A handful of young girls and two adult women nestled into a pew about a dozen rows from the massive altar at St. Joseph's parish in Fort Edward after Mass on Sunday. Scattered elsewhere in the church, other people sat alone.
The deacon's voice echoed as he told the parable of the prodigal son and related it to a Catholic person's decision to return to God or the Church.
The congregants gathered for a "coming home" ceremony in advance of Christmas to reveal their anger, hurts or fears related to Church teachings or scandals, personal problems with God and more.
The goal was to cast away the sour feelings and begin or continue the Christian journey.
"We are all wounded people and we are imperfect people," Rev. Thomas Babiuch, pastor, told those in attendance. "God knows our pain and God knows our frustration and our disappointments, but God also knows how to heal us."
Deacon William Bazinet asked the group to scribble thoughts and feelings on folded pieces of paper, which were then burned outside in a small fire. He shared with them the loss of his son, which still elicits tears a year later.
"In the fire," he said, "I'm going to throw that hurt and ask God to let the healing begin."
One woman, who requested anonymity, decided to attend the service for a similar reason: Her young daughter-in-law died in her sleep in September. She struggles to attend Mass and worries about her son, who stopped going despite being active prior to his wife's death.
"I know I have to come to Church even though I don't want to sometimes because I know I'm going to cry," the woman tearfully told The Evangelist. "But you have to go through that."
She almost didn't come to the service, but she's glad she did: "I really believe God led me to this. The healing process is beginning."
Another attendee, Wilfred Trombley, was a parishioner of St. Alphonsus Church in Glens Falls until it closed last summer. He said he felt angry and hurt with the decision, but made the difficult transition to St. Joseph's.
Shortly after the closing of his old parish, a heart condition sent Mr. Trombley to the hospital for surgery. A complication resulted in trauma to the brain, shutting down his voice and thought processes for two weeks.
He didn't start communicating until a downstate friend brought him the Eucharist. Today, he still fights short-term memory problems and struggles to speak.
The experience helped him realize that God should be the center of his faith; his issues with the Diocese should take the back burner.
"So many of our parishioners have to go through what I went through," Mr. Trombley said. "My faith is important and I have to fit in somewhere. My faith isn't just the priest. It isn't just the Church. It's the comingling of people and the sharing of thoughts that makes us grow.
"Today was a chance for me to revisit and try to bury those hurts," Mr. Trombley continued. "I basically had to get over the hurdle, the hurt of what happened."
Event organizers had expected more people to respond to the posters, fliers and ads in local papers, but said it was a good start toward evangelizing.
"It's not just the new faces, but the people we don't know," said Gayle Smith, a member of the evangelization committee, regarding inactive Catholics. "You automatically think people turn to God when they have trouble, but sometimes they don't."
The committee was revived after this fall's kickoff of "Amazing God," the three-year diocesan evangelization initiative. A major effort of that project is to reach out to disaffected and lapsed Catholics.