportunity to enjoy a home cooked meal from a priest who genuinely cares about those around him. An opportunity to bring a friend to a welcoming environment where the Holy Spirit can be present and bring comfort. And most importantly, an opportunity to allow conversation about your spiritual life and Jesus’ love for us.”

With the help of a cousin, Myers created the circular sign based on Father Ammer’s fondness for hiking and biking, so it reflects elements of the outdoors. She incorporated the St. Jude logo onto the sign to remind him of his first parish family.

She stated, “I will never understand the struggles and hardships of being a priest, but I can only imagine how difficult they may be. I wanted the sign to be a remembrance for him to keep pushing forward and to answer the callings God is giving him.

There are several hopes that Father Ammer holds for the future of his ministry. One is that he can use it as a means to feed the poor both physically and spiritually. He also hopes that when the time comes for him to move to another parish, he can continue his ministry there and that whoever takes his place will keep the coals burning at St. Jude. Lastly, he has no ownership of the “Holy Smokes” name and simply wants to be the spark that ignites other fires, where more barbeque aficionados use the name to host their own community-building cookouts.

“I want to show people that there are ministries beyond the church,” he concluded.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” – Rev. 3:20

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