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Mentoring New Leaders for Social Ministry, Part Four

June 13, 2022

From the Office for Social Ministry

Session Three of GREAT CATHOLIC PARISHES is entitled: Great Parishes Excel on Sunday. It’s important that ministry leaders reflect on how their parish can, “become an inspiring community that buzzes with life and gives off a welcoming energy that attracts people.” Of those pastors interviewed, the majority responded that a vibrant hospitality is essential for experiencing a vibrant liturgy. Exceptional parishes train their hospitality volunteers and help to create the parish’s welcoming culture from the moment people arrive and until they leave. Does your parish reflect a welcoming culture? One best practice in this regard is to organize a team of volunteers, staff and clergy to greet and welcome people as they arrive at Mass. This same welcoming culture should also be evident with other liturgical ministries and with ministry leaders. 

Successful and vibrant parishes incorporate hospitality and welcome through technology. They utilize technology as a critical tool for keeping connected and receiving information either by email, on the parish website or through social media. These platforms are particularly appealing to millennials and younger parishioners considered to be “digital natives.” Since the pandemic, parishes are providing regular access to livestreamed services that are great, especially for those isolating, sheltering in or homebound. Online access makes it possible for parishioners who are traveling or away from home to still “attend” Mass and keep connected.

Another important consideration is how our church architecture and rituals reflect our welcoming culture. The spirit of welcome is reflected in how the parish campus is maintained and ministries are in place to ensure the worship environment is appealing. For some, it isn’t as easy as others to just “go to church.” From parking stalls to the front door, seating, aisle width and restrooms - all must be navigated by persons with disabilities, particularly those who require physical accessibility. We fail to open wide the doors to Christ when our welcome culture is exclusive and not inclusive to all of God’s children.

Living in the islands, seasonal fruits and flowers grow in abundance. A beautiful gesture of aloha, one Sunday morning a kupuna at our parish brought a huge pan of fragrant fresh cut gardenias to share. It was early so she walked up and down the aisles and handed flowers to all the women to enjoy. That broke the ice for my husband’s elderly mother who usually keeps quiet and to herself from the moment she arrives till the dismissal. The two ladies hit it off, sat in neighboring pews and offered friendly greetings to one another each weekend. These quiet friends took notice whenever one or the other missed Mass. In Hawaii, our culture of welcome cannot be separated from our spirit of aloha.

When Mass is ended, are parishioners dashing out the door or do they stick around to engage in fellowship, spend time reading bulletin announcements or volunteer with religious education or other church activities? William E. Simon suggests, “extending the power and joy of the Eucharist into the times and spaces before and after Mass allows some of the most important parishioner interactions to take place.” Before the start of the pandemic, we were allowed to socialize and chat after Mass. Sometimes parking lot discussions went so long that we took a brief break and a quick drive to Zippy’s for a meal where we’d eventually resume our discussion. Whether we’re sharing a nugget of inspiration from Father’s homily or reflecting on other ministry involvement, these are the opportunities for connecting our faith and daily life with one another.    

Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium, that “if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be ‘the Church living in the midst of the homes of our sons and daughters.’” Striving to be a Great Parish that Excels on Sunday, we must do so with a gracious spirit of welcome and hospitality. Led by the Holy Spirit, our Sunday experience can inspire our thoughts and actions to bring relevance to our daily lives Monday thru Saturday. This is how we renew and adapt so to remain in the homes of our sons and daughters.