Anne-Marie Welsh

Office of Worship Administrator Matthew Clark addresses participants at one of the

Office of Worship Administrator Matthew Clark addresses participants
at a session exploring new ideas to improve the sense
of welcoming and belonging at parishes.

Welcoming and belonging, the first of four key areas of encounter parishes are exploring over the next four years, were discussed at brainstorming sessions held in regions throughout the Diocese of Erie in February and March.

“There was so much energy in the room,” said Mary Hope DeSante, a volunteer who works in faith formation ministry at Holy Cross Parish in Fairview. Attending the Feb. 28 session at St. Mark Center, Erie, she said she appreciated learning about what other people are doing in their faith communities.

Deacon Steve Washek, executive director of faith formation for the diocese, and Sister Nancy Fischer, SSJ, a longtime religious education administrator, took turns leading the gatherings.

Sister Nancy opened her sessions with a reflection based on the writings of several writers including Amy Odin, author of God’s Welcome, Hospitality for a Gospel-Hungry World.

“It’s (about) more than a single act of welcoming,” Odin writes. “It’s an orientation that attends to otherness involving listening and learning, valuing and honoring.” 

After the introduction, participants were asked to work in small groups, discussing an array of activities — from simple to complex — that have been or could be used to enhance parishioners’ sense of being welcomed and belonging. The ideas were then shared with all participants.

A neighborhood Thanksgiving dinner that continues to grow in popularity, youth groups designed for children in grade school, and better use of technology in order to reach young adults were among the initiatives parishes presented to each other.
“I’m really glad we did this,” said Father John Malthaner, pastor of St. Luke Parish, Erie. “We’ve all come to realize this is another step ushering in a new phase of faith formation. We need to work collectively to brainstorm and to learn from each other’s experiences. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Also present at the meeting in Erie was Matthew Clark, administrator of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Erie. He encouraged participants to watch for the monthly Good Liturgy Matters JOT he has been offering through the Information Bulletin. (Archived issues can be accessed at

Left to right: Kathleen Kuntz, director of faith formation at Holy Cross Parish, Fairview; Hope DeSante, faith formation
ministry volunteer at Holy Cross; and Dan Corner of Our Lady Queen of the Americas Parish in Conneat Lake, discuss
best practices concerning welcoming and belonging.

The Sunday liturgy offers an important opportunity to increase a sense of belonging and hospitality because it is the time when most parishioners encounter the greatest number of people at their parish.

“The Office of Worship is willing to work with you if you have a project you want to discuss or if you want to talk about how Mass can be more welcoming,” Clark said. “There is no blueprint I can send you, but I’m willing to work with you.”  

A number of people at the St. Mark Catholic Center event emphasized that true hospitality is the responsibility of the entire assembly, not just ushers, greeters or even pastors. In addition, discussion centered around the opportunities to welcome available in parish and school offices, on the phone, during meetings and even on social media.

“Of course, we have to reach out to the stranger,” DeSante said at the end of the session she attended. “But we also need to reach out in hospitality to the people we’re working with every day as well as those we regularly encounter at Mass. It’s all an important part of accompaniment.”