By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Fired up by the diocesan Synodal Summit June 17, parish representatives returned to their parishes to begin implementing measures to become a welcoming community where people have a sense of belonging. Welcoming and belonging is the theme for the first year of a three-year plan responding to priorities the people of the Diocese of Davenport expressed in listening sessions of the Diocesan Synod.
“There is definitely an awareness of welcoming and belonging. Representatives are now at the point of how to integrate (some of their plans),” said Patrick Schmadeke, the diocese’s Evangelization director.
Zoom sessions held before and after the Synodal summit provide opportunities for representatives to learn and to share ideas related to welcoming and belonging initiatives. They talk about what they have tried and what has/has not worked. The last Zoom session will take place before Lent next year.
Opening up conversations leads to many ideas, Schmadeke said, including parishes discovering opportunities for improvement. He offers a welcoming and belonging resource page on the diocesan website that typically includes a reflection and action plan. He also lists resources from the quarterly Zoom meetings. You can view them, too (https://www.davenportdiocese.org/welcoming-belonging).
Some parishes have begun posting photos on social media celebrating new members, baptisms and weddings as a way to begin fostering a sense of welcoming and belonging, Schmadeke said. Another idea is hosting conversations as St. Andrew Parish-Blue Grass and St. Mary Parish-Wilton have done, said Deacon Dan Freeman, parish life coordinator of both parishes.
After parish representatives gathered information from the conversations at each parish, they developed activities to promote welcoming and belonging and prioritized actions to implement. “We may need to modify to further enhance all people’s feelings of welcoming and belonging,” Deacon Freeman said. “It is interesting that both parishes have several common practices that they want to implement or update.” The goal was to “infuse these concepts into all of our processes and activities.”
For example, both parishes decided to update their pictorial directories, last published in 2018. “Both parishes have had significant changes in parishioners’ lives such as moving, leaving, dying, births, and marriages. Time changes us and it helps us to recognize those changes in how we see each other. This project allows us to reach out and contact parishioners that we haven’t talked to or seen for a while as well as update our records for better communications.”
The Wilton parish, which does not have a youth group, plans to invite all high school students and parents to a pizza party and ask questions about how to help them in their faith journey. In Blue Grass, the parish is inviting parishioners from both parishes who want to learn more about their faith to participate in the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA), a program that prepares people for initiation into the Catholic Church.
Barb Brown, office manager and a welcoming committee leader at St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant, said the committee of five grew to include members of the church life committee through the parish council. At the council’s request, Brown searched for a welcome banner for the gathering space and chose a “peel and stick” welcome sign purchased online. Two male parishioners placed the sign on a wall in the gathering space. Parishioners love it, she said.
The parish also created T-shirts for the welcoming and belonging team and parish council that read “Welcoming Team” on the back. Each Saturday after Mass, the parish offers cookies and snacks and on Sunday, doughnuts. A ministry fair held last month helped inform new and current parishioners about what the parish offers. “We had new people sign up as lectors, choir members, cantors, ushers and the Eucharistic revival team.”
Holy Family Parish, with churches in Riverside, Wellman and Richmond, decided to recognize new parishioners during Mass Oct. 22, said Deacon Derick Cranston, the parish’s pastoral associate. Organizers sent invitations and Father Bill Roush, the pastor, gave a blessing during Mass. “This is the first time we have done this since COVID hit,” Deacon Cranston said. When new parishioners join, a representative from the church and parish life commission personally contacts the person/family to welcome them. The newcomers also receive a welcome gift. “We actively engage the public through our Facebook Page (Cluster Parishes),” he said.
Other welcoming activities in the works are a soup cook-off and Father Roush’s presentation about journeys he has made to the Holy Land and other countries. The parish also plans to send Valentine cards and deliver cookies to people who are elderly and/or homebound.
Lourdes Hernandez of the welcoming committee at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City ends her conversations with new parishioners by saying “welcome home” in English or “bienvenido a casa” in Spanish. “When I first stepped foot into St. Patrick’s I felt at home. This is where I belong. I think everyone wants to feel that way or should be able to.”
The committee works hard to reach out to people who have not returned since COVID or are struggling “to find their way back to Mass,” she said. “All of our efforts are not only to stick with the synod theme, but to build a community, a real solid community where language is not a barrier.”
St. Patrick is a bilingual parish of English and Spanish speakers, so all items appear in both languages in print and digital media. The Advent/Christmas schedule is titled “Christ Welcomes You — Cristo te da la Bienvenida.”
“Our hope and prayer are that people feel and know they are missed, they belong and the doors are always open,” Hernandez said. Since the Synodal Summit, the parish has been offering coffee and doughnuts after all Sunday Masses. A monthly rosary potluck started a little over a year ago, and the welcome committee has joined in to invite new parishioners and help welcome them. A tailgate party in the parish parking lot last month welcomed parishioners to grill, eat, toss a football, huddle around a fire pit and socialize.
“The welcoming and belonging process must be on-going,” Deacon Freeman says. “We should extend ourselves to others through Christ whether they are potentially new members or those we see in the pew next to us at every Mass.”