As he got ready to celebrate Harford County's first regular Sunday afternoon Mass, Monsignor Michael Schleupner was clearly pleasantly surprised by its success.
"I had this thought today: 'What if I go over there and I say, "The Lord be with you," and I have to say, "And with your spirit,"'" Schleupner joked to a nearly-full St. Margaret Church in Bel Air.
His fear of having to say the congregation's response as well as his part of the Mass dialogue got a laugh from the crowd.
"It's nice to see you all," Schleupner added.
Sunday marked the debut of a new service schedule at the Bel Air church, the first such change in nearly three decades.
The dozens of people who came out to the 5 p.m. Mass seemed very happy to have it.
"I think having a Sunday evening mass here in Harford County is great," Ken Goedeke said. The Bel Air resident brought Hope, his 10-year-old daughter, and said he sometimes also goes to St. Mark Church in Fallston. St. Mark has a Sunday evening Mass once a month.
"There's a lot of places Catholics can go in the Baltimore area, but it's kind of a distance to drive if you live in the Harford County area," Goedeke said.
"Having a nice, welcoming atmosphere here at St. Margaret's at 5 o'clock on Sunday has been a great opportunity for families to come together, perhaps sleep in on Sunday and have some family time, but still put in some Mass time together, to be able to pray," he said.
Schleupner greeted parishioners by welcoming them to "the long-awaited Sunday afternoon Mass."
Last week, he had called the new schedule, which spreads out St. Margaret's four Masses, a good way to allow for fellowship between the services and to ease logistical problems like parking.
St. Margaret will have services at 4 and 6 p.m. Saturday, and at 8 and 10 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. Sunday.
Services will also be at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. at St. Mary Magdalen, St. Margaret's mission on Route 22.
"I thought it was great," Rae Eberwine, of Bel Air, said after the 5 p.m. Mass. "I think it will draw people who are busy on Saturdays and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I will come again and it was nice to see so many people here."
Bel Air's Sarah DeVan and Kim Bradley were also longtime parishioners who appreciated the later service.
"I think it went great. I think it opened the church to a new population. It's more accessible to more families," DeVan said.
Bradley added it had "great attendance." She thought the new schedule made sense "with everybody so busy, and kids playing sports all day long."