By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
“Is your faith community really welcoming?” Presenter Jane Angha posed this question to a group of faith formers assembled at St. Patrick Church in Iowa City. A few people raised their hands, but the majority weren’t so sure.
“I expect that,” she said, noting that most of the faith groups she speaks to believe they can do better. “We need to find ways we can make spaces for people to come back (to the church), whether in person, hybrid or online. How can we create radical hospitality” that draws people in?
Angha, a national speaker, consultant, coach, teacher and trainer offered this challenge to participants at the kickoff of a speaker series titled “Catholic Faith Formation in a Post-Pandemic World.” The five-part series is an initiative of the Diocese of Davenport Office of Faith Formation and follows John Roberto’s Lifelong Faith Associates programming.
Angha previously spoke in the Diocese of Davenport on the topic of hospitality in 2019. She said much had changed because of the pandemic. “We’ve been through trauma. Our habits have changed, there’s loneliness, our staff is stretched thin, there’s worry and fear, depression, financial and work issues” and more. “What are people needing today? How do we deliver it? What does it mean for traditional ways of gathering, teaching, forming and serving?”
Most parishes are good at showing hospitality to people who regularly attend, but may feel lost when it comes to identifying and welcoming people who are new, she said. People new to a parish need someone to help them get acclimated and find opportunities to get involved. People who have not been to in-person Mass in a while may need an update about what has changed. “Seek them out.”
Greet people with joy, give them something to do, make them feel listened to, give them a chance to care, treat them as a friend and help them to feel acknowledged. “Hospitality sets the stage for an encounter with Christ,” she said.
In an uncertain world, it is especially important that parish leaders ask what their congregations need instead of making assumptions, she said. Father Jim Betzen, pastor of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa, shared that his parish recently hosted a series of listening sessions. These sessions provided a good opportunity for staff to gauge needs and concerns. He discovered that many parishioners worry about their children and grandchildren who have left the faith.
Father Paul Connolly, pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant, said some of his parishioners felt that pandemic safety protocols made the parish feel less welcoming. He wondered how best to handle situations in which pushback is inevitable. Angha said transparency, a clear and loving intent and a sense of humor help people adjust to rules or changes they “don’t like.”
After a break for lunch, Angha talked about Christian practices, “ways by which we live the Christian way of life and deepen our relationship with God.” Practices, such as forgiveness, reading the Bible and caring for the poor “address a basic area of human need and provide opportunities for learning, community-building and evangelization.”
The series resumes March 10 from 10-11:30 a.m. with a webinar, Designing Children and Family Faith Formation for the Post-Pandemic World. Webinars on adult faith formation and adolescent faith formation will take place March 24 and April 7, respectively. The series will conclude with an in-person workshop on April 28 at St. Patrick-Iowa City with John Roberto. Individuals and parish groups may sign up at https://www.davenportdiocese.org/cff-series. People who missed the first workshop day but would like to view the recording can access it by registering for the entire series.