“Twelve years is a long time to get settled in and make roots,” said the Rev. Erik Arnold of his tenure as pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City, “which made it all the harder to leave.”
Six months ago, Arnold was appointed the sixth pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church after more than a decade as pastor in Howard County.
But Arnold was familiar with St. John the Evangelist on Ritchie Highway, and his predecessor, the Rev. Jim Proffitt. In his first summer assignment as a young seminarian, Arnold was placed in a parish where Proffitt was an associate pastor. Arnold also spent time at Church of the Crucifixion in Glen Burnie and has learned to navigate the unpredictable Route 2 corridor.
Arnold says he’s happy to be back in Anne Arundel County. “I love being here; I really do,” he said.
St. John the Evangelist is, historically, one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Arnold already knew of its deep history in Severna Park and the exceptional reputation of the nationally recognized St. John the Evangelist School, under the strong leadership of Principal Casey Buckstaff. When he learned of the assignment from Archbishop William E. Lori, Arnold was excited.
“I had absolutely no reservations,” said Arnold. “I, however, was very aware of how difficult it would be to leave a parish I loved very much, so that was hard. The Lord is guiding all of this, I know that. I just need to keep trusting Him in this.”
Arnold has spent his first few months getting to know parishioners, staff and ministries of his new parish home, all of which he describes as “sincerely welcoming and loving.”
Of the many aspects of St. John the Evangelist, Arnold was immediately impressed by the Sacristan and Altar Servers program.
“It’s beautiful to see the commitment of our high school teens; how much they give to the Lord in really good ways, and their sense of ownership in teaching and guiding the younger servers,” said Arnold.
“Our parishioner-led Walking With Purpose women’s group is also a vibrant ministry,” added Arnold. “Time and time again, women ask, ‘Can we be a part of this again.’ It’s just a beautiful thing to see women of the parish leading other women to the Lord.”
In October, Arnold joined 13 missionaries for the parish’s annual Jamaica outreach mission to the Mandeville Diocese and St. John the Evangelist’s sister parishes of St. Margaret Mary in Lionel Town, Jamaica, and St. Philomena in Portland Cottage, Jamaica. There, he and the St. John’s crew visited Mustard Seed International in Mandeville; St. John Bosco Boys School in Dunisinaine, Manchester; Mary Help of Christian Home, run by Missionaries of Charity, in Balaclava; and built a home for a young family in Portland Cottage.
At St. John, Arnold has brought back the traditional midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and expanded Eucharistic Adoration to include 24-hour exposition of the Blessed Sacrament from Friday to Sunday mornings in what he calls, “a beautiful first step in offering parishioners more time with the Lord.” In the New Year, he will oversee some much-needed and long-overdue improvements in the church and sanctuary.
Arnold said that he and the St. John community will be focused on meeting people where they are and bringing them to Jesus.
“The Lord made it clear, and especially reiterated by popes John Paul II, Benedict and Francis, that we need to be serious in our mission of the church and do a good job of sharing the good news of Jesus,” said Arnold. “If we really believe that Jesus makes a difference in our own lives, we have to be serious about sharing with others; that’s not up for grabs.
“The church is missionary. We have to be missionaries,” he added. “The experiences I bring will certainly add my own personality and style to the mission of the church and to St. John and will make that a unique experience for the years that I am at the parish.”
Ordained to the priesthood in 1999, Arnold is a speaker for the Discovering Christ, Following Christ, and Sharing Christ courses, and co-author of “Following Christ: Developing the Practices of an Intentional Disciple and Share Christ: Inviting Others into Friendship with Jesus.”