Of Dropping Jaws

Becoming More Welcoming.

Four years ago, after being assigned as pastor of Incarnation, many know that I attended four Masses in plain clothes. My goal was to experience Incarnation for myself, as a visitor without the bias of people seeing me as a priest. It was also a way for me to get up to speed liturgically with how Mass went at Incarnation. As I have said, I didn’t experience Incarnation as unfriendly. For example, nobody told me to get out of their pew, or did anything to sour my experience. At the same time, nobody went out of their way to say hello, greet or notice me as a visitor, so that I said “Wow, that was a warm, welcoming parish!”

In response to that first experience, while I didn’t make changes to the way Mass was celebrated, the first Sunday as pastor I did make some changes geared toward making us more welcoming.

  1. I moved announcements before Mass, beefing them up with significant upcoming events.
  2. At the end of those announcements, I asked parishioners to greet each other.
  3. I led by example, greeting people before all Masses, even the Masses at which I did not preside, along with some Sir Knights of Columbus.

Personally, I find greeting people before all Masses a great joy and I work hard to get to know parishioners by name.  My goal is to learn the names of four to six parishioner every Sunday! When Fr. Ignatius arrived, I asked him to greet before Masses too. I greatly appreciate him doing so!

Over time, we entered into a professional, comprehensive parish survey and the Incarnation strategic planning process. Among the many insights gained from the survey and pre-work for the strategic plan included the observation that Incarnation Parish and School could improve our warmth and welcome.

We continue to work on our welcome, now bolstered by lots of greeters, and it is my hope, a better sense that we all have a role to play. It has been my hope that we are making great progress in becoming more welcoming.  Thanks to so many who are helping to accomplish this goal. The following story tells of success in this regard!  But first a note about how a seemingly insignificant sign of welcome adds up!

Pushes on the Flywheel

As I have told staff, in line with Jim Collin’s book “Good to Great,” to go from a good parish to a great parish requires lots of little “pushes” to the flywheel. In older diesel engines, a very large and heavy flywheel captured the kinetic energy of internal combustion to do all kinds of work on the farm or in industry. Once great effort is expended to get the flywheel going, periodic “fires” of the piston is all that was needed to keep the engine working.  Changing parish life is similar.

One little push toward welcoming might not seem significant. However, done for Jesus and in the Spirit, and wonderfully joined to other little pushes to welcome, make for monumental progress! The following email/story illustrates the combined effects of little “welcomes” and the jaw dropping impact they can have.

Sincerely and with Love in Christ,

Fr. Pat

P.S. The parishioners that seated and helped our guests could have been any of hundreds!! The “maintenance worker” referenced below is Meg Davidson. She and her husband Matt are new parishioners who agreed to lead gardeners and who volunteered to paint all parish signage!


Hola!  My name is Carlos. 

Before too much time has passed I thought maybe this would be important to share. I’m not a member of your church nor am I Catholic and we don’t live in the area but my mother and I were in town for a family function a few weeks ago in the adjacent town of Kettering but stayed in Centerville for a few weeks with friends.

My mother wanted to go to service at your church. She has very bad dementia and pretty much speaks only her native language of Spanish which makes it hard for her to communicate in general. She can understand English.

At your church there was an elderly man that helped us get seated in the balcony that we appreciated. Another middle aged woman said hello and asked us if we needed help with the music books and showed me how to find songs. It was very helpful.

I was so impressed by your maintenance worker. My mother for some reason went right up to the painter working outside after church and started speaking in Spanish to her about her favorite Bible verses. She does that often now and it really scares people but this young lady was different than most and smiled at her and started speaking Spanish right back to her for their whole conversation. My mouth was probably on the floor. My mother hasn’t really laughed or smiled in years and this woman did that for her and it made her day and mine.

I am sorry I don’t have any names of the nice people we met but I can tell you that these individuals represent your community and your church well. You are doing good work. We need a lot more of that in this world. I know life is busy for us all so you don’t have to write back but thanks for reading and thanks for a nice time at your church.

Carlos J. M.