Sowing the Seeds

November 19, 2009

Best Practices, Seminars, Stewardship

On Wednesday, November 18th, the Stewardship Office kicked off the first presentation of Sowing the Seeds, an ongoing seminar and workshop series focused on best practices in parish stewardship. Sowing the Seeds aims to equip pastors, parish councils, staffs, and volunteers with the tools they need to advance the mission of Christ in their parish. Drawing on extensive research, the Stewardship Office has identified key areas that parishes can address to help move them from maintenance to mission.

The kickoff event focused on the area of Communication and Hospitality. The presenters for the evening were Fr. Philip Early, Pastor of St. Thomas Villanova parish in Wilmington and General Counsel to Catholic Charities,  Barbara Dury, Business Manager at St. Bartholomew parish in Needham, Holly Clark, Pastoral Associate at Sacred Heart parish in Middleboro, and Joshua Phelps, Pastoral Minister at Saint Patrick Parish in Watertown.

There were 17 parishes  from all five regions of the Archdiocese represented.

The event began with a presentation by Barbara Dury about the importance of hospitality. Put simply, she said “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” and unfortunately for many parishes, the first impression they give to many new visitors is not a good one. Barbara spoke about the importance of an active hospitality ministry, but stressed that friendly greeters and ushers at Mass are only the beginning. “A parish that is truly committed to hospitality is committed to more than a ministry program, but to a wider culture.” This culture shows itself in the welcome expressed by parishioners at Mass as well as the welcome of the various ministries. “If parishioners and new visitors feel like certain ministries are closed to them,” Dury said, “then the culture of hospitality hasn’t truly taken root. Cliques destroy communion.”

Holly Clark’s presentation, “Going Beyond the Bulletin” addresses the question in the minds of many pastors and parishes, “How do we communicate to our parishioners who don’t go to Mass?” The bulletin has been the classic mode of communication in parishes for decades. Unfortunately, most parishes see less than 25% of their parishioners on any given weekend and you have to go to Mass to get a bulletin. How do parishes get their message out to the remaining 75%? For Clark, the answer is pretty straightforward: “We need to go where the people are: online!” While tips and tricks for creating and maintaining a robust website were part of her presentation, she suggested that parishes that aren’t taking advantage of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are missing out on a huge audience.

Following Clark, Fr. Early stressed that a monthly newsletter, both in electronic and paper form, are great ways to accentuate a parish’s vitality to those parishioners who haven’t been around in a while. “A monthly newsletter shows up in your inbox or your mailbox every month and is a great way to highlight, not just ministries, but people.” People, says Fr. Early, are drawn to the Church by other people, not just programs and initiatives.

Joshua Phelps concluded the evening with a presentation on putting your hospitality and communications strategy in context. For many parishes who have started initiatives without putting them in the context of mission, “they just keep racking up a list of programs that they can say they’ve tried but have just not worked.” Phelps suggested that this context is provided by a working mission statement and an active parish pastoral council. “A mission-oriented council finds itself spending less time reviewing and planning monthly programs and spends more time articulating the mission of the Church for the local community.” A one-size-fits-all mentality doesn’t work, and “it is the role of the pastoral council to craft a communications strategy and encourage a culture of hospitality that is a fit for that particular parish.” This work is continuous and not a one-time meeting, added Phelps. A parish that is more concerned with ministry programming and less concerned about the mission of Christ is one that will find itself frustrated.

For more information about this event and future stewardship workshops, please contact Mary Jo Kriz, at mkriz@rcab.org or phone 617-779-3706

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