There is a certain art to the practice of hospitality. The most memorable hosts are those in-tune to their guests' needs, making them feel like they share a place within their home. Hospitality transforms a guest into a member of the family.
If one were to walk into the church hall at Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Warminster, PA on any given Hospitality Sunday – also referred to as “Donut Sunday” – one would find a parish family engaged in this work of transformation. What started as a simple source for Sunday donuts has become dedicated time spent as a community after Mass; time to socialize, make friends, and develop ongoing relationships with others in the parish. The entire church family is invited into the experience, with parents from the parish coordinating food and giving special “themes” to each week’s get-together (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Superbowl, etc.). A section of the room is dedicated to activities and crafts for children and the tables are full of children coloring and creating projects. It is an environment where families are fed, hearts are nourished, and guests are transformed into family.
More than Donuts
The institution of Donut Sunday springs from one of the parish’s priorities in their Next Generation Parish planning. Since establishing their parish priorities and launching into the envisioning phase of the Next Generation Parish process, Nativity of Our Lord Parish identified three vital elements that they find are, “critical to enhancing the overall experience: welcome, music, and hospitality.” (Pastoral Plan, Priority #1: Weekend Mass Experience)
Fr. Joe Watson is the pastor of the parish and lives from the place of hospitality and spiritual fatherhood in his priesthood. When Fr. Watson accepted the invitation to participate in CLI’s Next Generation Parish pilot initiative in 2021, it was with the desire to bring focus and connection to the parish, bringing about a renewal of faith and devotion within the hearts of the faithful. The art of “welcoming” is particularly important to Fr. Watson. “It all goes back to that first impression, that initial welcome: if anyone has something to say about Nativity of Our Lord Parish, I want them to say it’s a welcoming parish and community. I know that can be trite at times and that a lot of parish bulletins will say ‘St. So and So is a welcoming community.’ But I want that to be a reality. I want people to feel at home in the church.”
On Sundays, Fr. Watson always makes a point to welcome newcomers at the start of every Mass. He can often be found afterward with the people at Donut Sunday, greeting guests and employing “missionary disciples” within the parish to introduce themselves and make sure that all newcomers are given that same chance to “belong” to the parish family.
The result of this mindset of welcome is an intergenerational mix of people coming together for Mass and taking time to meet and share one another’s company afterward. The Next Generation Parish Envisioning Team saw Donut Sunday as just one of many steps the parish is taking in the ministry of welcome. Now, resources are provided to young families to include their children into the life of the congregation during Mass, the children’s choir was reestablished, and greeters returned and were trained. The first quarterly parish service project attached to Donut Sunday took place in March. Donut Sunday participants made over 200 breakfast bags to be distributed to homebound in the community. It is a huge win for the sake of the community and has ripple effects that take the parish’s goals to another level and equip missionary disciples within the parish.
Identifying Key Leaders
The Next Generation Parish envisioning team is diverse and brings key leaders of the parish together to share goals. Ann Marie Gervino is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and is spearheading the Next Generation Parish initiative with Fr. Watson. “When Fr. Watson proposed the idea of doing Next Generation Parish, it seemed like a wonderful way to ensure the parish would continue to grow and thrive. Next Generation Parish gave us the opportunity to be united in our efforts of bringing a shared vision to the parish. Now, we have more investment from a broader range of people in really trying to bring about changes to the parish and continue the good things that we’re doing.”
The parish’s Envisioning Team includes the head of the Catholic Youth Organization, the school principal, and other ministry leaders. “We are getting buy-in from others who are not as often involved in the evangelizing aspects of the parish. The whole parish is now working toward a common goal.” Ann Marie shared.
At the start of Next Generation Parish, Fr. Watson and Ann Marie first had to identify and welcome community members into leadership roles. “It’s really important to get the right people leading things.” Ann Marie shared. Thanks to Next Generation Parish, they were able to build a team of individuals and invite each person to exercise their own skills, connections, and talents with the parish family. This kind of leadership speaks to future growth within the parish as they seek to form missionary disciples.
Steps are already in place to grow in missionary discipleship. Last fall, seven parishioners participated in a 10-week missionary discipleship training and are taking steps to bring this training to the parish. Two focus groups – one for young adults and another for men of the parish – were held in the fall. The sessions helped identify challenges and ways to better support both underdeveloped groups in the parish. The parish also anticipates growth and change in the Catholic Youth Ministries as they expand their vision to incorporate more of the spiritual life into sports programming.
Ann Marie believes there is an apostolic mission within their community, “I think ours is already a welcoming parish and that we can continue to grow by inviting everyone in the pew to feel like it’s also their mission to be welcoming to others. It’s not just a role that belongs to the pastor, myself, or other leaders. Everyone has a role to play in creating a welcoming parish environment. In this way, we can all cultivate a place that this and future generations can call their spiritual home."
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