Last week, I joined Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral parish staff for a webinar sponsored by the Amazing Parish movement. The topic was Hospitality During the Holidays and Beyond. They had some great ideas on hospitality, one of my favorite was “no one touches the doorknobs.” The idea is that when parishioners and visitors come to the parish for the Mass, the hospitality ministers/greeters are the ones who open the door for them; both coming and leaving.
Here are some other thoughts and reminders on offering generous hospitality this Christmas season.
- Start at the beginning by helping people find their way into your Church. Parishes need to examine if Mass is easy to find: Are directions to the church easily accessible? Is it obvious to the stranger where to park? Is the entrance to the church obvious? Once inside, is it clear where they should go?
- All are welcome; no insiders or outsiders. See all people as participants in the liturgy. Avoid talking to or printing notices that communicate in terms of “insiders” and “outsiders.” Any hint that someone is perceived as an outsider is the same as saying, “No room at the inn!” For instance, acronyms and abbreviations that are unfamiliar to a newcomer can make them feel like outsiders.
- Avoid asking people to identify themselves as visitors. For every one person who likes that kind of attention, there are ten who do not.
- Don’t assume that anyone knows anything! Print it. Project it. Find some way to tell everyone in words or print where to find it (i.e. music, mass parts, mass settings, prayers). Be clear about the page numbers. Announce page numbers and print up an Order of Worship on a half sheet of paper making it easy for everyone in the assembly to participate fully in the Mass. We want full, active, and conscious participation.
- Celebrate the church’s faith without apology or hesitation. Any who come want to be part of a living community’s drama of welcoming Jesus. In doing so, they hope to discover again — or for the first time — who God is and who Jesus is — “up close and personal.” Don’t try to play to the audience. This is a glorious night full of God’s splendor, mystery, and presence. Sing, pray, rejoice in all the ways your community is able. Deep joy and genuine excitement are contagious and appealing. Skip anything that is phony or contrived. Be the best versions of yourself!
- Be sure to keep a balance between less known and more familiar carols and hymns.
- Encourage all church members to show hospitality through attentiveness and warmth to those taking seats near them — making sure each person has a hymnal, an Order of Worship if there is one, enough room, or a friendly word of guidance about where to turn in the hymnal. Hospitality ministers/greeters are important, but what will make a lasting and loving impression is the demonstration of grace and caring by the people in the pews who share the journey.
- Offer options in Mass times. Christmas Eve is a night when more is better as far as options are concerned — even in smaller parishes. Inconvenient for the pastor, musicians, ushers? Yes, but what are we to be about: convenience or preaching the Gospel to the ends of the earth?
- Love all the people just because they are there for this time, this holy night. Forget about wondering and worrying about whether or not they will come back.
- Do leave breadcrumbs along the path so that if people want to come again, they know how and when to return. Bulletin notices or a special insert with worship times, how to contact the church office or pastor, and information about the parish’s distinctive ministries welcomes participation and sends the right signals.
- Welcoming Table: Set up a “Welcome to Newcomers” table in the vestibule of the church before and after Mass as often as possible. Make sure that volunteers at the table understand their duties.
- Welcoming newcomers to your parish is not just the job of the pastoral staff, ushers, ministers of hospitality or greeters. It is everyone’s responsibility. Cultivate the virtue of hospitality at Mass, encourage every parishioner to take responsibility for creating a welcoming atmosphere. For instance, encourage everyone in your parish to:
- Be aware of the fact that many Mass attendees tend to gather into little cliques and ignore those who are not members of their particular clique. They are not really inhospitable, just heedless of the need for hospitality. Make hospitality a new habit when you go to Mass.
- Come early, leave late. Instead of rushing to mass to be there on time, and then rushing out at its conclusion, make time to come a little early and linger just a bit later. Make room in your busy life to greet and spend time with others at mass.
- Go in peace to greet someone! Seek out someone you’ve not met before. Shake their hand, introduce yourself, and take a few moments to welcome them to your parish home, God’s house.
- Welcome everyone. Not only do visitors need your warm welcome, regular Mass attendees also need a friendly greeting. Develop a good handshake and be enthusiastic about your parish. You are greeting others in the name of Christ.
- Help newcomers connect. While you are getting to know visitors, introduce them to other parishioners as the opportunity presents itself. Feel free to invite visitors to sit next to you.
- Say goodbye with genuine warmth. After Mass, bid farewell to visitors, inviting them to return next week. Introduce them to the pastor if the opportunity arises.
- Avoid parish business. Avoid conducting parish business with others just before or after mass. Focus on visitors.
- Give visitors information about the parish. Ensure that a visitor has a bulletin and other information about the parish before they leave. If there is a social gathering after mass, invite them.
- Be part of a greeting ministry team. Parishes are always in need of greeters to serve regularly, and provide ongoing formation to new greeters. Help out, be a greeter. If your parish doesn’t have greeters, now is a good time to start!
- Greet and thank those who already minister in the area of hospitality. It isn’t necessary to neglect the people who are already ministers of hospitality in order to make visitors feel at home. A simple wave and a smile go a long way.
Minister of Hospitality/Greeter Prayer
Lord, in your love you gather your people this day, help me to serve them in a Christ like manner, even as your son Jesus served those who gathered about him. Make me prayerful, patient, helpful and understanding, and may I radiate the joy that faith brings as I serve their needs. Give me your strength to support my fellow ministers. May all who assemble to celebrate our common faith in the risen savior be glad of heart for being here and for having encountered your son in one another, in our priest, at the tables of the book and the bread, and through the ministry of ushers like me. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Fr. Mark’s Musings