Father Clancy insists, 'If you're not intentionally welcoming, you're unintentionally excluding.'
The Phase III Collaborative of St. Marguerite d'Youville in Dracut, St. Rita in Lowell, and St. Mary Magdalen in Tyngsborough is on the northern border of the archdiocese. A mix of city and suburb, it covers 17.4 square miles.
Shortly after arriving as pastor, Father Richard Clancy began implementing an idea that had been in his mind and heart since before the collaborative began in June 2015. Although he is an active, savvy user of social media, he employs military terminology when speaking about evangelization. The best way to evangelize, he says, is "boots on the ground" -- get out and meet people where they are, walk the streets, ring doorbells, go to local gatherings, and neighborhood parks. In evangelization-speak, this is called one-on-one evangelization -- one person reaching out, in person, to another.
Father Clancy insists, "If you're not intentionally welcoming, you're unintentionally excluding." Mindful of this, he and his band of evangelizers hit the pavement each Saturday, armed with smiles, a welcoming, introductory letter and copies of the parish bulletin. The group has some "regulars" who look forward to this opportunity each week, and some who come when they can. It is an eclectic group, representative of the collaborative itself. Parochial vicars, Father Christopher Wallace and Father Michael Harkins have participated. The group is young and old, male and female, northern and southern European ancestry, Ukrainian, African, and "townies." They have walked mostly in Lowell, have done some work in Dracut, and are at the organization stage in Tyngsborough.
A Ukrainian woman, one of the "regulars," writes, "Door-to-door evangelization has been very rewarding and simply an amazing experience to me. When we walk the streets with fellow parishioners, I feel deeply united not only with them, but I feel that we are joined together with the early Christians who went door to door preaching the Gospel. I can sense their presence, almost like they are walking side by side with us today. I know that the church bulletin which we leave at someone's door is a seed that if it falls on fruitful soil will bear the fruit, and I am a tiny instrument in that. It is amazing to witness how some people ... right there in front of us, on their door steps, make the decision to 'bring their child for First Communion.' Then, you just know, one more soul is going to be saved!"
Outreach volunteer Joani McCann says: "Our job is to reach out to every household personally, to be Christ's hands and feet, to be his Church with open arms. We have no idea what we will encounter behind each door. We have met young people, old people, college students, several young mothers who didn't know where to begin bringing their kids to Church, people recently diagnosed with cancer or terminal illnesses, people deeply grieving a recent loss of a loved one, many people who have been away from the Church. There is no way to prepare beforehand what we are going to say, we prepare by morning Mass and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and then directly go out to bring the Lord of Love and Mercy we have just received to every person we encounter."
From Father Clancy's chronicles:
Best day yet for our Street Evangelization program! We met a lot of our neighbors who belonged to a parish church that closed and they were very open and friendly. We also met and spoke with a large group of Brazilian young adults who were in the park playing volleyball. We all came back very energized and grateful to God for the opportunities.
Beautiful day of street evangelization this morning. We had some new people join us and we met some of our active parishioners, some parents and children preparing to start at our school, a neighbor who is not Catholic but had attended a funeral and wondered if it was alright if she came to Mass even if she is not (yet) a Catholic, and a mother and son (nine years old) who we are going to be signing up for First Communion. We also blessed a race car and I checked in with the Brazilian young adults at their weekly volleyball game. There were many, many good conversations.
Our Saturday Evangelization program last week found us at a very large fair at Dracut High School. The life-size cardboard cutout of Pope Francis (we brought) is always a hit and conversation starter.
A very cold Saturday in November
The Africans deserve extra credit today. They thought they were in the Arctic Circle!
God may not be calling everyone to door to door evangelization, but make no mistake, God is begging each of us to find a way to welcome and invite.
(More about this initiative can be found in the Aug. 21 edition of The Pilot.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.