Imagine coming to church at Christmas, this beautiful, joyful feast, and being surrounded by querulous pessimists and sourpusses! What is the likelihood that a person would feel welcome or have a burning desire to return?
Gaudete Sunday is here and we continue to look at best practices that can be helpful to parishes throughout the year, but especially at Christmas time. As reported last week, 32 percent of the people worshipping with us, may not have been in church since last Christmas.
Parish and collaborative staff members share some excellent suggestions. Drawing on his past, parish experience, Patrick Krisak, Director of Parish Support and Training for the archdiocese suggests, "We should ...be praying for and in anticipation of those less frequent holiday visitors. There should be an intercession explicitly for them." He urges parish staff to make this part of their prayer too, "between now and Christmas -- every staff meeting, prayer group, faith formation program, and so on -- (should pray) specifically for those who will be coming at Christmas." There should be a notice in the bulletin each week inviting people "to pray for those away from the Church." This prayer springs not from a false piety of church-goers, but a sincere desire to share the saving message of Jesus Christ with others. The parish website and social media page must have the Christmas Mass schedule writ large -- not even one click away. "Welcome, join us!" Clearly state Mass times and location -- downstairs, upstairs, parish center, school gym, which door? Is parking available? Where?
The implementation of Disciples in Mission calls all parishes to exercise "radical hospitality." Evangelization efforts lacking this component will fall short. St. Benedict gives simple instruction: "Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for he is going to say: 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me.'" (Rule of St. Benedict 53: 1-2) A more contemporary voice says that, "Hospitality is not a function of being friendly to friends but of learning how to be good hosts and hostesses to the strangers and seekers who come to church in search of something they do not have."
Every week, and certainly at Christmastime, information about registering in the parish and parish ministries should be prominently and neatly displayed -- and not only at the main doors of the church. This is always enhanced by a staff person or knowledgeable volunteer nearby to answer questions.
Building on last week's suggestions about ministers of hospitality/ greeters/ ushers: it is an added sign of welcome if this important front-line group is easily identifiable. Not every parish has jackets embroidered with the parish crest, or an engraved name pin for each greeter, but every parish can surely provide greeters with name tags. Adhesive or clip-on tags are available in office supply stores at a reasonable price. These are printer-friendly, so names are clear and readable. The person being welcomed will hear the name as the greeter introduces her/himself, and can read the name, too.
The responsibility for welcoming people -- regardless of how often they come -- belongs to the entire parish community. St. Teresa of Avila expressed the frustration that many people experience when surrounded by cranky looking, faithful, worshippers: "from sour-faced saints good Lord, deliver us." Pope Francis also cautioned against a demeanor that "turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, 'sourpusses.'" (Evangelii Gaudium #85)
Imagine coming to church at Christmas, this beautiful, joyful feast, and being surrounded by querulous pessimists and sourpusses! What is the likelihood that a person would feel welcome or have a burning desire to return? Patrick Krisak encourages parishioners to "smile ... introduce yourself to people you don't know, speak and sing like you mean it, pray for those not at Mass, move in to the center of the pew." Smile, sing, pray, move to the center of the pew -- there's no heavy lifting involved in these best practices for every parishioner.
A social media best practice comes from Margo Morin, pastoral ministries manager in the Salem Catholic Collaborative: "Every Sunday I post a picture from at least one of our parishes with the hashtag #ViewFromMyPew and write a little thing about that parish." Frequently posting photos of collaborative events "has been a great way to connect with the community," she says.
New people "like" their page each week. Social media connects the parish with the wider community as well.
Faithful Catholics desperately want to share what we have: a profound love of Jesus Christ, rooted in the sacraments and prayer. We pray for those who will join us on Christmas, may they see that Jesus is there for them each week.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.