Don Berens, parishioner, dresses up as one of the Magi, handing out chocolate gold coins during the St. Pius X Three Kings event. Photo by Keith Martens.
Don Berens, parishioner, dresses up as one of the Magi, handing out chocolate gold coins during the St. Pius X Three Kings event. Photo by Keith Martens.
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Keith Martens, parishioner at St. Pius X in Loudonville, has been a photographer “pretty much forever.” He grew up learning how to develop black and white film in his father’s workshop, and later went on to start his own part-time photography business, focusing on Irish Step dancing events around Albany.

Now, Mr. Martens is bringing his talents back to this parish with the installation of the St. Pius X photography ministry. Parishioners involved in the ministry act as volunteer photographers for parish events, special Masses or parties, helping to chronicle the life of the St. Pius X community through photos.

The ministry has photo­graphed the parish’s annual Advent breakfast, the Holy Thursday dinner, events for St. Pius X High School, and the parish service fair.

“People are very enthusiastic to help the parish,” said Mr. Martens, coordinator of the ministry. “It’s totally a blessing.”

Even before the ministry’s inception, Mr. Martens served as a designated parish photographer for various special Masses and events, as a favor to his parish.

The idea for establishing a “photo ministry” came from Rev. Jim Walsh, pastor, who wanted to help publicize more parishioners on the parish photo boards, bulletins and website. He hoped that by showing parishioners faces and families, they would feel included and welcome in the parish, said Mr. Martens.

Being asked to run the ministry “seemed like a natural fit” to Mr. Martens, who was looking to retire soon but still wanted to stay active in the community. Given his past leadership and photography experience, running a photo ministry at the parish seemed “right in my wheelhouse,” he said.

The ministry officially kicked off in October of 2018 with a group of four volunteer photographers. After a few months, Mr. Martens said the ministry had grown to 12 volunteers. All of the volunteers provide their own equipment and hold some kind of photography experience, rang­ing from hobbies to professional work.

“It’s growing into something bigger...and it’s just starting out,” said Mr. Martens. “So who knows where we’ll go.”

Recently, two teenagers from the parish reached out to Mr. Martens about getting involved in the group, something he “never envisioned us having the opportunity to (do).”

“We have the opportunity to get the youth involved in our ministry, and help them develop skill in photography,” he said.

Dick Connery, volunteer photographer with the ministry, was taking photos for the parish along with Mr. Martens before the ministry was up and running. Now, he’s excited to work with more photographers at the parish, many of whom he never knew practiced photography: “It’s like, ‘Where did these people come from?’” joked Mr. Connery.

A photographer for many years, Mr. Connery said that he’s noticed how much joy the ministry brings to the parish by being able to capture such special moments from inside the church.

“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “When you make somebody happy, that’s your reward.”

Because there are so many volunteers, parishioners may only get to cover one or two events a month. Mr. Martens said he tries to only send one or two volunteers to cover an event, noting, “We don’t want to look like paparazzi.”

The ministry communicates mostly via email, but tries to host an in-person meeting every month or so. Mr. Martens has held two “photography training” sessions so far, teaching the basics of Adobe Lightroom (a photo-editing and organizing software) and etiquette when covering an event.

Mr. Martens hopes to do different training sessions about how to shoot in difficult lighting situations, such as the inside of a dark church. He also plans to start a mentor program in the ministry, pairing up some of the younger photographers with parishioners who have been at the trade for a long time.

“I’m really passionate about this ministry,” said Mr. Martens. “This was just the right place at the right time, and I give all the credit to God.”

Mr. Martens said one of his favorite events he photographed included trick-or-treating in the parish for Halloween, and the annual “blessing of the stuffed animals” event. Children were invited to bring their stuffed animals up to the ­altar for a blessing, he explained, and one child proudly placed a four-foot-tall stuffed Pikachu — a popular Pokemon character — on the altar for display.

“It’s amazing,” said Mr. Martens. “It’s fun, but I also like the storytelling aspect about [taking photos.] I like the story you can tell of everyone in the parish. I want people to see that.”

For more information about the St. Pius X photography ministry, contact Keith Martens at keithem2001@gmail.com.