In order to be safe at Mass, we have to undertake a variety of different precautions from masks to hand sanitizer to disinfecting the pews to sitting six feet apart. For so many of you this time is just about surviving from one Sunday to the next. You might have even had a minor panic attack looking at that picture above with two people shaking hands! (I think it was taken pre-pandemic!)
I want to encourage you today to remember to still be welcoming. There’s so much happening right now in the lives of our parishioners. The world is so contentious in these days after the election, racial justice protests, and covid-19 restrictions. It’s our role as Church to be Christ in the world – it’s always been our job, and it’s even more important now that ever before. So focus on being welcoming. How? Well, I’m so glad you asked – I’ve experienced some things. Sometimes it’s the big things, but right now I just want to talk about a few small things, ways people encounter your parish outside of Mass.
Email: Yes, I’m starting with email. I’m headed on a relaxing weekend away at the beach this weekend (staying inside or sitting on the deck listening to the waves, not being reckless!) so I went on to MassTimes.org to find myself a Church for Sunday. I always prepare ahead of time, but it’s even more important to do so now with limited capacity and reservations. This Church requires reservations via Sign-Up Genius – which wasn’t working, so I called the parish (no answer) before emailing. I got this in immediate response:
I apologize for this automatic reply to your email.
To control spam, I now allow incoming messages only from senders I have approved beforehand.
If you would like to be added to my list of approved senders, please fill out the short request form (see link below). Once I approve you, I will receive your original message in my inbox. You do not need to resend your message. I apologize for this one-time inconvenience.
Click the link below to fill out the request.
Please, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t have this auto-reply on your inbox if you work at a parish. It’s incredibly off-putting to visitors, new parishioners, and anyone who doesn’t know you. I know that spam is an issue – this is a problem I also have, but this isn’t welcoming or inviting. It sends a message that you have to “pre-approved to get information about Jesus.”
Phone: What’s it like calling your parish? Does a live person answer the phone? Do you have to listen to a long message about Mass times (sometimes from Easter or Ash Wednesday or Christmas), emergency info, and the entire staff directory before you even get to a place where you might direct yourself to a person? Do most people hang up before they get to the correct individual? When someone needs to speak to a member of your staff, how easy is it? If you don’t know, I’d recommend calling to find out what happens.
In-Person: Many places have reduced hours because of Covid-19 restrictions. Are they advertised? Do you have anytime when people can come in the office? Are your preferred restrictions indicated on the door? Masks? Distance? Do you prefer appointments right now? Is there a way to have a Mass said, schedule a Baptism, begin Marriage Prep, or prepare for a Funeral? One of my favorite authors/researchers, Brené Brown, says: “To be clear is kind, to be unclear is unkind.” I use this phrase in all areas of life … and it applies here too.
Be sure that people aren’t guessing about how to interact with you in the office or at Mass. We’re approaching the Christmas season where we will have (hopefully) many additional visitors at Mass and even calling or emailing the parish. Are you ready to welcome them? Will they experience Christ when they come, call or email?