Catholic Herald staff
With signs, gifts and gestures of kindness, parishioners in Minong, Gordon and Solon Springs are rolling out the welcome mat.
In 2012, the parishes of St. Mary, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Pius X, respectively, embarked on a mission to reach out to one another, visitors and their communities. Fr. James Kinney, pastor, led the discussion of how to create a more cordial environment, said John Hallman, member of a tri-parish welcoming committee tasked with carrying out the initiative.
One of the committee’s first ideas was to contact potential parishioners and personally deliver a welcome kit.
“The resultant cardboard box … contains a mission statement, a pamphlet with Mass schedules and parish histories, names and phone numbers of various committees and ministries within the cluster, and a resource listing of area social and recreational contacts, as well as a treat, such as a jar of jam, flower seeds or a holy card,” Hallman explained.
Committee members also designated a “friendship Sunday” at each parish to encourage camaraderie; on the third Sunday of each month, parishioners gather for fellowship, coffee and pastries.
“The process resulted in a Gordon restaurant offering free use of a private dining area to the St. Anthony Parish, which has no meeting facilities,” Hallman added, “and those good neighbors even provide the coffee without charge.”
One Sunday, Fr. Kinney asked his parishioners who among them had traveled farthest for Mass, and he offered a gift to a visitor from Massachusetts. The tradition continues – on friendship Sundays, a bulletin is marked, and the person with the marked bulletin receives a small gift donated by another parishioner.
“Ambassadors of friendship” are another of the committee’s inspirations. The greeters welcome Mass-goers at the door, assist handicapped people and serve as the friendly face of their parish.
Even before they reach the door, visitors know they’ve come to a neighborly place. Outside each church, a series of signs line the driveway – all say “welcome” in various colors and languages – and “All welcome” signs have also been attached to each church’s identification sign.
Inside, wooden wall plaques encourage “touch as a means of greeting,” Hallman said. One plaque reads, “A kind touch conveys much.” Another says, “Hugs can heal.”
“Since Christ set an example by touching the eyes of the blind, healing lepers and washing the feet of the disciples … being effective disciples ourselves might mean reaching out in similar ways,” he added.
Individual parishes continue to generate their own welcoming gestures. At St. Mary’s, for example, there’s a bounty table where gardeners can share excess fruits and vegetables during the harvest season. In the winter, St. Mary’s “parking lot disciples” help clear the snow and ice off cars.
“This impromptu gesture is just one byproduct of the new welcoming culture that has been established,” Hallman commented. “After two years, it is evident at all three parishes that parishioners are more relaxed and talkative with each other. All seem more comfortable giving hellos, hugs, smiles and welcoming gestures at the beginning of Mass, as well as giving more participation in the gathering as a whole.”
Although the cluster has recently welcomed several new members, Hallman can’t say with any certainty what compelled them to join. Parishes don’t keep tabs on that, he said. But, he believes in the power of prayer, and each weekend, Fr. Kinney encourages everyone to pray for Catholics who no longer attend.
“I guess you could call it his ongoing search for ‘re-verts,’ and that surely is a more powerful force than any other we may eventually develop,” he added.