Every December, Catholics can choose from a wealth of daily Advent reflection resources, either in print or online. From books and calendars passed out in the church atrium to daily reflections from a priest, bishop or institution, the options can seem endless.
At St. Thomas a’Becket in Canton, Michigan, members of the youth group pass out candy canes after Christmas Eve Masses.
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Members of the parish staff are also on hand, said Father Chris Maus, pastor at the parish, with welcome packets for anyone who might be visiting the parish for the first time. These welcome packets include general information about the parish, ministries parishioners can get involved in, upcoming events calendars and staff contact information.
It’s a common practice for parish staff to include extra handouts like reflections, bookmarks or books in the church atrium or in the pews during the Advent and Christmas seasons. These resources can invite parishioners to be more active during this time of year.
St. Thomas a’Becket is located in a suburb of Detroit and has a plethora of ministries to catch any member of the community no matter where they are in age or their faith journey. Father Maus said the parish also hosts special events like free breakfasts on secular holidays like Mother’s Day or Veteran’s Day to engage the community.
And while there’s extra greeting staff on hand during Advent, Father Maus said it’s important to him that his parish always feel like home, no matter the time of year.
“The staff know we need to be welcoming all year-round because you never know when someone is going to come in,” Father Maus said. “We do what we can every Sunday.”
Sometimes during these seasons, parishes want to invite their communities to go deeper and get a little more personal.
Throughout December 2018 and the Christmas octave, a daily reflection for Advent and Christmas was emailed through the parish Flocknote account and posted on the Facebook page for St. Stephen the First Martyr, a parish in Warwick, New York. All reflections, except for the priests’ and deacons’ messages on Sundays, were written by members of the parish.
This practice, which was repeated in Lent and again during Advent this year, was thanks to the work of Mary Juliano, business manager at the parish in a rural town of the Hudson River Valley. Juliano said she has been receiving daily Advent reflections from Georgetown University in her inbox for years and wanted to bring that idea home.
“You borrow every good idea,” Juliano said. “Why reinvent the wheel?”
The response was overwhelmingly positive, Juliano said. The social media engagement grew throughout the season and many parishioners expressed how much they looked forward to reading the posts each morning.
Some reflections focused on the daily readings. Other writers focused on a saint. Many reflections extended several paragraphs. Others were a simple prayer or short story. Reflections were only edited for grammatical and punctuation errors, Juliano said. She never felt like anything submitted couldn’t be shared with the parish.
“All were messages that were shared from the heart,” Juliano said.
Juliano said her favorite responses to the daily reflections were from the writers themselves, many of whom expressed what a blessing it was for them to be challenged to write something so personal for the entire community to read. The exercise pushed them in ways they didn’t anticipate, she said, and that was rewarding.
The only negative feedback from the first parish attempt at this exercise was from parishioners who wished the opportunity to write had been more widely advertised. So when Juliano set up the calendar for the Lenten reflections, she emailed out a sign-up link and placed an advertisement in the bulletin for those who wanted to submit a written reflection.
And, every day was filled.
Jones is a freelance writer.
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