Welcoming attitude, treating others as Christ among keys to hospitality

| April 23, 2013 | 0 Comments

When it comes to hospitality, sometimes it’s how a person handles the daily disruptions that sends the most important message.

“When I started my first year as a priest, I had a mentor priest who was very helpful to me,” Father Michael Van Sloun, pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka, recalled during a panel discussion April 16 at Guardian Angels in Oakdale on hospitality in parish communities. One day, the mentor priest asked him: “How do you feel about interruptions?”

Father Van Sloun said that he was raised to be an “on-task, highly productive” person. Such intrusions can divert one from the task at hand.

But the mentor priest responded: “What about the interruption when somebody comes and they need something from you? Sometimes the most important ministerial encounter you’re going to have on any one day is going to be the interruption. That person’s need is going to be the key thing that happened that particular day.”

Seventeen and a half years later, Father Van Sloun said he knows the priest was right. In order to create a culture of hospitality, “we have to welcome interruptions, and we have to be radically available to people when they need us,” he said.

The eight-person panel discussion was part of an afternoon session at Archdiocesan Spring Formation Day 2013, sponsored by the Coalition of Ministry Associations and the archdiocesan Office of Parish Services.

The gathering, attended by about 450 clergy and lay ministers, included two presentations by Father Jan Michael Joncas, artist-in-residence and research fellow in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He spoke about hospitality’s foundations in biblical tradition and in the Church’s history.

Lou Carbone, founder of a Minneapolis-based management firm called Experience Engineering, spoke about understanding and managing experiences and how this might apply in the Church.

Understanding needs

Hospitality ultimately must be grounded and strengthened by prayer and the person of Christ, said Father Van Sloun — a point echoed by Deacon Dan Gannon, another panelist who is president and CEO of Catholic Senior Services in the archdiocese.

“To me, it seems to be most fitting to look at hospitality in its most Catholic Christian aspect — as treating everyone as Christ,” he said, whether people are coming to the doors of our churches or we are reaching out to them.

“Being hospitable requires that we imitate the virtues of Christ,” Deacon Gannon said. “It starts with being welcoming and saying hello, but then [it requires] engaging people at an authentic enough level where we understand their needs. . . .

When we think of hospitality, it isn’t in the corporate, strategic sense of what we can do. But rather it flows from treating every human person with dignity and the dignity of Christ.”

Panelist Barb Orzechowski, pastoral associate for shared ministry at St. John Neumann in Eagan, said she thinks about hospitality “as making room,” particularly when it comes to volunteer ministry.

Making room for volunteer ministries requires being thoughtful about the requirements of a volunteer position and the gifts a potential volunteer may bring. It also requires inviting people, and then offering the necessary training and mentoring, she said.

Father Van Sloun said having conversations about hospitality with parish staff and offering training to volunteers are essential to good ministry.

He said among important things to always remember are:

  • “Complimenting people when you see them.”
  • “You can never thank people enough.”
  • “Have a smile on your face.”
  • “Have a pleasant tone of voice.”
  • Include “affirmations in your conversation.”

“When you have staff doing that with your lay volunteers, when you have staff doing that with the parishioners, when you have your volunteers doing that with your parishioners, those are the fundamentals of having good, positive experiences in your faith community,” he said.

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