10 Ways to Practice Hospitality at Christmas

10 Ways to Practice Hospitality at Christmas

10 Ways to Practice Hospitality at Christmas

This past weekend we saw an article published by the Catholic News Agency on the efforts being made in the Archdiocese of Detroit to welcome people to their parishes this Christmas.  The Communications Director for the Diocese says in the article, “We target at Christmas knowing there are people who come there for the first time or they haven’t been with us for a while,” he said. “One of the things is we want to be unusually gracious and hospitable for people that come to our churches.”  In preparation the Archdiocese hosted a one-day training for parish leaders.  One of the speakers, Fr. Steve Pullis, offered 10 ways to practice hospitality this Christmas:

I found his talk inspiring and a good reminder of the importance of practicing Generous Hospitality as the Christmas season approaches.  Fr. Pullis’ talk can be found here:


While you are on You Tube, I would encourage you also to take a look at the talk given by Fr. John Riccardo.  Fr. Riccardo will be our keynote speaker at the Summit in 2019.  MARK YOUR CALENDARS for SEPTEMBER 28, 2019.  I am excited to have him here.  I think his talks will be inspiring! 

Fr. Riccardo will be our keynote speaker at the Summit in 2019!
Mark your calendars for September 28, 2019

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Stewardship Parishes Communicate Well

Yesterday, I came across a video of Fr. Adam Hofer, the Parochial Vicar at Blessed Sacrament Church in Rapid City on Facebook.  Fr. Hofer is sitting around the manger scene inviting and welcoming people to participate in the Christmas Masses at Blessed Sacrament. He has a warm and joyful disposition about him as he invites people to gather around the Manger to welcome Emmanuel into their lives, families and world. It is a short 47-second video with a simple greeting of welcoming parishioners, guests and really all to Blessed Sacrament Parish for the Christmas Masses.  Check it out. Well done Fr. Hofer!  http://blessedsacramentchurch.org

I also noticed this post on Facebook this week: “Blessed Sacrament Church. St. Thomas More Students did an excellent job in decorating the parish hall for Christmas Eve. Thank you.” (8 pictures included in post.)

Posted on Instagram:  “Father Dillion took kids out caroling on a hayride, met with first communicants, and ended the night with adoration, a lesson on Lectio Divina, and confession (almost 2 hours). Great night in Bonesteel!”

The St. Francis Christmas play in Sturgis is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SaintFrancisSturgis

Benedictine College posted a beautiful video for Christmas of a live nativity scene and Sr. Joan Kolbe Kjerstad plays the role of Mary:  https://www.thegregorian.org/2017/watch-benedictine-college-shares-evocative-nativity-story

As parishes work through the process of becoming a stewardship parish, the first phase or tier is to become a Foundational Parish.  One of the characteristics of a foundational Parish is: “Our parishes use a variety of communication methods that are useful and effective for the unique culture of the parish.”

The use of parish webpages and social media for your parishes can be a great way to form your parishioners in the faith and to attract new ones or those who have left the faith for a time, encouraging them to come back.

            As our Office of Stewardship visits with pastors and stewardship committees about becoming stewardship parishes, we encourage parishes to have to have current and up-to-date webpages. Here are some webpages that we think are pretty good:







            Thinking about all of this week after seeing Blessed Sacrament Rapid City, Immaculate Conception in Bonesteel, in St. Francis in Sturgis on Facebook and Instagram I came across 19 reasons* you should include visual content in your marketing. Here are a few that I think apply to the marketing we do and evangelization in our parishes and diocese.

1) 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text. (Sources: 3M Corporation and the Zabisco

2) 40% of people will respond better to visual information than plain text. (Source: Zabisco

3) Publishers who use infographics grow in traffic an average of 12% more than those who don’t. (Source: AnsonAlex

4) Posts with videos attract 3 times more inbound links than plain text posts. (Source: SEOmoz

5) Visual content drives engagement. In fact, just one month after the introduction of Facebook timeline for brands, visual content — photos and videos — saw a 65% increase in engagement. (Source: Simply Measured

6) Pinterest generated more referral traffic for businesses than Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined. (Source: Shareaholic

7) 85% of the US internet audience watches videos online. The 25-34 age group watches the most online videos, and adult males spend 40% more time watching videos on the internet than females. (Sources: comScore and Nielsen

8) Over 60 hours of videos are uploaded each minute on YouTube.com. (Source: YouTube

9) 700 YouTube videos are shared on Twitter every minute. (Source: YouTube

10) Viewers spend 100% more time on pages with videos on them. (Source: MarketingSherpa

11) 25 million smartphone users stream 4 hours of mobile video per month. 75% of smartphone users watch videos on their phones, 26% of whom use video at least once a day. (Sources: Ooyala and Ipsos

*19 Reasons You Should Include Visual Content in Your Marketing. Written by Amanda Sibley @AmandaSibley

Key Characteristics of Welcome

Last week, I spent some time at the University of Mary in Bismarck and at Black Hills State University in Spearfish visiting and inviting some of our college students to pray about being part our Duc In Altum summer program. In the past, we have had two teams, hopefully this year will have three or perhaps even four, so please pray that our college students will respond generously to this invitation.

            I stayed at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck. On the nightstand was a welcome letter giving me the pin number for the rectory, password for the Internet, an invitation to help myself to the food and beverages available in the kitchen and the schedule of Mass times. At the end of the letter was this line, “We are happy to show our hospitality to you as a way of welcoming Christ. Enjoy your stay!” What a great line.

Even though I spent most of my time at U Mary, Msgr. Richter, the pastor of Cathedral, called me Saturday afternoon and asked if I needed anything. He wanted to make sure that I was being taken care of.  He also asked if I wanted to concelebrate the 5 PM Vigil Mass with him and the parish community of Holy Spirit.

As we approach the Christmas season and prepare to welcome, not only our parishioners but their families, friends and all the visitors that will grace our Christmas liturgies, I am mindful of that line that welcomed me to the rectory of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit: “We are happy to show our hospitality to you as a way of welcoming Christ. Enjoy your stay!”

In our Diocesan document, Characteristics of a Stewardship Parish, the section on Generous Hospitality — Welcome, Invitation Fellowship begins by quoting the Rule of St. Benedict: “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, ‘I came as a guest and you received Me (Matthew 25:35).’” At our Christmas liturgies, we will have ample opportunities to welcome the friends and families of our parishioners, as well as guests and strangers who have come to encounter the newborn King the one we call, Emmanuel, Wonder Counselor, God Hero and Prince of Peace.

Here are some of the key characteristics of a welcoming Parish laid out in our document. In the next several weeks, let us remind our staff and our parishioners of these key points as we prepare for our Christmas liturgies.

  • Our parish has a welcoming atmosphere where both parishioners and visitors feel welcomed, comfortable and valued.
  • Our parish is clean, well-kept and attractive. Items used for mass are appropriately cared for and meet liturgical norms.
  • Our parish regularly evaluates our building and grounds for how welcoming they are to the stranger and makes changes as needed.
  • Our parish has hospitality ministers on Sunday and at other parish events who are joyful, kind, and attentive to the needs of all guests and parishioners.
  • Our parish finds ways to thank people who give of themselves in discipleship.
  • Our parish pays attention to details, i.e. all doors unlocked, microphones are used properly, hearing devices are available to the hearing impaired, etc.

On another note, I wanted to congratulate Fr. Andrzej Wyrostek and the parish of Our Lady of the Black Hills in Piedmont on behalf of the Offices of Stewardship and Vocation for being the first parish to be to be recognized as a Foundational Parish by Bishop Gruss. Again congratulations, Fr. Andrzej and thanks for leading the way.

Christmas Hospitality Checklist

                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.”


 “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.

“What the heck just happened?”

This past weekend I was covering at St. Patrick’s in Wall, St. Margaret’s in Lakeside and Holy Rosary in Interior. The 5:00 PM Saturday evening Mass in Wall was the children’s liturgy. I asked the children if they had ever been filled with the Holy Spirit like Elizabeth in the Gospel who cried out in a loud voice with the joy that Mary is the Mother of the Lord.  Almost all the children shook their head yes and then no and then yes and then no again.

I told the children, “All of you are filled with the Holy Spirit through your baptism and will be strengthened with the gift of the Holy Spirit at confirmation. However, a lot of us do not realize the incredible gift we have been given in baptism and confirmation that makes Jesus come alive in our own hearts.”

I then shared with them a story that happened when I was in Medjugorje on a pilgrimage with five of my brothers. One evening we had a prayer service. About 30 of us were gathered in a circle praying over one another. In the middle of the prayer service my youngest brother Jim stood up and cried out in a very loud voice, “I love Jesus!” We all looked at him and wondered, “What the heck just happened?”

This same thing happened to Elizabeth when she cried out in a loud voice with joy at the sound of Mary’s greeting. That same greeting also made John the Baptist leap in Elizabeth’s womb for joy. Elizabeth and John were filled with the same Holy Spirit that came upon my brother, who spontaneously stood up, responding to the Holy Spirit as he cried out “Jesus, I love you.”

May this Christmas season find our own hearts filled with the Holy Spirit, crying out in a loud voice with joy, “Jesus is Lord!” May our hearts, too, leap with the joy of Christ coming into our midst once again.

Come, Holy Spirit and fill our hearts with the presence of Christ this Christmas.

On behalf of the Office of Stewardship and Vocations, we wanted to wish you a Very Merry Christmas,

Fr. Mark’s Musings