As we prepare to start the new liturgical year, we know Advent will look different than usual. That doesn’t mean the focus of Advent needs to be lost; it just means we may have to approach it in different ways. Advent is about preparing our hearts for Christ, but it is also the opportunity to take some time to prepare for Christ among us in our parishioners and visitors during the Advent and Christmas seasons.
As ministers within the Church, Advent is a chance for us to recommit to prayer personally. Here are some specific considerations for your prayer:
- Pray to continue to grow your relationship with Christ in preparation for his coming at Christmas. Reflecting on Scripture is a great way, as Marker 3.2 of Unleash the Gospel reminds us : “Since all Scripture speaks of Christ, immersing ourselves in the word is a way to deepen our initial encounter and grow in our relationship with him.”
- Pray personally and as a parish for those coming to your parish this Advent — those attending regularly, those just finding their way back, and those visiting.
- Pray for those who have not returned to Mass yet.
How do we get ready for those coming to celebrate at our parish? Here are a few ideas:
Be welcoming, especially to visitors or those coming back for the first time.
You may not know what brought them to your parish, but you can rejoice that they are there. Joy can be evident in your eyes, even if your smile is masked. If you are livestreaming Mass, acknowledge those joining you virtually and remind them of your prayers. If a chat functionality is available, consider sending a message of welcome for them and have someone track who logs in to follow up during the week.
See your parish through the eyes of a visitor.
Address what needs to happen to make them comfortable. Make sure current needs for attending Mass at your parish (ex/ registration, what they need to bring themselves, etc.) are well known. Post these things in a prominent place on your website and social media, and display signs for visitors to easily understand current procedures or where commonly accessed places are, like the restrooms.
Make it easy for those attending to invite others.
This is a little more layered than just encouraging them to extend the invitation. Be sure that those attending regularly are aware of the current procedures and can share them with others if necessary. Encourage those attending to reflect and share the importance of the Eucharist in their lives why Mass matters to them. Give easy tips or talking points for people to use when inviting friends to Mass. Remind them that what they post, share, or say could make people feel welcome or discouraged to attend Mass. If they know people who are unable to attend Mass in person currently, encourage them to share the information to access the livestream, if available.
What about those you don’t see regularly or at all? Knowing that cases are on the rise, you may not feel hopeful that they will rejoin you anytime soon. You may worry about them never rejoining you at all! How can you engage them during the Advent season and beyond? The good news is that you don’t have to wait for them to show up to begin.
Connect and let them know they matter.
Advent is a great time to create a phone tree that checks in with those you are not seeing regularly or at all. Ask them if they have any prayer requests, any other needs the parish can assist with, and if there is anything you can do to help them keep Sunday holy during this time. Be prepared to listen to and consider their concerns. For example, families understand the restrictions that are currently in place, but they may feel that their young children are unable to follow them at this time, so they are hesitant to return.
It is always exciting to receive personal mail. Consider starting a letter writing campaign to parishioners with a personal note of prayer and just a reminder that they matter to your parish community. While you might include an invitation to Mass or an event through the parish, this is more about reminding the recipient that they matter, of the kerygma, and that you care. It can be a great way to engage those who are homebound, asking them to pray for and write letters to a specific list of parishioners. Someone can pick the letters up and deliver them to the parish office to be addressed and mailed.
It is important to meet people where they are on their journey so that when they are able and ready to join us at the Table of the Lord, the whole parish can rejoice and celebrate with them! In the meantime, you can find new or creative ways to engage as you connect with them. They may love to participate in a virtual challenge on your parish social media channels. Consider inviting them to participate in a small group that meets virtually or somewhere that social distancing is easy. Have a staff member available for a virtual trivia or game night with the young adults in the parish.
May your Advent season be blessed as you grow closer to our Lord and help others on their journey as well.
How is your parish preparing to welcome parishioners and visitors to Mass this Christmas? Join the conversation in our online community !