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Parishes find ways to make new parishioners feel at home

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Perhaps you have moved into a new neighborhood. How do you find a new parish, and will you be welcomed into that community?

A few diocesan parishes share how they welcome new parishioners.

St. Bernadette Church, Springfield

Kelly Smith, a welcome committee member, knows what it’s like to join a new parish. Her husband’s military career sent them all over the world. It wasn’t until an assignment in Memphis that Smith noticed something different. It was the first time she received a phone call welcoming her to the parish. “It made an impression on me,” she said. “Personal touch is the ticket.”

Smith brought that personal touch to St. Bernadette by calling newly registered parishioners and offering to answer any questions they may have. “I don’t want anyone to slip through the system,” she said.

St. John Neumann Church, Reston

Jo-Ann Duggan, director of outreach, said new parishioners receive a welcome letter from Oblate of St. Francis de Sales Father Joseph T. Brennan, pastor, and an invitation to one of the quarterly welcome events.

“We try offer them at different times to catch people who might be more available say, on a Saturday evening after Mass, or Sunday morning,” said Duggan.

New parishioners receive a loaf of bread from the farmers market, wrapped in a towel with the “All Are Welcome” logo designed by Oblate Brother Mickey O’Neill McGrath. The package also includes an 8x10 house blessing designed by McGrath that reads, “Blessing on the home. May the love of God touch every heart. May the light of Christ fill every shadow. May the Spirit of God be the welcome at every door.” The family name is written on the blessing.

At the reception, Father Brennan gives a PowerPoint presentation about Salesian Oblates who have staffed the parish since 1979, and the history of the parish. Other staff members share their ministries including faith formation and liturgy.

“Mark Gosselin, facilities manager, gives a tour of church and classrooms,” said Duggan.

The parish meets people where they are, from young families to retired people, according to Duggan.

Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Vienna

Once a quarter, the welcome committee sets up a table between the church and parish hall with welcome bags and pamphlets highlighting some of the ministries people can become involved in at the parish. New parishioners receive a bag with notecards, grapes and bread “signifying our communion with Christ,” according to the gift tag.

“I was surprised they actually took the time to call us,” said Juan Mari. “I appreciate it. We’re impressed with what (the parish) has done here.” 

New parishioner Matthew Sheptuck said it was a nice experience to receive an email from one of the welcome committee members — a gesture he hadn’t received in other parishes.

“Being able to be here after Mass and have all these resources at my disposal is also a great blessing,” he said. “The committee has done a good job in giving that personal approach to welcoming parishioners.”

Patricia Heimann and her family recently moved to the area. “It’s always difficult to first come to a new parish, so it was nice that they have this set up so you can get immersed as quickly as possible because it’s always a bit of a challenge,” she said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019