Ministry Transforms Inactive Catholics into Active Apostles.
"We find that those returning to the faith will often continue to attend these sessions year after year and eventually become part of the team that puts them on.‚Äù
Fr. David Page
The need it meets
People typically leave the Church over a clash with an individual or a bad experience. ‚ÄúWelcome Back‚Äù is a non-threatening forum where they can engage in conversation and be reconciled to the Church.
Where it came from
‚ÄúWelcome Back‚Äù is based on a Paulist program called ‚ÄúLandmark‚Äù. Holy Name of Jesus parishioners in Indialantic, FL, adapted it to a six-week series of topics with a strong emphasis on discussion and one-on-one personal attention.
How it works
The 6-week program is offered twice a year, just before Advent and during Lent.
Meet once a week for an hour and a half: a 20-minute presentation followed by discussion.
Week 1: Welcome Back to God. The pastor leads an informal meeting with a warm welcome and makes himself available to participants.
Week 2: Welcome Back to the Church. Discuss the Church‚Äôs customs and traditions, including changes since Vatican II.
Week 3: Welcome Back to Prayer. Catholic holy days; the power of praying the rosary; tour the church and explain its parts (altar, baptistery, etc.).
Week 4: Welcome Back to the Sacraments. Discuss the seven sacraments, including matrimony, and what they can mean in one's life.
Week 5: Welcome Back to the Catechism. Present the Catechism as a source of sure Catholic teaching, then discuss.
Week 6: Welcome Back: A practical preparation for receiving Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
After the six weeks, participants often attend a ‚ÄúChrist Renews His Parish‚Äù, CRHP, retreat. (For more Information on CRHP refer to the previous Best Practice entitled "CRHP" Boosts Adult Parish Participation at the following web address: http://www.epriest.com/best_practices/view/8
After the retreat, participants form a team to put on the next retreat in 6 months. An ongoing formation program helps them prepare the retreat and grow in their faith. They experience the joy of giving what they have received.
Many then continue to serve the parish in other ways.
Over the last 12 years, Holy Name of Jesus parish has experienced:
Return to the Church: About 70% of participants fully reconcile.
Sacraments: Many marriages are regularized, many go to confession after years away, and there's a strong return to the Eucharist.
Parish involvement: About 50% become very active. 20% - 30% become ‚ÄúWelcome Back‚Äù ministry facilitators.
Mission-minded parishioners: They invite other inactive Catholics back to the Church.
Promotion: Promotion is most effective when the pastor takes the lead and encourages his parishioners to invite friends or family. Promote it with a very large and visible sign, announcements at Mass and in the parish bulletin and web site; advertise in the local newspaper. Whoever invited an inactive Catholic should accompany him or her to the first session.
The pastor: He needs to attend the first session since many respond better to clergy than to lay people. Priests and deacons are especially important for explaining the sacraments.
Welcoming atmosphere: ‚ÄúWe have no expectation that you are going to return to the Church. This is just your opportunity to investigate.‚Äù
Guided discussion: Inactive Catholics often focus on one or two bad experiences. Help them talk through them but also broaden their vision by discussing all their good experiences in the Church.
Discipline: The session must not go over an hour and a half. People can feel free to stay afterward and chat.
Personal connection: Make sure plenty of people stay to talk one-on-one after the session with whoever needs it. Some people are really hurting.
Snacks: coffee and cookies.
How to implement it
Pastor selects a gifted parishioner to lead the team; they then build the team.
Involve the whole parish in promotion.
Set up the 6 week sessions.
Follow up with a ‚ÄúChrist Renews His Parish‚Äù retreat and an extended formation program so that the retreatants can prepare the next retreat.
Invite some of the participants of the ‚ÄúWelcome Back‚Äù ministry to become animators for the next 6-week session.
Rev. David Page is pastor of
Holy Name of Jesus Parish.