After working in a parish for 10 years and being super involved in my local parish for over 20 years, I am all too familiar with the Advent/Christmas drill.
Prepare candles for Advent Masses, ensure advertising for all the different Christmas Masses is distributed, ensure there is ample opportunity for people to come to Christmas Masses, prepare children for Christmas play, ensure the youth Mass is organised, confirm all liturgical roles are filled at other Christmas Masses, celebrate Christmas Masses. Boxing Day – phew its all over, we break until mid to late January.
Advent and Christmas are no doubt busy times, and those working on the ground are exhausted. However, when Christmas Day is over, we continue with the Christmas Season, and we celebrate wonderful feasts in the Sundays following: The Feast of the Holy Family, Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord.
But as I go to Mass in the weeks after Christmas, I feel a sense of sadness when there is no music and welcome because we have all gone into holiday mode.
What can we do about this?
Again, working in a parish for so long, I appreciate that January is the opportunity for a break for many people in ministry. People go away and need to take time out to recharge those batteries.
But it can also be a time of creativity and an opportunity to welcome new people to ministry. Our churches are not empty in January. Masses still have a decent amount of people in them who have not gone away for the summer.
As Western Sydney grows in tourism with places like water fun parks and the impending zoo, there may even be an influx of people looking for a place to attend Sunday Mass whilst on holidays. How do we make our parishes welcoming and inviting in the January lull?
Short-term volunteering is an awesome thing. In our communities, we may have people who may not be able to commit to weekly ministry or even once a month. But for a few weeks in January they may be able to offer a bit more.
A “January Team” or “Summer crew” could be developed – a group of ministers who will form a Welcome Team and ensure there is music and hospitality at all Masses during January. They can focus on greeting people as they arrive for Masses. Are they a visitor? Are they familiar with where everything is? And invite them to stay for a cuppa after Mass.
Is there music during the Mass? These feasts are beautiful occasions in the life of Jesus and there are beautiful hymns that are appropriate for these feasts. Sometimes, we think we need a choir to lead our music, but we forget that the congregation is our choir. All we need is one person who can play an instrument. Can we ask one person to start people off and lead the congregation? And if we can’t get a live musician is there the possibility of a music group recording an instrumental track for use at these Masses? Or even a voice recording to lead the congregation? I did this once at our January Masses and the congregation thought we had a live choir there. It was great!
And what about the hospitality after Mass? How many people in our communities have just spent Christmas alone? And how many continue to spend January in that post-Christmas sadness? There are a lot of people who come to Mass because it is their experience of family. The faith community is the place where they are nourished and feel at home.
If we stop our hospitality in January, what do we offer instead? Especially for those we know to be most vulnerable at this time? And the visitors! How do we make our visitors welcome? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have that time after Mass sharing a beverage, having a conversation, sharing a few stories and experiencing an extended sense of community before going on with our day?
A true feeling of welcome. Something that will hopefully offer a lasting feeling of really experiencing the face of Christ in the community.
I haven’t even begun on all the family activities that could take place! While there are families that go away for holidays, there are also families that don’t. How can we celebrate these feasts with families? Holy Family and Baptism of the Lord – they are both family-orientated. How can we embrace these opportunities to invite families into these celebrations?
These are just a few initial thoughts, and I am positive that there are a million other things that are possible in these weeks of January.
Thank you if your community is already offering a rich welcome in January!
Our Pastoral Planning Office is happy to have a conversation with your community to brainstorm how we can overcome the post-Christmas lull to ensure that we continue to grow and share our faith – even in January!
Lisa Bright is a Project Officer in the Pastoral Planning Office, Diocese of Parramatta.