I am drawn to school supplies – I can’t help it. I love the little areas set aside at the local stores for parents and their progeny to sift through, mark off lists and look for just the right folders and notebooks.
I have no reason to be there, but I find myself looking at Sharpies and Mr. Sketch markers with excitement and locker decorations with nostalgia. While I peruse the aisles, I often notice my fellow shoppers and they are not shopping leisurely like me. They are harried, stressed, rushed and a little annoyed at those lists that get longer every year. I overheard one woman say, “ Seriously, three boxes of tissues? Who are these kids and why do they blow their noses so much? And a protractor…do these wear out or something? Why a new one? How new and improved could they be?” I am sure there is a really good reason those are on the lists, but in the midst of all the getting ready for the new school year the list is one more stressful thing.
An antidote to the rush and crush for families? A parish community that understands, supports, and knows just how to remedy the craziness of their families at this time of year. So I give you five ways to reach out to your families this fall to welcome and lead them gently and compassionately to Jesus who desires to be at the heart of every person and every family.
1. Host a Fun Family Night: Invite families to bring those “so last year” supplies that came home in a book bag last spring and share. That’s where we can recycle those protractors and compasses and perhaps find a plethora of the tiny pencils that go with them! The dinner should be a drop in or an open house – between 5 -7 pm with happy joyful parents and seasoned adults who made it to the other side and are offering support, laughter, mentorship and serving up a yummy, communal meal like a taco bar or baked potato bar.
2. Offer a Kid’s Only Event: Let parents get that shopping done or things organized at home or just relax and regroup. This event can be a resurrection of the best of VBS. Use the VBS games, crafts, snacks, catechesis, music, movies – whatever it takes to let the littles know they are loved. Have time set aside to talk with them about being like Jesus each day at school and how they can be kind, forgiving, and loving each day. Teach them a prayer or two to say each morning and evening. Give them a little gift – a saint medal to keep in their pocket or latched on to their backpack as a remind that they belong to a loving community!
3. Utilize Flocknote: If your families are connected to social media or technology, have them sign up for your Flocknote group. You can send them inspiration, affirmation, funny messages as well as keep them up to date on all things parish. Invite them to make weekend workshop a place to renew, tend their souls, strengthen their families and find support as parents. You can do all this on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter too. Just make everything beautiful and inviting, quick and easy.
4. Invite Families to a Special Blessing on Sunday: Sending children off to school be it preschool, high-school or college is a big deal. Parents and important adults are letting lots of other people influence their children and are trusting the world to be kind. Blessings are important. Have really fabulous intentional hospitality at the weekend Masses. Welcomers and greeters should be your very best and the coffee and donuts could be stepped up a bit, with no charge, fair trade coffee and fruit, gluten free treats and some lovely giveaways for families. Compile some how- to’s on blessing each other every morning before leaving the house, meal prayers and discussion questions that go beyond “how was your day?” Help parents meet other parents…they know how to do the rest.
5. Start a Prayer Intention day on Social Media. Invite people to send their intentions to you via email, Facebook or messenger, then ask the parish staff and pastor to take time to pray over these together. Offer affirmation, encouragement and kindness as well as a quote for the day from Pope Francis, a saint, parishioners and other ordinary disciples.
Hospitality is not something that’s added on or like the icing on the cake. It is real, gritty, and must be consistent, joyful and authentic. Practicing hospitality creates community. And that is really what the Christian life is all about – a community of people who have encountered Jesus, follow Jesus, worship Jesus and want to share all of that with others. If your parish isn’t quite there yet with hospitality or welcoming, these are easy ways to start making a difference. A parish is a living thing – it is never the same community at any given time, so we can’t get lax or comfortable in who we are. May all your efforts to love and serve your families and lavish them with hospitality and welcome be a blessing to you, your parish and to our church!