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Archives Diocesan Office of New Evangelization holds day of  parish hospitality training
Entertaining Angels 

July 19, 2017

By Marika Donders
Diocesan Director, New Evangelization

Potsdam -  With humor and storytelling, speaker Sheri Wohlfert led some 130 Catholics from 50 parishes in the diocese to a greater understanding of the meaning of what hospitality is and who is supposed to take care that our parishes are hospitable (all of us!).Hospitality Training

Do not neglect to show
hospitality to strangers,
for thereby some have
entertained angels unawares 
Hebrews 13:2

Wohlfert, program specialist for the Catholic Hospitality Training Institute, from Westphalia, Michigan, was the presenter at a parish hospitality conference called Entertaining Angels held June 3 at SUNY Potsdam.

The Entertaining Angels hospitality institute is an outreach of St. Paul’s Street Evangelization, a grassroots Catholic evangelization organization dedicated to responding to the mandate of Jesus to preach the Gospel to all nations by taking Catholic faith to the streets.

Those involved in the street evangelization saw the need for practical support in the parishes. Many noticed that people whose interest in the faith was awoken through their street evangelization and subsequently went to their neighborhood parish, were often ignored or worse, made to feel unwelcome.

We have all been in places where we felt out of place, or perhaps even have been in the situation of going to a new parish where we didn’t know anyone where no one said hello.

As practicing Catholics, we at least know the rhythm of the Mass, but think of the person who is new to the faith, just beginning to explore the possibility that God exists and loves them, and when they ask a question of a parishioner, they are told to come back on Tuesday afternoon when Father is in the office.

Welcoming people is the responsibility of all of us.  Each one of us can take a minute to stop and listen to the story of a neighbor and offer a prayer for them, a word of welcome, invite them to coffee after Mass or, at the very least, show them the parish bulletin and where they can find more information.

The workshop on June 3 was designed to help people with some simple exercises and training to develop attitudes and behavior that will help us be intentional about creating warm and welcoming parishes. 

Each of the four talks focused on an aspect of hospitality and gifts that we can develop to become Christ to others who may need a welcoming smile.

During the first session, Wohlfert pointed out that each of us is called to holiness.  We are to allow Christ to work through us, so that we can be images of Jesus to others.  She showed us that through our experiences of our own brokenness and surrendering ourselves to Jesus, we have been given a unique perspective that will allow us to welcome and connect with others. 

In the second session, we were called to share.  We looked at the gifts of evangelization, the gospel and prayer. We were asked to share our favorite scripture story at our tables and why it was our favorite.  It was so easy to share these stories at the table, but how often do we resist sharing our faith with others because we think we need to be scripture scholars or theologians.

Next, we were taught to pray with others which was amazingly powerful.  First, we prayed to the Holy Spirit to pair us up with someone with whom we would pray.  Then we were “set free” to find someone to pray for/with. 
After the event we found out some amazing connection that were made: a person with a medical condition paired up with a doctor who treats that specific condition; someone who had gone through addiction counseling wound up with a former counselor who helped her on the path to healing.  There were many other pairs who had remarkable connections or such things in common that their pairing up for prayer could not have simple been “coincidence.”  When the Holy Spirit is involved, there are no coincidences. 

The third session addressed our call to serve, specifically by serving with joy to bring peace through forgiveness and mercy.

The last session was about being called to Building God’s Kingdom on earth, one relationship at a time.  The talk focused on connecting, comforting and being merciful.  We were given practical ideas of how we can make strong connections: from not criticizing, condemning or complaining to being a good listener, being genuinely interested in others, trying to see things a new way, not being afraid to challenge others and to remember that prayer is powerful. 

In the end, I think most participants came away with the idea that a welcoming parish is one where people care about each other and yet still notice those who are new, who are visitors or who may simply be on the margins as Pope Francis so often speaks about.

Most importantly, they learned that it is not the responsibility of a committee or the parish staff or the pastor to create this welcoming, hospitable parish.

Rather, each one of us needs to recognize Christ in the stranger, in our neighbor, and in the person we see every Sunday sitting next us in the pew. 

Each one of us is called to holiness, to share our faith, to serve our neighbor and to build God’s Kingdom on earth. 

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