On a recent trip to Maui to visit family, I learned a word and fell in love with it! The word is ohana. According to the Urban Dictionary, “Ohana means nobody gets left behind. It can also refer to a close group of friends or class that resemble a family.” I was so happy to add this word to my vocabulary. As a parent of children who live far from home, this word gave me hope that they would find community no matter what.
Many of us have friends, colleagues or neighbors that are ohana to us. We just don’t have a word for them. They are people we call to share good news or invite for an impromptu dinner. They are the kind of people who don’t care if your house is messy, that you might have a horrible cold. They are the ones who comfort you after a loss or are included in celebrations and accomplishments. Beautiful, right?
This got me thinking about everyday hospitality and community and ways we can include, invite, and welcome in our parishes. Many parish communities are struggling with creating a place of welcome and community. This isn’t for lack of effort, but often times we think a welcoming committee will do the trick or better-trained ushers and greeters will solve the problem.
It is ohana that we hope our parish and faith communities would offer for all who join us for weekend liturgies, sacrament celebrations, holy days, and holidays. It is the work of everyday hospitality that makes it happen. There are several ways to help your parish live the ohana spirit and become places of welcome, hospitality, and family.
1. Include words of welcome, hospitality, and family in your parish mission and vision statements. If they aren’t there now, it might be time to meet up and review the mission and vision of the parish. Today as our church is experiencing a culture shift. It is wise to regroup, pray, look beyond the doors, dream a bit, and find out what is important to your people. What do they hope your parish is for them and for all those yet to be invited to the community? Once this is worked on, it should be shared with your parish a million and one times until everyone knows the mission statement, understands it, and shares it! They aren’t just words. They are an invitation to something more. They are a promise that this community will do what it can to make you feel welcome, wanted and loved.
2. Practice hospitality in every parish ministry. Often we wait to do our best work on the weekends for visitors or prospective parishioners, but it must be offered to each other in ordinary ways every day. So this means the ministry leaders should model what it should look like. Meetings should be gatherings people look forward to. Beautiful prayer, great snacks, affirmations, words of gratitude, and acts of kindness should be common occurrences. When the ministry leaders and volunteers experience hospitality, they will share it with those they serve and it becomes part of the parish culture.
3. Make a special effort to reach young adults. The millennial demographic gets everyday hospitality. That is, they have expectations of it in every aspect of their lives. They can teach us how to do it well. They look for it in their dining choices. If they are going to spend their money somewhere for food, it should be more than food. They will choose a place that has great ambience, friendly servers, good food, and something unique. When shopping, they look for companies that care for the environment, donate part of their profits, or offer an equal product to someone in need. They want their money to do something more than just a simple purchase, but something humanitarian too. We can learn from them! If we want young people in our parishes, we have to include them on every level. This means moving over, making room for them on committees and in ministries, and being open to what they have to say! They are looking for community, a sense of belonging – that ohana thing!
The truth is, people need each other. If we don’t have family close by, we rely on the places we invest our time and energy to become places of connection. When our parishes become authentic places of welcome – something that is just in our DNA – we will be doing it right. It takes intention, practice, celebrating successes, and continually growing. People respond to a parish trying to do a good job at this, one that makes an effort to include, reach out, invite, and make space for each other and those yet to come.
The trip to Maui was beautiful in so many ways. Once I learned the word ohana, I looked for expressions of it wherever I went. I found it at the grocery store where I was greeted with “aloha” and an offer to help me find what I was looking for. I found it at the beach – people offering to show us the best place to put our umbrella and to picnic with the most beautiful views. I found it in the neighbors near our family – they brought food and local treats over for us to try and invited us to dinner. I wish for you to experience that today and to learn ways to share it your own circle of influence! Mahalo.