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Men’s club contributes $175,000 to church causes

Working on a playground project were Vince Cullen, Kyle Grismer, Ed Black, Eric Turnipseed and Rob Francis. (Submitted photo)1 / 8
Norb Tennessen and Jack Tschida work together on a mission trip to Red Lake Indian Reservation. (Submitted photo)2 / 8
Mike Wolsey, Tom Zweber, Mark Padellford and Dave Klun work together on a mission trip to Red Lake Indian Reservation. (Submitted photo)3 / 8
Jack Tschida and Wes Finley work together on a mission trip to Red Lake Indian Reservation. (Submitted photo)4 / 8
Building steps was one of many of the construction projects undertaken by the St. Ambrose Men's Club. (Submitted photo)5 / 8
Tim Rogers cuts down a tree, under the watchful eye of fellow St. Ambrose Men's Club member Jared Mathis. The club participated in cleanup after Hurricane Katrina. (Submitted photo)6 / 8
Greg Bischel, Kyle Grismer, Mike D'Agostino work the ground, while Mike Bailey drives the skidsteer. (Submitted photo)7 / 8
Steve Henseler and son Ethan, David Hayes, Ed Black, Matt Leighton, Matt Finn, Bruce Soma, Mark Budzicky, Greg Bischel, Robert Riegel, Vince Cullen and Mike Bailey celebrate construction of the ballfields at St. Ambrose. (Submitted photo)8 / 8

A group of local Catholics have raised more than $175,000 since they formed a club at a young church in Woodbury.

St. Ambrose Catholic Community opened its doors in 1998, and by 2000 the church’s men had created a spinoff of a men’s club at Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale. Following a model of another successful church group, St. Ambrose Men’s Club was founded with a mission that involved fellowship, faith, service and fundraising.

On the fundraising front, Norb Tennessen said, “we discovered we were pretty effective. Having goals and a very particular endgame in mind kept the group going.”

In a large congregation, men can be involved in a big way — sports, one of the largest chapters of Boy Scouts in the area, choir — “all this,” Tennessen said. But what can a men’s club do for a church?

Guys being guys

The Rev. Father Stan Mader said the men’s club provides labor for projects, hosts events (like last Saturday’s trivia night), and can be an outlet for spiritual growth.

“Sometimes you just need to be guys,” the pastor said.

Men at St. Ambrose need time to pray, or to do a job together, with other men.

Mader said the church strives to engage people — and men, specifically, tend to need a task to do.

Men will attend a spiritual retreat, but they want to know that they’ll “do this and this and this, plus beer later.”

That’s why a community service project like an adopt-a-road ditch cleanup along Bailey Road has been successful, Tom Schisler said.

The club has also adopted a building at a Catholic youth camp, assuming responsibility for completely redoing it, Mader said.

Tennessan said that for three years in a row the men’s club went to New Orleans to serve Hurricane Katrina victims. Also, a dozen people spent a week doing construction projects at St. Mary’s Mission in Red Lake, Minn.

The group supports the church’s art and environment committee and has helped with Christmas and Easter decorating.

Rob Francis added: “We need a focus and task. Without a task, you’re a ship without a rudder.”

The men’s club has sponsored beanbag tournaments, holiday Christmas parties, steak fries, golf outings, poker nights, spirituality workshops, and small faith-sharing groups for men.

Trivia night was born of the men’s club. Francis’ team meets quarterly to practice, he said.

And it’s great to see people having fun at church, Greg Cressy said.

“It turned into a potluck,” Schisler said. “Somebody’s going to bring in a half a hog one of these times.”

The event, which occurred last Saturday night, doesn’t raise a lot of money, but it is a popular get-together.

Some of the causes to which the men’s club contributes:

- athletic fields, irrigation and equipment;

- purchase of gym mats, ice machine, griddle;

- Bishop Pates Endowment Fund;

- Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf;

- youth ministry mission trips;

- pro-life grants;

- Teresa Living Center and East Side Learning Center;

- Faith in Our Future Capital Campaign;

- purchase of a parish rectory;

- adopt-a-family at Christmas;

- and Spotlight on Saint Ambrose.

The ballfield project, including irrigation to keep them green, is an example of the fine work of the men’s group, which is willing to take on large projects.

A fundraiser for the Minnesota Epilepsy Foundation, featuring Gophers football coach Jerry Kill, raised $3,000 — at an event that didn’t charge admission fees, Tennessen said.

The event brought nonmembers and parishioners together — part of a satisfying journey, Tennessan said. “Being lost in a cause makes these things so much more rewarding.”

It was the most attended event at the church. Second-most attended was a Michael Byron leadership retreat.

In both instances, outsiders knew the topic was faith.

When the club raised money for the church’s cross, which faces the intersection of Bailey Road and Woodbury Drive, to be illuminated in December 2013, men got excited about it for a simple reason.

“It’s tangible,” Cressy said.

Get involved

The men’s club is a way for parishioners to connect amid a 3,500-household, 12,500-member organization.

“It’s good to be big, it’s bad to be big,” Cressy said.

“One of the church’s focuses is: how do we have people who are really connected?” Mader said.

Founding and longtime church members at St. Ambrose don’t want any new members to feel lost, they said.

“It’s home to us,” Cressy said.

Francis said he felt comfortable at the large church.

“It’s what I call cohort ministry,” Mader said. “Somehow they get together every year for the next 40 years. They work the same shift at the beer tent. People still do seek community. That’s what a church does — it’s a community of God.”

Men’s club offers newbies another opportunity to connect — “to have a cohort coming in,” Mader said.

“All are welcome,” Tennessen said. There is no fee to join the men’s club.

When Schisler joined St. Ambrose in 2002, he knew it’s not only on others to make him feel welcome but also it’s on his shoulders.

“I went to things and got involved,” Schisler said.

He joined the men’s club in 2003, and put the pancake breakfast on his calendar as a way to connect.

“I need something to do,” Schisler said. “I feel good when I can go and do something for the parish.”

Francis chose men’s club to “shrink down” the church. “When you meet people, you shrink a place down,” he explained. “Get involved.”

For Cressy, the men’s club complements all that he’s been a part of at St. Ambrose. His wife works there, kids went to school there, and he is part of the music ministry.

Men’s club is another piece of his puzzle, he said.

Cressy moved to Woodbury in 1996, and 95 percent of those to whom he is connected is through church.

“It grounds us,” Cressy said. “It’s the center, a lifestyle.”

Useful group

Since inception, the club has grown to 120 men. About 30 are “quite seriously involved,” Tennessen said. “We’ve tried a lot of different things.”

Mader, who came to Woodbury last summer, met a church body that wasn’t old enough to be fighting the negatives of “how it always was.”

Francis said the parishioners of St. Ambrose are active and willing to try new things.

Parishioners want to be in a place where people will cry and cheer together. Mader said church members should care if a fellow member’s elderly mother takes a fall, for example. And Schisler said that when his 30th wedding anniversary was announced in church, a receiving line spontaneously formed after church.

Knowing other men has made members comfortable to branch out into other volunteerism at the church, like drama ministry. One upcoming event is the Living Stations of the Cross. Other men’s club members tend to tell Tennessan yes without hesitation, he said.

The amount of fundraising the group has done, as well as all of its outreach and fellowship, was impressive to Mader.

It was clear to him that the group contributes to the fabric of the church.

“Just useful to have around,” Mader said.

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