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Hospitality can ease pain of mergers
Staff Writer

With mergers likely as part of the diocesan pastoral planning process, one major concern is how parishioners will handle changes to their daily and weekly traditions.

Though the teachings and lessons will remain the same, the setting and faces may not.
One way to diminish hurt feelings and ease the transition, according to lay leaders, is through the ancient and customary Catholic practice of hospitality.

“Hospitality is key,” said Doreen Wright, coordinator of faith formation at St. Luke's parish in Schenectady. Mrs. Wright works with teenage students at St. Luke's, and her biggest concern regards families.

Families matter

“I want to make sure families are as comfortable as possible,” she said. Certainly many will wonder, especially the first Sunday at a new church, where to put the car. “We're going over parking procedures as we speak, so there's no stress on the parents’ end,” she added. 

Families are a key factor in this process, said Mrs. Wright. “You're looking at teenagers as well as seniors who are losing the Mass they're used to and we need to help them.”
The youths will be an important component of any new outreach.

“When you look at the percentage of kids that leave the faith as they grow older,” she continued. “We're hoping to give them more of an opportunity to learn and want to remain in the Catholic religion as adults.”

Early efforts

In an effort to be more hospitable, St. Luke's has invited families of St. John the Baptist parish in Schenectady, which may be closing, to a Mass at their annual Harvest Fest. 

Donna Simone is the religious education coordinator at St. John the Baptist. She feels that, while it may be hard for parishioners to adapt to the change, a hearty welcome might help.

“Keeping in touch with people and making sure that their needs are [met] can really help,” she said. “Things can get better if we put all of our strengths together.”

Indeed, Ms. Simone said that as long as some traditions remain, the transition might be easier for the entire community.

“It's very beneficial if everybody takes the things they're best at and merges them into one,” she said. 

Ms. Simone has already acted to keep the members of St. John's and St. Joseph's comfortable.

The basics

“I'm still volunteering there to make sure that people get to different places, like their faith formation program. I'm making sure they're getting what they need.”

Getting what they need may certainly be an assurance. Betsy Rowe-Manning, the parish life director at St. Vincent de Paul in Albany, feels the needs of the parishioners must be the main focus. To her, the attention should be focused more on the people than on the changes of the Church.

“We need to help people grieve their loss,” she explained. “If we can provide them a whole sense of welcoming, I think it would offer much help.”

Mrs. Rowe-Manning suggests using creativity and fun as a solution, such as her parish has employed on “Name-tag Sundays.”

“It's a good way to comfort people because that way everybody knows your name. They don't have to try and recall who you are and how they know you.”

Mrs. Rowe-Manning also suggests making everyone feel part of the celebration by inviting them to perform such acts as bringing gifts to the offertory. “Anything to make them feel welcome,” she said.

Though the Called to Be Church process has not been easy, there has certainly been no lost hope.

"I applaud the efforts the Diocese is making," said Rowe-Manning. "We don't really have a choice. The population is diminishing and we cannot financially afford to keep the Churches together."

When asked if it is a right step in the direction for the Church, Donna Simone replied, "I think it can be. I can see where there can be benefit from it."

Doreen Wright also added, "It's a joint effort for all of us for hospitality and with it, we can provide a stronger program for the members of our community."

While it may be a difficult challenge for many parishioners and others closely connected to the Churches, perhaps it is only the beginning of a new chapter. Betsy Rowe-Manning described it best when she said, "While it may be painful, I feel it is a necessary pain for the healing soul."

(Currently in the Called to be Church process, the Pastoral Planning Review Commission is reviewing plans to merge, connect or close parishes. They will present their findings, comments and recommendations by Nov. 21. Bishop Howard J. Hubbard will then consult with the Presbyteral Council, which represents priests, and others before making his final decisions in January 2009.)



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