By STEPHEN O'KANE AND MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writers | Published December 23, 2010
The Catholics Come Home Georgia campaign officially kicked off Dec. 17 in the Archdiocese of Atlanta as primetime television commercials hit the airwaves across the state. Many of the parishes in the archdiocese have joined in the campaign efforts, implementing various ways to reach inactive Catholics and encouraging parishioners to reach out to friends and family members who may be considering a return to the Church.
Training Sessions Held For Parish Staff
During the fall, the Catholics Come Home steering committee sponsored a number of training sessions in English and Spanish to help parishes prepare for the folks coming back to the Church. Deacon Steve Swope, head of the steering committee, said that he was “delighted with the training sessions and impressed with the high participation from the parishes.” He added that everyone seemed “genuinely excited” about the campaign—from pastors to parochial vicars to deacons and sisters and lay people.
He noted that that those who attended the training sessions were willing to share ideas with others about how to implement a hospitality program to welcome those contacting the church to come back.
Dorothy Polchinski, who heads up the young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, was instrumental in putting the training sessions together. Over 70 parishes picked up their materials, and more than 270 people attended the training. She said that the feedback from the sessions was good.
“Based on the amount of positive feedback we received from the attendees, I would say that the training sessions went very well,” she said. “Several parishes even sent almost the majority of their parish staff to the sessions.”
In addition to the training, the steering committee and others worked on videos that were added to the Catholics Come Home Georgia website in support of the campaign.
Polchinski said, “We recorded about 35 snippets—top 10 reasons to come back to the Catholic Church (English and Spanish), testimonials, and frequently asked questions. It was especially moving to watch the videotaping of the testimonials of Catholics who returned to the Church. A couple of the testimonies actually caused me to tear up and reminded me of how privileged I am to be part of this initiative.”
Parishes Get Organized
Prince of Peace Church began organizing a hospitality and welcoming program earlier this year in July before they even began working with Catholics Come Home Georgia.
Sue Schafer, a Prince of Peace parishioner who is involved with the Catholics Come Home campaign at the Flowery Branch church, said it is important to continue welcoming people into the church with a true sense of hospitality.
“We felt like we needed to step up to the plate and get some things going,” she said about the parishioners who came together in July to begin revamping a hospitality ministry.
The group began to meet every few weeks starting in August and are now in full swing into their Catholics Come Home campaign. After receiving a couple of donated pieces of furniture from a parishioner, the Prince of Peace group fashioned them into a “welcome kiosk” to be set up before and after each Mass to answer questions about the faith for newcomers or discuss the campaign with current parishioners.
“It has been the most awesome thing” and “has created a bit of inquiry and discussion,” said Schafer.
The Prince of Peace group is also working on a welcome packet to hand out to those interested in the faith as well as a newcomer’s packet for new registrants. Schafer said when she first began attending Prince of Peace she felt a genuine sense of welcoming—which has encouraged her and others in this Catholics Come Home campaign.
Schafer and some 20 other parishioners who have been involved since July are working to include others in the welcoming process. They are using the parish bulletin and word of mouth to encourage parishioners to help out with the kiosk only once so they may have the experience of welcoming new attendees into the church family. After all, this is what the church community is to Schafer.
“This is my family outside of my biological family,” she said. “We have really made a faith family here.”
The parish is also working outside of the church walls, implementing a small marketing campaign at local gathering spots, including Lake Lanier and Chateau Elan, to make sure visitors to the area know they have a church and faith family nearby.
“That’s the beauty of the Catholic Church: it is universal,” Schafer said. “No matter what state or country you come from, we are here to welcome you.”
St. Joseph Church in Marietta has also been working with the Catholics Come Home Georgia campaign, calling on parishioners to reach out to family and friends they know who are prayerfully considering coming back to the Church.
“We have a group of folks who are meeting on a regular basis to discuss ways to help,” said Deacon Bruce Reed, who is the business manager for the parish.
The parish has been including inserts in their weekly bulletins asking parishioners to get involved in the program and printing a list of contacts for people who have shown interest in a return to Catholicism. Information from Catholics Come Home Georgia has also been printed in the parish’s quarterly newsletter.
The Marietta parish, like other parishes in the archdiocese, has been working with staff members to help train and prepare them with resources to learn how to speak with and treat people who call or come to the parish seeking more information. One of the important points in welcoming back inactive Catholics, said Deacon Reed, is to let them know that it does not matter how long they have been away, only that they are returning. It is a sentiment that is echoed throughout the Catholics Come Home campaign.
“It doesn’t matter how long you have been away from the practice of the faith,” states the Catholics Come Home brochure, which is available to all parishes. “The return of a Catholic at any time brings great joy to God and enriches the life of the Church. Through God’s grace, those returning to the Catholic faith can develop deeper spirituality, stronger faith and meaning in life.”
“We will continue to pray over the (Christmas) break to figure out how to move forward,” said Schafer. “Our goal is to see this program continue into Lent and Easter and beyond.”
“(Catholics Come Home Georgia) has really helped us to step up our awareness,” she added. “It is all about faith and family.”
For more information, visit www.catholicscomehomeatlanta.org, which includes information for returning Catholics and those interested in learning more about the Catholic Church—as well as those Catholics who invite others to “come home.”