Embrace, don’t chastise.
That’s the approach being adopted by leaders from Schuyler-Chemung parishes who are reaching out to folks who seldom if ever attend church. To that end, they are presenting a first-time program, “A New Year, A New Beginning,” at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 23, in the new parish center at Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, 160 High St., Elmira.
The meeting will be conducted by pastors and staff from parishes throughout the Schuyler-Chemung region. It will feature discussion as well as a question-and-answer session in which participants can put written questions in a box.
Printed invitations for the Jan. 23 event were distributed after Masses on Christmas weekend. The invites were earmarked for occasional churchgoers, or for regular attendees to pass along to people they know who might benefit from the session.
According to Father Rick Farrell, pastor of St. Mary’s Southside Parish, the effort strives “to hopefully help people see that maybe the church they left isn’t there anymore — a judgmental or harsh church. Our desire is to welcome them back in with a much more compassionate presence, and try to heal the hurts.”
People who are divorced or homosexual are among those whom Father Farrell cited as having often incurred such hurts. “Sometimes people are told certain things (regarding church teachings) without any explanation behind it,” he said. “The church has reasons, but I don’t think they’re expressed well — there’s a lot of misinformation.”
“You need to respect church teachings, but also convey this in a way that doesn’t come down hard on people,” he continued. “I think sometimes the tone you use can make a big difference.”
Father Farrell added that his own sentiment expressed toward people who only attend Mass on Christmas and Easter is, “I’m glad you’re here. I don’t care if it’s once or twice a year or never again; I’m just glad you’re here today.”
All the Schuyler-Chemung parishes are involved in the “A New Year, A New Beginning” initiative. For further details about the Jan. 23 gathering, contact your parish.