Get into the fielding position, bring people together

Anne Marie Amacher
John Cooper, pastoral associate and business manager at St. Anthony Parish-Davenport, gets into the fielding position during a talk at the Synodal Summit at St. Ambrose University in Davenport June 17.

(Editor’s note: The following article is part of series on the diocesan Synodal Summit, held June 17 at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — To welcome people and to make them feel as if they belong, “we need to get into the fielding position,” said John Cooper, pastoral associate and business manager at St. Anthony Parish-Davenport, as he crouched into position to demonstrate.

He shared his insights on welcoming and belonging during the first of three panels held during the diocesan Synodal Summit on June 17 at St. Ambrose University. Each panel addressed a dimension of the Synod of Bishops — communion, participation and mission. Cooper, Colleen Burke of the St. Patrick cluster of five parishes in Clinton County, Deacon Frank Agnoli, diocesan director of liturgy, and Dan Ebener, diocesan director of pastoral planning, spoke on communion.


Fielding position

“Welcoming” was an essential ingredient in the successful merger of St. Mary Parish with St. Anthony Parish, Cooper said. Helping others to feel welcome and have a sense of belonging is the most important thing Catholics can do, he said. When St. Anthony Parish asked itself, in a survey, “Would you recommend your parish to others?” Cooper and other parish leaders were surprised to learn that some people did not feel welcome. “That was a Kairos Moment. We needed to do something about that. Don’t assume someone is welcoming a person (who looks unfamiliar at a Mass).”

Cooper picked up some good welcoming tips from Sister Irene Munoz, CHM, who retired last year from multicultural ministry in the Ottumwa area. Now, at the end of every Mass at St. Anthony, visitors are asked to stand and be recognized. People are asked whether they are interested in becoming Catholic or are looking for a parish home. Parish representatives are present to meet personally with newcomers and inquirers.

‘Holy Spirit activate’

Inspired by the Vision 20/20 convocation in 2019, Burke returned to her parish cluster “back on fire.” A new evangelization team formed. “We were a team meant to share the faith.” But then COVID-19 hit. The bulletin became the only way to communicate with parishioners. Burke said the team used the bulletin to share faith through Scripture reflections created by parishioners in the cluster.

As pandemic restrictions were lifted gradually, various retreats have been held at different churches in the cluster to help parishioners get to know one another. “Church is not a building. It is about people. We are the Church,” she said. “Don’t get discouraged … Try to spread the joy. You just have to turn one or two hearts to God — that is powerful.” She uses the phrase “Holy Spirit active” for inspiration and hope.

Father Dan Dorau, pastor of four parishes in the southern part of the diocese, asked Burke for suggestions on how to integrate families from the various parishes to create a sense of family. There is no exact answer, she said. “Try planning retreats and move them around the cluster. You need to meet (people) where they are.” Be attentive to introducing people. At multi-parish gatherings, make sure people are introduced to others outside their home parish.

Another summit participant asked for suggestions on how to organize a multi-parish retreat or other event. Burke recommended getting a variety of people involved. Forming a cluster choir for one event was also a success. Search online for ideas. “You don’t need to start from scratch. Gather and adapt to your needs.”

Enlarge the space in your tent

Deacon Agnoli described “the perfect (mythical) parish” of St. Meinrad where everything from parking to ministries to accompaniment was perfect. Imaging what makes a perfect parish leads to questions parishes can ask themselves: “How do we see each other? How do we act?” he asked. “To see one another calls us to conversion.” Treat hospitality as the responsibility of everyone. Ordained and lay ministers need to work together.

“None of us is St. Meinrad’s … our mythical, ideal, imagined parish. This year challenges us to get a little closer to that vision, to see more clearly. What questions do we need to ask? What will we do on this journey? To meet more openly? To seek more intently? To follow more closely? To enlarge the space of our tent?”


Ebener, who has worked with parishes across the country, said, “Welcoming does not stop at the front door.” It also includes thoughts and ideas and to build trust and a common mission. How do we do this? “We start by listening.” Listen to the heartbreaking stories. Listen to the inspiring stories. He pointed out that multitasking is not listening. “If you are really listening then they will want to listen to you. Keep your eyes, ears, hearts and minds open.”

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