"I started out as a teenager," Emery said, recalling his days growing up in Ocean Township. "I was a children's magician for about eight years or so, through college, before I went into the seminary. I would perform also for different charities. I billed myself as 'The Magic Man.'"Emery doesn't get many opportunities to become "The Magic Man" these days, since he spends his time trying to run a parish of 1,100 families. The magic Emery performs these days includes balancing budgets, organizing events and being a spiritual leader.
However, at the recent parish picnic, attended by 450 parishioners and non-parishioners alike, Emery was able to recreate his magic act for the young children of the parish. Emery was able to make things disappear, pour water into thin air and make the children smile in amazement once again.
"The kids just love it," Emery said. "I become the kids' best friend. The kids see you in a different way, not just being a priest."
Although Emery has discarded the cape from his old act, he still had some of the other magic acts on hand.
Emery's performance was just one of the activities at the parish's second annual picnic, held on the parish grounds Oct. 1. The wonderful weather helped to bolster the turnout, which really amazed Emery.
"The response was overwhelming," Emery said. "I was not expecting that kind of turnout. We haven't had a great recent history of great turnouts. In fact, nothing really happened in the parish for a long time. But this event was exciting and energizing. I was very pleased."
Emery said that he never witnessed such an impressive turnout in all his years as a priest.
"This is the smallest parish I've been associated with and this was the best turnout I've ever seen for an event," Emery said. "I think that's a sign of the enthusiasm by the people of the parish."
The parish picnic is just one of the many ideas Emery has instilled into the parish since arriving 18 months ago. He was officially installed as the pastor of St. Lawrence's last January.
"It was not a fundraiser," Emery explained. "It was just a day to bring the parish together and to build the community."
The picnic was not just a bunch of families eating a lot of summertime food. There was a clown to entertain the children. Diane Donald, who was a friend of Emery's from another parish, donated her time as a clown to make balloon animals and do face painting for the youngsters.
A disc jockey played music and presented prizes for the kids.
"What was really nice was seeing all the children," Emery said. "It was a sign of life, because the children represent the church of tomorrow. Plus, I was happy to see a lot of young adults as well. I really want to try to get the young adults involved."
Emery credited the work of his picnic committee, which featured Joe and Diane Casazza, George and Nella Klink and Rod and Elia Roderick.
"They really did a great job in putting the day together," Emery said.
Emery was also enthused to see that many of the people in attendance were not members of the parish community.
"I think other people got caught up in the excitement of it all and wanted to be a part of it," Emery said. "Maybe this can spark their interest to want to come back to church. It was really neat to see."