Diocese of Ogdensburg

The Roman Catholic Church in Northern New York

Evangelization is all about relationship.

Before we can welcome inactive Catholics home, or invite new people to the parish, there must be a welcoming community, a family of faith, that we can invite them home to.   It is important that we practice hospitality, first at our liturgies and parish events.  From there, we can reach out to the larger community.  Hospitality does not happen automatically.  It takes effort to build relationships, to recognize the regulars and welcome the stranger.

hospitalityHave you ever visited a parish while on vacation or traveling? Or perhaps you moved to a new town and joined a new parish? Do you remember what it felt like to be a stranger in a strange parish where you didn't know anyone? It is amazing the difference it makes when someone cares enough to ask if you are visiting from out of town and is there to welcome you to their community.

Similarly, many of our regular parishioners are virtual strangers.  Do you know the people with whom you worship every week?  Have you ever had the experience of talking with someone after Mass and you don't know his name? You know his face, you see him every week, but know nothing about him? Or perhaps you noticed that the regular parishioner who always sits in the third pew on the left side has been missing from mass a couple of times.  When you ask the regular parishioners about her, they all know who you mean, but no one knows anything about her or where she lives.

Hospitality is more than coffee and donuts but coffee and donuts (or other similar social opportunities) are important.  Also, do not be afraid of nametags or when meeting in groups to go around have everyone introduce themselves.   It requires work to get to know each other and to have opportunities outside of liturgy for people to share stories and lives.   When having events, have some people who are designated to look for people who are alone or seem isolated.  They may just want to be by themselves, but may just be hoping for someone to engage them in conversation.

In order to welcome the stranger to your parish, it requires that there are parishioners who know the regulars and who are willing to be responsible to keep an eye out for the visitors. These persons might serve as greeters at the door or who hand out bulletins at the end of Mass. Alternatively, there could be designated parishioners who just simply keep an eye out for the strangers.  It would help if these greeters would have information about the parish and parish staff, in case a new person wants to join the parish.  It is also helpful to have either a current bulletin or some form of welcome pamphlet with contact information that you can give the new person.

Something to keep in mind is that we tend to assume that all the people who visit our parish are practicing Catholics, but that is not necessarily the case. A person might be searching for his spiritual home and might just be checking out your parish. Perhaps they have been away from the faith and are looking to return.  Maybe they are just curious and looking for more information about the faith.  This may be the only chance you have to connect with them.  If they do not feel welcome, they will not be back.  For these people it would be helpful to have some pamphlets or information about the faith, RCIA, Catholics Coming Home and similar programs readily available for them.