Spencerport parish promotes welcoming Easter atmosphere - Catholic Courier
A priest stands at the altar.

Father Justin Miller celebrates Mass at Spencerport’s St. John the Evangelist Church April 25, 2022. (Courier file photo)

Spencerport parish promotes welcoming Easter atmosphere

SPENCERPORT — “Welcome to St. John’s Church!” proclaims a large line of text atop the first page of St. John the Evangelist’s weekly bulletin.

The greeting is not just for church regulars, and especially not at major holidays, according to Father Justin Miller, parochial administrator.

For the parish’s 2022 Christmas Masses, for example, extra greeters were stationed at church entrances, and an early-evening dinner on Christmas Eve was open to all. Two notices in the Dec. 25 bulletin — including Father Miller’s column — were directed specifically to those who had been away from church, inviting them to check out parish social events and faith-formation opportunities and to speak with Father Miller about their faith journeys.

Noting that Masses at Easter and Christmas are the parish’s most heavily attended liturgies of the year, Father Miller said St. John the Evangelist’s welcoming spirit will again be in place for upcoming Easter Masses. A friendly and inclusive approach is better than haranguing those who haven’t been to church lately, he remarked.

“I think the message has to be one of, ‘We care,’” Father Miller told the Catholic Courier, referencing the parables of the prodigal son and the lost sheep.

In a December 2018 article in America magazine, Jesuit Father Jack Bentz similarly noted that a caring approach is the most effective way to engage infrequent churchgoers.

“Their experience will hinge on feeling welcomed or not. Studies bear this out,” wrote Father Bentz, who currently serves as pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Hollywood, Calif. “People return to churches because they are welcomed, not because the church got everything else right.”

Spencerport priest strives to invite and include all

Among Father Bentz’s suggestions were for parishes to make welcome announcements from the pulpit before Christmas or Easter Masses, and for regular members of the congregation to make room for strangers looking for places to sit. Such gestures, he observed, serve as a positive contrast to the innkeeper who denied Mary and Joseph a room on the first Christmas.

At St. John the Evangelist, Father Miller said he strives to invite everyone to such activities as coffee hours and Bible-study classes. He also offers to meet with infrequent churchgoers and offer them the sacrament of penance if desired, noting that no one should feel unworthy of belonging to a Catholic community.

“To practice one’s faith, it’s not for people who are always perfect. We’re all on a journey,” Father Miller observed.

Meanwhile, Father Bentz’s article implored people who have been at odds with the Catholic Church to keep an open mind when venturing back into the pews.

“I know how easy it is to see what is wrong with the church; there is always plenty to choose from. But the truth is, the ministers, the building, the music, the priest and the preaching are not specifically designed to disappoint you,” Father Bentz wrote, asking people who haven’t been to church in some time to “choose to see how God wants to love you through this particular parish.”

Receiving the Eucharist obligatory, but also joyful and essential

Although he said he refrains from judging those who have been absent from church, Father Miller also puts out reminders that regular Sunday Mass attendance is obligatory for Catholics.

Bishop Salvatore R. Matano likewise addressed the Sunday obligation in his March 2023 “From the Bishop” column in the Courier, imploring readers to embrace Lent as a time to return to church regularly.

“As we are now engaged in the Eucharistic Revival, I hope every parish has made increasing Mass attendance its first priority,” Bishop Matano wrote.

St. John the Evangelist does offer liturgies via livestream, but Father Miller said the offerings are intended primarily for shut-ins and are no longer a viable substitute for Mass attendance as they were in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Rather, he said, it’s now vital for all Catholics to grasp and act on the importance of receiving Christ’s body — at Easter and throughout the year.

The priest said he hopes more Catholics will come to view regular Mass attendance not as a burden, but as a joyful and essential experience involving reception of the Eucharist and worship in community with their parish families.

“We can appeal to something they need, rather than something they should do,” he said.

Tags: Faith Formation, Holy Week, Monroe County West, Priests
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