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Posted February 16, 2012

Emphasizing hospitality and welcome

By Father Eugene Hemrick

"I would like to see more emphasis on the parish ministry of welcome and hospitality," Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said in his address to the 2009 National Federation of Priests' Councils convention in San Antonio.

As he spoke of the frustration over the entanglement of voicemail menus people encounter these days, he hit a universal nerve: How often have we been shifted from one voicemail menu to another without ever speaking directly to a person?

In addition to its advantages, what new challenges does voicemail raise for parish life? Most pastors live alone and are on the move constantly. In earlier times, parishes had several priests who had days on and off. On his day on, he was sequestered in the rectory, answering phone calls and doorbells. The rectory was the central nerve center where business was conducted.

Those days are gone!

There are fewer priests, and they are out of the rectory more often. In many cases, they are traveling between parishes they serve.

One benefit of voicemail is that it allows a pastor to stay in contact with parishioners while on the move. To its credit, voicemail generates efficiency for multitasking priests constantly on the move.

Voicemail has many other advantages, but the big question of our times is: What is needed in our technological age to retain a welcoming, personal parish environment?

The first place to start is with a change of attitude: Physical presence must not be considered the only means for creating a hospitable parish. As much as today's pastors would love to be present to all parishioners, this is not reasonable. What is reasonable is creating a more meaningful presence when conversing with others.

Whether being physically present or on the phone with a parishioner, the manner of speech pastoral team members employ is vital to conveying parish warmth and welcoming.

Fatigue or being unduly distracted often can cause zoning out. And when we are weighed with problems, there is an inclination to allow this disposition to color conversations with others. So it is important to be mindful of this and avoid it as well.

Cicero, in teaching his son the art of statesmanship, offers a good lesson in good conversation: He encouraged him to be melodious in conversation. It is ever so true that when we are truly absorbed, interested and concerned in another, a beautiful harmony is created. [It should be added here studies have shown that interest above everything else is what best enhances married life]. The harmony and interest implied in Cicero’s admonition are the best modern means we possess for countering the impersonal and remoteness our new technological age is creating.