We’re all ready for Mass and our parish communities to feel a little more “normal” again — but what normal looks like, and when it will arrive, is going to vary from diocese to diocese, and maybe even from parish to parish. Whether your parish has begun holding public Mass again or is still in the planning stages of its return, the reality for many churches is that turnout is lower than expected. Here are some things to consider that may help your parishioners feel welcomed, safe, and encouraged in their return to public Mass.
Organize a Welcome Back Campaign
A Welcome Back Campaign can serve as an umbrella initiative to ensure that all communications, protocols, and engagement efforts have a uniform feel and a united message that fits with the mission statement of your parish. This campaign could be entrusted to an existing committee at your parish, or it could be overseen by a group of volunteers that represent a wide variety of stakeholders — like members from the liturgical, administrative and custodial staff, the parish governing bodies, and any healthcare professionals your parish includes.
In addition to addressing the logistics of a return to Mass, the Welcome Back Campaign can serve as the public face of the parish’s reopening. This pandemic has increased feelings of isolation and alienation within our communities, and it will be the Welcome Back Campaign’s job to reach out (in a socially distanced manner, of course) to a parish body that has fallen out of the habit of engaging with one another. An important component of the campaign will be putting the all-important human touch on the communications effort with parishioners, by sending postcards, email, and text messages that lay out the necessary information and direct them to where they can find answers to any questions or concerns they have.
Communicate Protocols Clearly
Fear of the unknown is a big obstacle for many who struggle to feel safe in gathering publicly for Mass once again. Many may fear not only infection but will feel overwhelmed at the uncertainty of a post-COVID Mass experience. Tackle that issue head-on by clearly outlining what Mass attendees can expect when they return. Set up a page on your parish website that lays out the protocols for masking, distancing, and disinfecting that you will use to keep the faithful safe. Consider including a Frequently Asked Question section that addresses issues people may be curious about — Will the congregation be dismissed as a whole or pew-by-pew? How will Communion be handled? Should I use a designated entrance or exit? Is the parish cry room still open? What about the bathrooms?
Utilize Your Pastor
We call them “Father” for a reason: recognize and harness the power of your pastor as the shepherd of his local flock. His leadership of the parish as a whole is important, but especially in these times of prolonged isolation and loneliness, it’s important that his parishioners feel he is interested personally in their well-being.
Many pastors who are able have made it a point to call individual parishioners during periods of lockdown and quarantine, especially the elderly and the homebound, to ensure they are being looked after both physically and spiritually. Consider how your pastor can issue a similar “personal invitation” back to Mass. This will look vastly different in every parish — for smaller communities, perhaps a personal email or phone call for at least the elderly and homebound parishioners would be possible. For larger communities or clustered parishes, consider other avenues — a video of Father inviting parishioners back to Mass or addressing frequently asked questions that can be posted to Facebook, or a mass email that comes from his personal account.