By Deacon Tom Picciano | Sun contributing writer
VESTAL — “Welcome, we’re glad to see you here,” said Father Jim Serowik with a smile.
The pastor stands in the back of St. Vincent de Paul Blessed Sacrament Church with a similar greeting for anyone who happens to walk in just before Mass begins.
It’s becoming a common greeting at the church doors. Now in the beginnings of what’s called “Radical Hospitality,” parishioners beyond the greeters are making an effort to make people feel welcome.
“It really is important because walking into a church and not being welcomed really could make someone not ever come back again,” said Gretchen Matt, parish Director of Evangelization.
“If they’re welcomed, they remember that,” Matt said. “It’s how you make them feel. That they’re going to come back, that’s our number one focus.”
The “Radical Hospitality” focus kicked into full swing with a “Hoopla” on Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. People from a variety of ministry roles, like greeters, ushers, lectors, and Eucharistic ministers, were invited to the party.
“We decided to put a lot of food together — some nice social ways of being hospitable,” Matt said. “We just met them at the door with a smile and a welcome.”
And when the tables of parishioners had their food and talk, the event turned to a short presentation: “to learn to be charitable, and hospitable and happy and welcoming from the parking lot till they leave the church,” Matt said.
“To change the culture of hospitality takes time, willingness, and comfort to put self out there,” said parishioner Mary Haust.
“We understand that hospitality needs to be practiced with everyone who walks through those doors, not just new people. Hopefully, as the culture strengthens, that hospitality then becomes easily practiced by all parishioners and extends outside the doors of the parish with everyone parishioners meet,” Haust said.
Haust is a member of “The Amazing Parish” team, which has been active at St. Vincent De Paul Blessed Sacrament for several years now. It began with the previous pastor, Father Corey Van Kuren, and continues with Father Serowik. The team, made up of three staff members and one parishioner, meets weekly.
Tori Reynolds, the Coordinator of Faith Formation, said The Amazing Parish focus is much wider than hospitality: “looking at a parish as a whole and coming up with strategies to improve the parish in different areas.”
“It’s the small details that matter. Baby steps to improving teeny, tiny things and surprising people with positivity and little details changes their mindset,” Reynolds said.
“We just take a look at things and see how we can move our parish forward with a really positive experience for people like outreach, faith formation, evangelization,” she said.
“The Amazing Parish focuses on things like Sunday experience, prayer life within the parish, morale, communication, finances,” Matt said. “Hospitality is a huge part of the Sunday experience.”
One new idea is an information desk in the vestibule. It’s staffed by volunteers each weekend and remains open for a few minutes after Mass starts. People can also visit the desk after the Masses.
“The desk is designed as a visible and organized source for information …where people can find a person who can answer relevant questions, where they can pick up needed information, sign up for activities, and join both parish and ministries,” Haust said.
Haust said the desk is also used to sign up new parishioners.
St. Vincent de Paul Blessed Sacrament’s work with The Amazing Parish ties in with the diocesan Office of Evangelization’s efforts. Matt encourages parishes to seek out the diocesan office for more information on things like Radical Hospitality and the Thrive program, an evening of music, inspiration, and fellowship where everyone is welcome, especially families with small children. The next Thrive event is at 6:30 p.m. March 12 at St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1031 Chenanago St., Binghamton.
For more information from St. Vincent de Paul Blessed Sacrament, you can contact Gretchen Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tori Reynolds at email@example.com
Deacon Tom Picciano is a journalist who has been a contributing writer for the Sun for more than 20 years. He serves a