Summary of today’s show: Kicking off a series of on-location profiles of parishes implementing the New Evangelization particularly well, Scot Landry and The Good Catholic Life travel to St. Albert the Great Parish in Weymouth to talk about the new vigor in the parish since it was almost closed in 2004 and how that led to a greater sense of community and a remarkable culture of hospitality. Fr. Paul Soper and members of the parish talk to Scot about the ways they make people feel especially welcome at Christmas and Easter and the unique 24-hour Ash Wednesday service that sees people come in day and night for ashes, confessions, and just someone to talk to. And be sure to check out the lemon scones at the coffee hospitality after Mass!
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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry
Today’s guest(s): Fr. Paul Soper, Patti Perkins, Betsy Clifford, Rita Garufi
Links from today’s show:
Today’s topics: Parish Profile: St. Albert the Great, Weymouth
1st segment: Scot welcomed everyone for joining us on the Feast of St. Therese the Little Flower, a patron of the evangelization and we’re at one of the parishes embracing the call for the New Evangelization in a special way, St. Albert the Great Parish in Weymouth, .
He asked Fr. Paul Soper how long he’s been here. He came in February 2009. The pastor was Fr. Larry Borges, who was much loved, and now Fr. Paul was welcomed with great love. Patti Perkins is a member of the parish council and has been in the parish since 2002. Betsy Clifford has been part of the parish pastoral staff since July 2009 as a pastoral associate.
Fr. Paul said St. Albert’s was founded in 1950 and was the fifth and most recent parish in 1950. However, it’s the oldest of the churches. It was closed in 2004 during the Reconfiguration in 2004 and re-opened in June 2005.
Scot said St. Albert’s has gone through a lot in the past 10 years. It went from being closed to now being a model of the New Evangelization. Betsy said that experience gave them a sense of the value of the parish. During that time, many of the community came to support them and then stayed. That suffering gave them a cohesiveness.
Scot asked how that prayers of that time contribute to the prayer life of the parish. Patti said they had two prayer services each day and there were people in the parish 24/7 praying for the parish to stay open.
Fr. Paul has experience in four different parishes that experience effects related to closings. He said the strongest thing about this parish is development of strong patterns of lay leadership. The parish has continued to flourish in the last six months where he’s been working half time in the Office of Pastoral Planning, the parish has stepped forward to visit the sick, develop programs of outreach, to continue the liturgical life of the parish.
Scot said he’s noticed that at daily Mass they have music and then after Mass they have hospitality in the parish hall including some wonderful lemon scones. Patti said she noticed the word hospitality the first time she came in 2002. She remembered trying to figure out which door of the church to enter and two people came to her, to welcome her and bring her to the pastor to meet him. She already felt welcomed. At the sign of peace during Mass, about 15 to 20 people came over to welcome her to the parish. She found it to be incredibly welcomed and she never returned to to her former parish. They have hospitality after every Mass and she thinks it’s a huge part of the community of the parish.
Betsy said the parish is oriented toward welcoming people whose faces are new. She greets people who come to funerals to greet people who are clearly not parishioners. They invite people at every Mass and invite them to hospitality before and after every Mass. She noted that Fr. Paul’s Easter homily as a model of welcoming. He noted that the tomb was open wide and that people were welcomed to enter into the tomb even if they come only at Easter and Christmas.
Fr. Paul said he told people that we are more complete when they are here and they feel joy when they are here. There shouldn’t be barriers for them to come, whether they have screaming children at Mass, if they’ve been in prison, if they’re immigrants, legal or illegal, if they have a state of life that people look down on. Pope Benedict says you can’t judge a stained glass window’s beauty by looking at it from outside; you can only understand the beauty from inside the Church. You can only understand the beauty of Jesus Christ and His Message from inside the Church.
Scot referenced something Fr,. Paul said about the Road to Emmaus. Fr. Paul said the Resurrection was the pivotal moment in history and instead of spending that day with the Apostles or with his Mother or teaching Peter how to be Pope, but instead he spent most of that day walking along the way with two disciples who were discouraged. One of the most beautiful lines in the Scriptures, is when Jesus replies to the disciple, “What things.” Tell me what happened. He walks with them and listens. They tell him, we had hoped he had been the one. Only then does Jesus explain to them why they shouldn’t be discouraged because of the limited way they’d been looking at hope.
2nd segment: Scot welcomed Rita to the show. She’s been secretary for 6 or 7 years, but she’s been connected to the parish for many years. She remembers taking her six sons to the grotto behind the parish as a place of peace. She had been a member of another parish but came back during the vigil.
Rita said the grotto has a flowing brook next to it and it’s a lovely place to be. She notices many people stop by at the grotto to pray during the day. Some people don’t want to come into the church itself for whatever reasons, so it’s a nice place.
Scot asked Betsy about what happens on Christmas Day. Betsy said it’s such a joy to see families coming to Mass on Christmas. A couple of years ago Fr. Paul and the parish council wrote a letter encouraging people to be with them and letting them know that on Ash Wednesday the church is open for 24 hours straight, offering ashes and confessions and giving a variety of things to do. They see families come for ashes, to write names for prayer by the parish to be placed on a banner that is in the parish during Lent. They encourage people to take a nail with them to carry it through Lent and return on Good Friday to nail it in the cross. Betsy said it’s a means of being with Christ through the Lenten season as a reminder of his infinite love for us. She thinks the origin is the “cross in my pocket” or finger rosary as inspiration.
Betsy said on Good Friday that have a number of services. At the beginning of each service you hear the hammering of the nails as a profound reminder. Scot said his sense that this is the tangible connection to the suffering of Jesus. Fr. Paul said they also insert that into the 11th station of the Stations of the Cross, when Jesus is nailed to the cross. The resounding banging throughout the church is a very moving moment.
Scot asked Rita if that has an immediate effect on getting people to want to become members of the parish. Rita said it was powerful the first time they did it, reminding people of the Vigil. They got a lot of calls when it was announced and people came from far and wide. She noticed a definite uptick in calls to the parish office and then the next year they got a lot of calls from people ahead of time to make sure they were still going to be doing it.
Fr. Paul said they get a steady stream of people on Ash Wednesday from about 4pm until 9 or 10pm from people coming after work, but then people will be coming in around 11 or 12. He will hear 50 or 60 confessions that day. There is a team of people who will greet and minister to those who come. They meet with the team ahead of time to talk about how to listen, how to make people feel welcome whatever their own journeys to the parish.
Scot asked Betsy how much preparation takes places for the people who help on Ash Wednesday, whether their on the listening team or distributing ashes or in the confession queue. Betsy said the parish council and liturgy committee are very involved insetting up the plans. They start recruiting people at Masses and particularly invite people from the Spanish community to help those for whom English is not their primary language. They have social workers and counselors available and always record the names of people who want to speak with Fr. Paul, since he’s usually in the confessional. She said the volunteers don’t have to be experts, they just have to listen and be welcoming. People drawn to this ministry are often drawn to it naturally.
Rita said they have the bulletin up to date with schedules for Lent. They also keep in the back of the church pamphlets called Care Notes. They are very popular. They often provide ideas for observing Lent, whether prayer or encouraging charity in reaching out to others. They try to make it topical for the seasons. Hundreds and hundreds of those notes get distributed through the season.
Fr. Paul said an important element is a commitment by the parish to keep the church building open during the day. Every day the church is open from early morning to late at night and it’s rare not to find someone in the church praying. An important step in being a welcoming parish and evangelizing is having the doors unlocked.
Scot said very often people in parishes focus only on those who come regularly and don’t think about those who are coming back and are very fragile. Fr. Paul said the week before Christmas and Easter, they talk about it as a parish. He encourages people to say hello to people who are new, even if they’re sitting in their regular seat. He also tells them that there are many reasons for people to wander away from the faith. Some are scandalized. Well, we’re scandalized too and we can talk about why we’re still here. Sometimes they’re mad at God for bad things that have happened. That’s happened to us too and we can talk about why we still come. Maybe they’re busy or maybe there wasn’t a reason and now they’re trying to think about where to go from here. Because that’s the story of many people who are here, they can talk about it with those people.
Betsy said they have a bereavement group that meets six times per year. Very often the people are there who are grieving and mad at God for their loss. It’s a beautiful thing to see the effect that the sacramental life of the Church can have on people who return to the practice of their faith.
Rita said the people who answer the door or answer the phone in the church office are attuned to being welcoming to whomever will come by or call. She said whenever the phone or doorbells rings, she tries to turn off whatever task she was working on and concentrating on the needs of the person who is calling.
3rd segment: Scot reminded listeners that this Wednesday Cardinal Seán will be hosting virtual town hall meeting about Question Two on assisted suicide on this November’s ballot. It will be simulcast on CatholicTV and WQOM.
Scot said the parish pastoral council focuses on a couple of discussion topics, one of which is pastoral planning and the second of which is outreach and evangelization. Patti that is because the role of the parish council is to hear the voices of those in the parish who have ideas. Every other month they have an open meeting for everyone in the parish to come and voice their opinions and ideas. The council then looks at whether they can do it and how to implement it.
Scot said it’s a culture where people can feel free to voice their ideas, no matter what. Patti said the let people feel like every voice is important that they’re being heard. She said they started during the vigil and did it week. Now they will do it every other month and when necessary. They rotate the times, one time in the morning after Sunday Mass and the next time in the evening.
Fr. Paul said it’s very important for the parish. He said he doesn’t know how a parish could proceed in the times we’re in without these open meetings. The archdiocese had encouraged parishes to hold open meetings to discuss the pastoral planning proposals. It’s the mission of the Church and the only way to be effective is to get everyone’s buy in and the only way to get that is for everyone to have a voice. He said it can take a long time for even small matters to come to consensus, but when there is consensus in a parish it is powerful.
Scot said in many parishes it seems like there’s always a small group leading everything. He asked Rita if the level of participation is high. Rita said there’s always a core volunteer team that does a lot of the work around a parish. There’s also people who don’t like to join committees and don’t want to be in something more structured. There’s nothing wrong with people who just want to come to Mass, but they do have a high-level of participation.
Scot asked Patti how they get people involved after the council hears it. She said that a lot of people are just waiting to be asked one on one. they ask the entire congregation, but they also approach individuals. They can ask someone to do a single task at an event, like handing out programs or pouring coffee, just to get them involved.
Fr. Paul said when it comes to making announcements at Mass, he’s the one, but when it comes to setting other things up, it happens more broadly. Next week they’re going to have a 40-hour devotion to start the Year of Faith and that sprung up among the pastoral staff, who planned it and brought it to him as a complete plan. They then go and ask individuals to participate. In a parish with thick layers of leadership, it doesn’t all come from the pastor and it shouldn’t.
Patti said people should know St. Albert the Great is always welcoming and people should come down and experience it.