ORCHARD LAKE — It’s a sunny Wednesday evening on Orchard Lake. The atmosphere is festive as 16 people board two pontoon boats to take a cruise on the lake. 

But this is not just any boat ride – it’s a cruise to talk about Jesus. 

The “On the Lake Series” by Our Lady of Refuge Parish in Orchard Lake invites participants to the lakeside home of a parishioner, where they watch a video of a well-known Catholic speaker, then head to the boats for an in-depth discussion of the evening’s topic as the sun begins to set.

The five-week series on a different lake each week: Cass, Elizabeth, Pine, Orchard and Upper Long lakes. 

The idea came when Our Lady of Refuge pastor, Msgr. Gerald McEnhill, and his leadership team attended the Amazing Parish Conference in 2016.

Parishioners discuss the various topics presented in the videos, bringing the Gospel message outside the walls of the church and on the waters that make up a majority of surface area in Our Lady of Refuge’s territorial boundaries.

“Half of our parish in on water, so we thought we should get people out on it,” Msgr. McEnhill said, relaying how his team noted the unique characteristics Our Lady of Refuge has at the Amazing Parish Conference. 

They noted that water makes up more than half of the parish’s geographic boundaries.  

Our Lady of Refuge already offered similar programs during the year, and the idea of moving one to the waterfront, or even on the water, seemed like a logical step. After some brainstorming and much planning, they launched the “On the Lake Series” in the summer of 2017 with an abbreviated Alpha course. 

Last year, “On the Lake” used Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth pastor Fr. John Riccardo’s discipleship talks as the basis for discussion. This year's series began with a live presentation by Lighthouse Catholic Media’s Fr. Jason Brooks of the Legionaries of Christ. The following weeks focused on videos by Fr. Mike Schmitz, Sr. Bethany Madonna S.V., Fr. Riccardo and Bishop Robert Barron.

Jim Whalen coordinates the popular program for Our Lady of Refuge Parish.

“People love it. The feedback has been all positive,” Whalen said. “We have really good leaders with prepared questions to guide the discussions. People are interested in discussing their faith with each other so we try to include as many people as we can.”

In the spring, Whalen registers participants at the parish’s hospitality desk after Mass. He finds parishioners who live on one of the five lakes to host and arranges two pontoon boats for each week. Hosts provide snacks and beverages.

The program accommodates 32 people, who are divided over the two nights onto two boats each night.  One of the boats carries a group of young adults. 

Stephanie Riney has been an Our Lady Refuge parishioner since 1998 and part of the On the Lake Series all three summers. 

“I really enjoy it. We can always learn and be fed more about Christ and the Church,” Riney said. “The vibe is different, too. It’s a lot more casual and an easier environment for people to open up and share.”

Riney enjoyed having the opportunity to get to know others in the parish in a relaxed setting and to cultivate friendships.  The first year, she invited two others she met to join her volleyball league.

The “On the Lake Series” starts in a parishioner’s home, where Our Lady of Refuge parishioners gather to pray and watch a video from a Catholic speaker of note. After the video, parishioners head to the water to discuss the topic and take in God’s beauty on the lakes surrounding the Orchard Lake parish.

Catherine Galdes belongs to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn but moved to Waterford seven years ago. Since she lives closer to Our Lady of Refuge, where she attends Mass some weekends and has taken a program at the parish a year before the On the Lake Series launched. When she got an email about the new series on the water, she was excited and grateful.

“I thought, ‘How cool is that! Jesus taught his apostles on a boat in the water!’” Galdes said. “So I signed up. I wanted to talk to other disciples about Jesus.”

Even though her summers are busy, the fact the program includes time on a lake made her want to find a way to attend. After rearranging her schedule, she committed to Wednesday evenings.

“I’m more of an outdoorsy person and I think this forces me to stop and enjoy the summer and nature and what God has created for us,” said Galdes. “We’ve seen amazing sunsets. It’s like God is talking to us through the waves.”

Early in the summer, Galdes was asked to be the discussion leader of her boat. She hopes talking about Jesus in a setting like this will help people feel comfortable talking about Him at other times, such as a family barbecue or when out with friends. 

Galdes liked the series so much she invited her friend, Jeff Annesi, to join her this year. Annesi is glad he attended. 

“It’s been great to enjoy a slow ride around the lake and talk about spirituality,” Annesi said. “It’s a nice setting to have conversation about a topic out of Scripture and discuss it in depth.”

Annesi admits that sometimes it’s easy to get distracted while looking out at the sights along the lake. But for the most part, the group stays on track with the conversation, taking a few brief pauses to capture the majesty God created on the waters of Orchard Lake.

Our Lady of Refuge offers several other video-based programs throughout the year. Whalen says the parish will continue to offer the On the Lake Series annually as long as they have the willing hosts and available boats 

“We’re always looking for ways to evangelize and spread the good news,” Msgr. McEnhill said. “This is something that’s right in our backyard, with a social element that adds something special in addition to the spiritual side.”