In the 50 years since it was built, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, perched on the redwood slopes of Mount Tamalpais has become an iconic feature of Mill Valley’s small-town landscape.

Catholic San Francisco visited the parish on May 31 to talk about the anniversary of the church built in 1968 for a Catholic community that goes back 108 years. Part of the conversation revolved around the unique challenges of “being church” in affluent Mill Valley.

“One of my parishioners challenged me,” said Father Michaels who, outside of the celebration of the Mass, had often opted for his “civilian” clothing. “He said to me, ‘Father it would be great if you could wear your collar just so people could see that God is in this town.’”

Father Pat said he often gets together with other Christian church leaders in Mill Valley. “One of the common themes in our conversations is about ‘being church’ in an environment that if not hostile to organized religion, is not exactly friendly to it,” he said. “That’s one of the bigger things we face today in Mill Valley.”

The pastor and his flock are making a point of being visible in the community and involved in town-wide projects. The parish had a great experience marching together in the town’s Memorial Day parade this year carrying a float of the church.

“People are cheering from the sidelines, and saying ‘Hi, Father’ and I don’t recognize them,” he said. “That’s one of the things we’ve been trying to do is to be more visible and more present.”

But filling the 850 seats of the church with newcomers poses challenges Father Michaels said other Marin County priests face but who all agree seem most pronounced in Mill Valley.

“The entitlement that people talk about in Marin is rampant,” he said. “There are some very spiritual people here, but they are often into a spirituality that is self-defined and solitary.”

He blames, in part, wealth and a concentration of the larger societal trend toward “individualism to the exclusion of connection to other people” and “an indifference to what’s important and a focus on what doesn’t last.”

According the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce, the median household income in Mill Valley is $109,759 – 78 percent higher than other California households.

“Wealth gives us a tremendous sense of our own accomplishment and power and independence,” he said.

Where does God’s love fit into that picture? “It really doesn’t,” Father Michaels said.

People can become their own God, he said. “It’s the Adam and Eve story in spades,” he said.

Full story at Catholic San Francisco.