Amidst a snowy evening last Thursday, nearly 250 participants enthusiastically joined our online session, 'Welcome Home: How to Make Our Parishes More Inviting.' The session resonated with such positivity among attendees that we are eager to share key insights from our speakers about what it means to welcome others into our parish community, extending beyond this season of Advent and Christmas.
The evening commenced with Dr. Bonnie Annicchiarico at the helm as moderator, introducing the theme of "Welcome Home." Both keynote speakers, Fr. Troy Nguyen and Dr. Lance Dixon, shared personal experiences that shaped their understanding of what it means to be, and to feel 'at home.'
Fr. Troy began by recalling his university years. He shared how an invitation to a house party had made him feel known and valued - that “he is known by someone, and this is what home feels like.”
Lance, a Catholic convert, drew parallels with the story of the prodigal son, emphasizing the significance of returning to a place where one feels valued and belongs.
He then recounted a personal experience with a parishioner named Elsa Jones, who welcomed him into an Anglican parish he used to call home. During a period of his life fraught with uncertainty, Elsa took him by the hand, and sat with him during his first time back at the church. She encouraged him to return week after week, and even began referring to him as her 'son,' which meant so much to him. This warm welcome made him feel like part of a family, motivating him to stay in the parish. Eventually, he became an Anglican priest, got married, and established his own family there.
Lance then shifted the discussion to the role of the Church as a 'field hospital,' a term coined by Pope Francis.
“This image is both beautiful and deeply challenging. Many come to our door deeply wounded, lonely, completely unsure with their relationship with God, and for some, they are angry at the world… we could be the first person they set their eyes on when they come back to the church.” Lance said.
"The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful," the Holy Father has said. Quoting Eric Law, Lance emphasized that hospitality, after all, is the discipline of blessing each person who comes to our door, as if they were Christ himself.
To be known by name
Fr. Troy pointed out that sometimes, communities might unintentionally appear unwelcoming due to familiarity. People tend to stick with those they know, often overlooking new members. He further added that some might also be unaware of how to welcome others simply because they have never experienced it themselves. “We can’t give what we don’t have,” he reiterated.
He then shared a touching story about a man who left the Catholic Church because no one knew his name, highlighting the human desire to be recognized and valued. “'We desire to be known by name, and God also invites us to be instruments, so we can know other people by name.”
Fr. Troy reminded everyone of the dignity each person holds, emphasizing that they are worth the blood of Christ who gave his life for us. Recalling the passage from Isaiah 43:1, "Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine," he continued, "When we truly welcome others, we allow them to truly experience the dignity that they've been given. It's a corporal work of mercy for us to welcome others."
Father presented two key principles to evaluate our motivation for welcoming others.
Echoing Fr. Troy's convictions, Dr. Lance outlined four important criteria for cultivating true hospitality:
The question arises: How can we translate all these insights into practical action?
Among the various resources provided, Dr. Lance emphasized appreciative inquiry as an effective approach to engage with and listen to others' experiences.
For his part, Fr. Troy encouraged us to meet one new person this Sunday. "Learn their name and invest in that relationship for at least two years. Over time, we can profoundly change the world."
“Making our parishes inviting isn't about grand gestures, but simple acts of recognition, acceptance, and love. We are all called to extend a warm welcome, just as Christ has welcomed us.”
Following the example of the first Christians, each of us can have an impact right now and influence the next generation. So, what are we waiting for?
Let’s start small this Sunday, one person at a time.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers