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Hospitality in the Parish

It has become very clear in recent studies that people are positively impacted by warm and open hospitality in the parish and the parish community. To that end, here are some questions (and a few suggestions) that your parish (parish staff, parish pastoral council, etc.) might consider. 

We would encourage you to ask these questions from the point of view of a new family thinking of registering in the parish or a person making inquiry about the faith. They, rather than the established parishioners, are the ones for whom obvious hospitality is most important.

 The Parish Grounds and Facilities

  • Is there clear signage as to where the parish is located, i.e. easily visible from the passing streets?
  • Is there obvious (e.g. large and clear enough) signage within the parish property as to where certain facilities of the parish are located, e.g. Parish Office, Rectory, School, Hall, Gym, Meeting Room, Religious Education Building, Sacristy, Church (if not obvious)?
  • Are the grounds well kept?  Is the landscaping attractive and well-tended?  Is the parish modeling care for the environment and sustainability?  Is the entrance to the Rectory/Parish Office beautiful, warm and welcoming?
  • Is the night lighting adequate for safety around the building and in the parking lot?  Will everyone feel safe walking to and from their cars?
  • Is the parking lot striped or marked for ease of parking?
  • Is the vestibule of the Church welcoming, with up-to-date information, neat and tidy, with no out-of-date fliers or left-over envelopes and fliers hanging on the board?
  • Are the restrooms in all the facilities clean and well-stocked, functioning properly and cleaned in a timely manner after the weekend?
  • Is there a changing table in the restrooms?
  • Are the restrooms handicapped accessible?

 The Parish Office

  • Is the office person/secretary welcoming, warmly greeting the person coming in?  Do they smile, say hello, gently inquire how they might be of service?  Is the person before them given priority over everything else?
  • Ideally, is the office person/secretary bi-lingual and is that issue considered when the position needs to be filled anew?
  • Are the poor who come to the office/rectory door treated with the care and respect due their dignity as sons and daughters of God?
  • If the person needs some more extensive care (beyond have a Mass offered, for example), are they offered a comfortable seat in the parlor/one of the offices and the office person helps them there, e.g. registering, getting their particular concerns and interests addressed, etc.    Are they afforded privacy?
  • Is there information on the parish readily available that the office person can provide?  Does this information include the list of the staff, their positions and their direct phone numbers in their offices?Is the parish welcome integrated between the school and the parish, faith formation and the parish, outreach and the parish?  Is this seamless?  Is the broad scope of information available at all these points of access?
  • What happens when a person desires to speak to a priest, if one is available?  If a priest is not available, does the office manager graciously take steps to set up a future appointment with a priest or offer other helpful options?
  • Is a priest contactable for sick calls and hospital needs?

 The Telephone

  • Is the telephone answered by a live person whenever possible rather than by an answering machine?
  • Are they pleasant and smiling when they answer the phone?
  • When an answering machine needs to be used, does it include in English and Spanish: options for information (e.g. location of the Church, Sunday Mass times, Holiday Mass Times at the appropriate time of year, what are the regular office hours when one might expect to hear back), how to contact one of the staff members, giving the names and ministry of each staff person as well as the extension number (not “spell their name” as someone might very well not know the staff member’s name or how to spell it). Is information updated in a timely manner?  Do all employees check their messages regularly?Is information given as to how to contact a priest in cases of emergencies after hours?

 The Website

  • Is the parish website attractive and user-friendly?  Do we promote communication through web media?  Does the parish use social communication media?
  • Is it welcoming, easy to get around to find the contacts and information one needs? Do we have too much information on the web?  Are there too many people able to change web content?
  • Is it accurate and kept up to date?  
  • Have we involved some expert to tell us how it might be improved and what resources are available to help us do it? (e.g. David Mitroff at 510-761-5895 or Carson Weber at 916-606-3018)

 The Parlors/Offices

  • Is there clear signage as to where the parish is located, i.e. easily visible from the passing streets?
  • Is the parlor/office where a priest might be meeting with a new member of the parish or someone preparing for marriage or arranging a funeral, a place where they will be comfortable, with pictures on the walls, comfortable chairs/couches, an appropriate table, the space not dominated by a big desk?  Is there good indirect lighting (not just overhead lighting), etc.?  This is as true for a priest’s private office, if he meets with people there, as it is for the general parish offices?
  • Are there religious images in the parlors from more than one culture?
  • Is coffee/tea, water offered to people with appointments at the parish?  (e.g. Easily available with Keurig, etc. these days.)

 The Liturgy

  • Is the way the liturgy is celebrated generally warm and uplifting?
  • Are their greeters at the entrances, welcoming people and, if appropriate, giving them a worship aid?
  • Is there a place set aside for people with special needs, e.g. wheelchairs, etc.?
  • Are listening devices provided for the hearing impaired?
  • Is the sound system adequate so that everyone in the Church can participate in the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist and hear the readings and the homily, wherever they sit?
  • Is the music singable, and is the choir encouraging, supporting and enabling communal singing rather than replacing it?
  • Are people encouraged to greet one another before the liturgy begins and perhaps given the time to share their names with one another?
  • Does the presider greet the people at the beginning of Mass?
  • Are the homilies emphasizing community, the Lord’s welcome and forgiveness, rather than judgmentalisms about one group or another?
  • Is the way the liturgy is celebrated sensitive to the various ethnic communities that make up the congregation and the parish?
  • Do the priests greet the people outside after Mass as long as there are people around?
  • Are the ministers, lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, altar servers, etc. well trained so that people who are new can be a part of a liturgy which, while not formal and cold, is still competent and intentional?
  • Are Eucharistic Ministers trained to give a blessing to those who come up at Communion time and do not intend to receive the Eucharist?  Are they trained to smile and personally encounter each communicant?
  • Are there opportunities after Mass (e.g. donuts, etc.) for people to gather for a time and greet one another?  Are they encouraged to say hello to someone they don’t know during that time?  Do the priests and other staff members stay around for that time and take particular notice of people who seem to be alone or whom he doesn’t recognize?
  • Are there cards in the pews that newcomers and visitors are invited to fill out and place in the collection basket?  Are they assured of a follow-up contact when they live in the area?
  • Does that parish have a year-round Inquiry Process for the RCIA instead of a school-year program in order that people desiring to look into becoming a Catholic have someplace to go immediately?

 The Parishioners

  • Are the parishioners frequently encouraged to be welcoming, warm, open, non-judgmental -- at Mass, and before and after (receptions/parking lot)?
  • Are the parishioners frequently encouraged to invite others, (friends, neighbors), to come with them to parish events, social events (e.g. dinners, performances), prayerful events (e.g. missions, special adult education offerings), especially inviting people who are non-practicing Catholics or not affiliated with any Church?

 The Parish Policies

  • Are our parish policies welcoming so that we do not readily say “no” to someone’s request?  Do we try to accommodate people’s needs for First Eucharist, Reconciliation, Marriage, Baptism, Funeral Services of various kinds, home and/or hospital visits, whether or not they are registered parishioners, live in the parish, practice their Catholic faith, or are late registering?
  • Do the clergy and staff members meet with anyone who comes to the door, listening to them and responding with understanding and compassion?  
  • Is the parish and are the priests open to making exceptions to the general norms in order, as Pope Francis put it, to “accompany” people on their faith journey, wherever they are presently?
  • Is there a follow-up visit to the homes of new parishioners by a member of a welcoming committee of the parish, with printed parish information provided and the name and number of that visiting parishioner who will be willing to serve as their contact person with the parish when the newcomers have questions about how to proceed?  This same visitor may well be the one to invite newcomers to come with them to parish events, to Mass, etc. as well as just make a friendly phone-call from time to time to see how things are going and to stay in contact for the parish.
  • Is the Church left open as much as possible so that parishioners and others may drop in for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament?  Are these times made known in the parish?  If there is a special entrance during the day, is this made known to the parishioners and are they invited to stop by to spend some time quietly before the Lord?

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

The following books can be of great help in creating a Hospitable Parish Community.  They all include many practical ways to go about it.

COMPANY’S COMING by Dr. Richard McCorry   iUniverse Press, Bloomington   2008

THE GIFT OF HOSPITALITY  by Delia Halverson  Chalice Press, St. Louis, Missouri   1999

A USER-FRIENDLY PARISH  by Judith Ann Kollar   Twenty-third Publications 1998

(Additional copies of this booklet are available at the Evangelization Office of the Diocese of Oakland, 2100 Harrison St.  Oakland, CA 94612 510-893-4711)