This past weekend, I was helping out at St. Therese’s in Rapid City. After the 9 AM Mass Fr. Kerry asked if I had introduced myself. I said to him, “I did not introduce myself, but I did welcome all who were guests and visitors to St. Therese.” I have helped out at St. Therese several times since moving into their rectory the first part of July. Therefore, I assumed that people knew me and I decided not to introduce myself. Wouldn’t you know it, the one time I decide not to introduce myself someone asks Fr. Kerry who the priest was who celebrated the Mass. Lesson learned!
As I found out last Sunday, we need to be more attentive in our hospitality. This is especially true as we approach the Christmas season. It is important to introduce ourselves as we welcome our visitors and guests in the name of Christ and in the name of our parish communities this Christmas season. This simple gesture of hospitality can go a long way, even though we might not think it matters that people know our name. For those of us who are priests, this gesture is perhaps even more important. Parishioners and guests can easily be distracted wondering who the celebrant is. So introduce yourself, even if you think as I did, that everyone knows you already.
Here is a Christmas checklist from Fr. Michael White co-author of the book “Rebuilt.” Fr. White and Tom Corcoran will be our speakers at this year’s Pastoral Ministry days April 2-4. Our theme is: “Abide In Me: Dedicated Discipleship Creating Intentional Communities of Service to God and Neighbor.”
CHRISTMAS CHECKLIST: GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR CHRISTMAS EXPERIENCE
“He’s making a list and checking it twice…”
Anyone who serves on a church staff or volunteers around a church office knows that along with the joy, preparing for Christmas can be a stressful and busy time of year. There’s a lot of work that goes into pulling off a successful and inspiring Christmas celebration. Here’s a little checklist to help keep you organized and on track while creating a truly life-changing experience for everyone who comes through your door.
Lots of visitors will be checking you out this Christmas. How do you look? Take some time to make sure you look good.
- Start outside; if you haven’t had a fall cleanup, do it before the holidays. Take a fresh look at signage too.
- Inside, what is going on in your lobby? Get rid of unnecessary signage and advertising. Make sure there are not a lot of flyers around…nobody is going to sign up for your programs on Christmas Eve.
- Consider a fresh approach to decorating your church this year. Maybe something more artful than rows of Poinsettias in foil wrapped pots.
Volunteers are needed and necessary given the big crowds you could be expecting. But they also need to be prepared, or they could be part of the problem instead of the solution.
- Make a breakdown of every ministry you will need and take time to figure out the appropriate number of volunteers needed.
- Recruit, recruit, recruit. Some service times will be easy to fill, others are going to take effort.
- Communicate everything that is going on beforehand, so volunteers come already in the know.
- If possible, schedule some rehearsals with servers, lectors, ushers. They probably need it.
Poorly planned parking can leave guests with a bad taste even before they get in the building. Parking ministers are more important at Christmas than any other time of the year.
- Communicate parking flow and other instructions to parishioners the weekend prior.
- Invite regulars to leave the best parking for newcomers, encourage them to park off campus whenever possible.
- Consider running shuttles from off campus parking at peak times.
Service Times and Communications
Christmas might look and feel very different than the rest of the year, including Mass times and locations. Let people know that ahead of time.
- Make sure your times and location (or locations) are well advertised and visible on your website and elsewhere (don’t make people hunt).
- Everyone wants to come to that “prime time” 4pm Mass, so encourage your parishioners to consider a different time. Add some special features to later Masses, like different music, or the ability to “save seats.”
Everyone understands that the church is going to be crowded on Christmas Eve. But they’ll be a lot less annoyed about it if it’s clear you have a plan and you’re clearly in charge of your facility.
- Have overflow areas where people can sit and at least hear the Mass. Better yet, rent or borrow some cameras and create video venues. Your high school students can help (and will be happy to).
- Make your venues hospitable places with hosts to welcome guests.
- Make sure your central spaces, like the front doors, are controlled spaces, with very confident and experienced hosts or staff members. Hiring an off duty police officer, and positioning him prominently sends a strong sign you are in charge of your facility.
- Especially at the early Masses anticipate lots and lots of little kids. Is there anything you can do for them? Are there places where they can break out and run around? Will you have a Children’s Liturgy of the Word? It can help ease the crush.
Music and Message
Everyone is coming for something…and for the unchurched, who do not understand or appreciate the Eucharist, it boils down to the music and the message.
- Even if you have a mediocre music program, it’s not hard to get Christmas music right. Make sure you do because it is hugely important in shaping people’s experience.
- As a pastor or celebrant you have a lot on your plate. Don’t let all your tasks distract you from your homily preparation. Delegate everything you can, and then prepare and practice. Invite others to come listen to your message and evaluate it with you. Prepare it with an ear to how it sounds to the unchurched.