Photo by James A. McBride
Father Michael Matveenko, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Sicklerville, stands by a map on the parish grounds, pointing visitors to parish buildings and the prayer garden.
SICKLERVILLE – Father Michael Matveenko energetically walked the parish basement with a microphone in hand, weaving through the crowd of 200 in attendance at the New Parishioner Welcome gathering here at St. Charles Borromeo Parish on Sept. 8, after the 9 a.m. Mass. As new parishioners mingled with parish mainstays, the pastor, upon noticing new families, had them stand up and say their name, and greet each other as family.
Along with new signage around the neighborhood, welcome kits and television screens above the altar, the new parishioner welcome is just one way St. Charles Borromeo, and some other parishes in the Diocese of Camden, are attempting to bring back inactive Catholics, or attract the unaffiliated to the Catholic faith.
Andres Arango, director of Evangelization for the diocese, noted that not only is a welcome important as an invitation to draw others into the faith, but for what comes after that.
“We have to make them feel at home, and have a sense of belonging in their parish,” he said.
On the diocesan website, he said, there are toolkits on Catholic evangelization; how to create evangelization teams in the parish; how to invite and welcome new members into the parish; and assessing parish hospitality and welcoming, all with the goal of aiding parishes in their Catholic mission to share and bring the faith to their communities.
A few years ago, St. Charles Borromeo staff performed the self-assessment on the parish’s current practices of hospitality and welcoming. The process yielded the initiatives of the new parishioner welcome; the three television screens above the altar, displaying Mass responses and song lyrics, allowing parishioners to follow along; directional signs around the neighborhood; and a map displayed in the church parking lot, pointing visitors to the location of parish buildings such as the religious education center, and All Saints Prayer Garden.
St. Charles Borromeo’s welcome kit, given to new parishioners and families, includes the parish’s ministries and service, contact information, how to get involved in ministries and liturgical activities, and information on parish events.
At the new parishioner welcome in the church basement, where 200 first-time and long-time worshippers mingled over coffee and donuts, Father Matveenko mentioned that since September 2012, 180 new families have registered at the parish. The after-Mass gathering gives these new members a chance to “get to meet the parish staff, introduce themselves, meet new parishioners, and run into neighbors. This gathering gives them a family feel.”
Carla and Jeff Ferry were at the welcome with their daughters, seventh-grader Hailey and fourth grader Madison, who are in the religious education program at the parish.
“We were blown away by the religious education program,” and its director, Mary Ann Exler, Carla said. “It made me more excited to be a part of the parish, and today it’s very welcoming.”
The after-Mass gathering gives these new members a chance to “get to meet the parish staff, introduce themselves, meet new parishioners, and run into neighbors,” said Father Matveenko.
“This gathering gives them a family feel.”