The 16 people who joined St. Alphonsus Parish in Auburn during the month of October may have been surprised to see their names listed in the parish bulletin Nov. 7. This bulletin listing, however, is just another way St. Alphonsus is trying to welcome newcomers into its parish family, said Adelaide Hutson, the parish’s catechetical leader and liturgy coordinator.
St. Alphonsus began running the monthly bulletin features a few months ago, Hutson said. The feature includes a prayer of welcome and lists the names of all the people who joined the parish during the previous month, as well as those who were baptized into the parish that month. The feature also includes a request from the parish staff, which asks that established parishioners welcome their new counterparts and congratulate the families of the newly baptized infants.
These monthly bulletin announcements are intended to help new parishioners feel more welcome, and also to help parishioners get to know the other members of the parish community, Hutson explained.
"In your extended family you want to know who all the members are. We’re all a parish family. It’s important to know who the members of your parish family are," she said.
Staff members also regularly post parishioners’ birthdays on St. Alphonsus’ bulletin board, Hutson added. This also helps parishioners get to know each other, and many have taken advantage of the opportunity to send each other cards and birthday greetings, she said.
"All these things I think are important when you’re talking about family, and the recognition of the members of your family. I think as a staff we all felt that was important," Hutson said.
In years gone by, parishes seem to have been viewed more as communities, rather than families, she said. Perhaps this was because it was common for people to live near many members of their extended families. Today, however, there seems to be less expectation that grown children settle their families near their hometowns, and many people don’t have the benefit of a support network of nearby relatives. This may explain why parishes have begun to fill that void for many people, and to serve as a support network and a family of sorts, Hutson said.
On the other hand, the focus on family at St. Alphonsus is not necessarily a new development, she added.
"St. Alphonsus is exceptional in that regard. I think a lot of folks do come here and recognize it as a family," Hutson said.
Such efforts as the bulletin welcomes and the birthday bulletin board just serve to strengthen that emphasis on family and build community among its members, she said. Being a member of a family, however, is about more than just birthday wishes and words of welcome, and members of the St. Alphonsus parish family are expected to participate in and contribute to parish life, Hutson added.
"You want to see (the parish) grow, you want to be connected with it, and to work together as a family," she said.
All adult members of St. Alphonsus, for example, are responsible for being good role models for the parish’s children, Hutson said. By living out their Catholic faith through their everyday words and actions, adults can participate in children’s faith formation outside of the classroom.
"We’re all responsible for our children," Hutson said.
St. Alphonsus parishioners seem to understand that the parish family is not the only one they belong to. They also take seriously their responsibilities as part of the broader human family, Hutson said. St. Alphonsus volunteers operate one of the largest food pantries in Cayuga County and recently held their annual Thanksgiving food distribution, for example. The parish also supports the Hato Nuevo Daycare Center and School for needy children in the Dominican Republic, and a number of parishioners sponsor individual Hato Nuevo students.
"Wherever there’s a cause, some of our people step up. That’s all part of being members of the extended family outside the parish walls," Hutson said. "I think St. Alphonsus is a parish that really lives the social gospel of Jesus."