Does your parish have a welcoming environment for new and current parishioners and for guests? If you were a newcomer to your parish would you feel welcome?
Welcoming is a priority for many parishes. Most parishes are friendly but too few are truly welcoming. There is a big difference between being friendly and being welcoming. Welcoming parishes make people feel like they belong and encourage “ownership” of the parish. The late Archbishop Thomas Murphy said “belonging leads to believing.”
People who join a parish want to be welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. The sooner we help people feel like they belong, the sooner they are open to receive God in their lives.
From Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday, churches will be packed and we have an opportunity to welcome home many of our Catholic and non-Catholic family and friends. So, this year when you see someone new at Mass, welcome them.
Do you want to get a different perspective on how you and your parish can be more welcoming? Try these:
• Don’t sit in the same spot each week at Sunday Mass. Move around, sit in different areas of the church. Look at the people you see in the different sections. You’ll notice things and people that you haven’t seen before. What welcoming opportunities do you see? Have you introduced yourself to people you don’t know at Mass?
• Go to Mass at different times each Sunday. Many people go to the same Mass each week, so for many of us “9 a.m. Mass” becomes our parish; we don’t get to know people that attend other Sunday Masses in our parish.
• When attending Mass, move to the middle of the pew. Don’t wait for the usher to ask everyone to move to the middle. Too many people plant themselves at the end of the pew and don’t move. Moving to the middle allows space for people not to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, plus it allows you to possibly meet someone you haven’t met before.
• At Mass and other parish events, be on the lookout for people who look new, lost or need help. They aren’t always the new parishioners. Some may be long-time parishioners who have never been properly welcomed into the parish. Introduce yourself and help them.
Parish ministry leaders should look at Mass and other parish events through the eyes of a new parishioner. Start from the moment you park your car until you return to it. Compare notes with your spouse, friends and other parish leaders.
Offer the suggestions to the parish welcoming committee or parish stewardship committee to incorporate into the parish stewardship effort. Make this a coordinated effort within the parish and train parishioners on these techniques.
The techniques are simple but require a change. A change of heart. A change that looks out for the other person’s needs and not your own. A change to be open to starting new relationships.
As we enter Easter season, the best “welcoming” we can do is make room in our hearts to welcome Jesus home. When we talk about stewardship we refer to our gifts of time, talent and treasure. But, the best gift we can give is our heart — our heart to Jesus and to our fellow brothers and sisters.
Baranowski is the director of stewardship education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He and his wife are parishioners at Mary, Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County. He can be reached at (314) 792-7215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.