Plymouth — To the passerby, it looks like two people sitting on a park bench having a friendly chat.
No screens, no doors, just two people hunched over a conversation, with small children running around and a farmer’s market in the background.
It could be the scene at just about any park on a Saturday morning, but on Saturday mornings at Kellogg Park in Plymouth, the scene is more than two people talking. It’s someone coming into the fullness of God’s mercy and forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation.
On Saturday mornings, from 9 to 11 a.m., priests from nearby Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish offer confessions in the park as a way to make the sacrament more readily available and to give a sign of witness to the community of what the ancient — and oftentimes misunderstood — sacrament entails.
“This is my first time going to confession in the park,” said Nick Sanabria, an Our Lady of Good Counsel parishioner. “When I heard about this, I thought it was an awesome idea and a great opportunity. To experience th
e outdoors, God’s nature, it’s a wonderful opportunity to witness.”
Sanabria added that confessing his sins to a priest on a park bench was a wonderful way for people to see the Catholic faith in action, something Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron called for in Unleash the Gospel.
“It wasn’t weird at all confessing in a park; it felt less formal,” Sanabria said. “Confession is like having a heart-to-heart conversation with Christ. I’ve walked in the park with my wife, having a heart to heart, so why not have one with Christ?”
Carol Carigan said she was a little hesitant walking up to a priest sitting on a bench wearing his clerics, but confessing out in the open still felt personal, still felt intimate with Christ.
“I remember walking up to Father and saying, ‘There’s no hiding here,’” Carigan said. “But he asked, ‘Do you want to hide from God?’ Confessing outside, sitting right next to the priest is very personal, very real. The Church is not some secret hidden place, it’s not a building. It’s where you have Jesus. This is what Jesus would have done.”
In addition to the people lining up to have their confessions heard, members of the parish were on the sidewalk corners, distributing rosaries, prayer cards and information about the Alpha program at Our Lady of Good Counsel.
“Fr. John (Riccardo, Our Lady of Good Counsel’s pastor) wanted to offer an encounter in public, and this is a great way to get people to come back to confession,” said parishioner Joe Liba, who was evangelizing in the park. “We trust in the Holy Spirit to do the conversion; it’s my duty to present the faith. Sometimes, it’s people who are curious about what’s going on, and they ask about the faith. Overall, it’s been positive.”
Liba reports meeting people who haven’t been to church in years but asked for a rosary or are from another denomination and are hearing the Catholic perspective for the first time.
“People from different faiths come to us seeking answers,” Liba said. “So we give them a brochure, a rosary, some pamphlets about the parish. I met a man who grew up Baptist, but has fallen away from the faith. I gave him some information about the men’s group that meets at the parish and he was very receptive. So little encounters like that make my day.”
The parish has been offering confessions in the park for only a month, but Fr. Dave Tomaszycki said parishioners have been very receptive to the opportunity — on Aug. 19, a Michigan Catholic reporter observed a line of more than 10 people waiting to have their confessions heard by Fr. Tomaszycki and Fr. Prentice Tipton, associate pastors at the parish.
“People who haven’t had confession in years walk up to me to sit and talk,” Fr. Tomaszycki said. “For some, this is an inviting atmosphere and may be where they only confess once a month or so.
This draws people who don’t go to confession in a church.”
Fr. Tomaszycki said the confessions in the park encourage parishioners to live out their faith in the public space, saying that kind of witness is a form of spreading the Gospel itself.
“We’re made for God, but in a secular world, it’s easy to compartmentalize,” Fr. Tomaszycki said. “The devil is the one who divides, while the Holy Spirit unites. Faith is a longing for God, and we don’t want to keep God for ourselves. St. John Vianney said if you fall in love with something, you want everyone to share that love. So this is our way to showing love for the world.”
Confessions in the park
Confessions are available at Kellogg Park, bounded by W. Ann Arbor Trail, S. Main Street, Penniman Avenue and S. Union Street, in downtown Plymouth on Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Parking in downtown Plymouth is free.