Two Parishes Share More Ideas to Help Welcome People Back to Church
Reach Out to Others
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
May 13, 2021
ST. CHARLES/CRYSTAL LAKE—In addition to one parish’s plans featured in the March 12 edition of The Observer, other parishes in the diocese are brainstorming ways to welcome and encourage people to return to church as coronavirus mitigations ease. 
St. John Neumann Parish in St. Charles, for example, has numerous special events planned.
A Mass or prayer service in memory of those who have died from the virus is one. An adult weekend retreat is another, says Therese Stahl, director of evangelization and faith formation at the parish.
Plans also include expanding the parish’s outdoor devotional spaces, which she says were inspirational to many during the pandemic. 
The “Best of” at-home lessons and “Best of” on-site formation will be featured in a future family-oriented faith formation program, she said.
Some more-normal events for young people are being planned for when such events can be done safely, including overnight youth retreats, conferences and lock-ins, and mission trips.
“We will also continue our Christian outreach through baby showers and blood drives and more,” Stahl says.
An email from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Crystal Lake begins with “We have already seen large numbers of people coming back to our wonderful parish!” 
That is seen as fruit from priests’ and staff efforts to stay in touch with parishioners throughout the pandemic, says Marcie Girolamo, parish director of evangelization and administrative assistant to the clergy. 
Those efforts included personal phone calls to everyone — made twice during the stay-at-home order. 
Drive-by blessings and free Catholic book giveaways kept parishioners safely in their cars. 
Masks with the parish name and logo help parishioners to evangelize about the Catholic faith and their parish when they wear the masks in public.
One effort to bring people in is expansion of the parish’s music ministry with a new men’s choir and a new music assistant to help with recruitment and restructuring of the music ministry. 
Something else that is new are touchless holy water fonts “because who does not miss blessing themselves coming in and out of the church,” Girolamo says.
She describes a “welcome back after COVID” dinner “planned for later in the year when things hopefully loosen up further. It will be an Italian-Vatican-themed pasta dinner with fun Italian décor and wine for sale.”
She adds, “We will be asking everyone to bring someone to the free dinner who has not been to church in a while.”
The parish, she says, “has stressed ‘Faith Over Fear’ this entire time,” as it followed all diocesan and state safety protocols. 
“From our priests’ homilies to bulletin articles to the attitude of the staff and many dedicated volunteers, we have kept things as normal as they could be given the circumstances. 
“We keep calm and joyful and stressed this ‘Faith Over Fear’ theme over and over,” she continues, “and we really believe this has had a huge effect on the positive mental attitude of our people and the large numbers already back attending Mass once again.”
Whenever Mass attendance goes over the church’s 30% occupancy, the overflow attends from the parish hall, which Girolamo says is, “a beautiful problem to have.”
Parishes of the Rockford Diocese are invited to share their ‘Reach Out’ ideas with The Observer readers. Contact Amanda Hudson,
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