Guidelines for Welcome Ministers
How can we make our parish of St Peter’s become ever more truly united in the family of God? How can our Sunday celebration reflect more the atmosphere of friendship and love, of caring and sharing, that is part of every good family? Some of the key persons in achieving these aims are our Welcome Ministers. They are parish builders. Parishioners first meet them, before they see the priest or hear the choir.
Everyone who comes to Mass is coming because God is calling His family to come together to celebrate, praise and thank God for the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. The Ministry of Welcome is a privileged way to share in giving the welcome that our loving God gives us at every celebration of Holy Mass.
To be a minister means to serve and care for others. Welcome Ministers serve the people, the priest and the parish, under the direction of the Sunday Mass Wardens.
Welcome Ministry in the Bible
To see the importance of the Welcome Ministry, and how it is a biblical and Christian virtue, here are a few examples of welcome in the Old and New Testaments:
- Three men appear. Abraham runs to greet them. He bathes their feet and offers them food and water. They promise to return, and within one year, Sarah, thought to be barren and old, will have a son (Genesis 18: 1-15).
- Elisha the prophet is warmly received by the Shunamite woman. He is given food and even a special room. As a reward the woman and her husband are given a son as they had hoped and prayed for (2 Kings 4:8).
- Jesus experiences both welcome and lack of welcome when he goes to the house of Simon, a Pharisee. While dining, a woman, known to be a sinner comes in, washes and anoints his feet. Simon was shocked. Jesus explains that she practiced good welcome while Simon, the host did not. He admonishes Simon and explains: “I came to your home and you provided me with no water for my feet. She has washed my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil but she has anointed my feet with perfume”. Because of her welcome, her sins are forgiven. (Luke 6: 44-47).
- The apostles wanted to spare Jesus the trouble of having to meet with little children. “Jesus became indignant when he noticed it and said to them: ‘Let the children come to me and do not hinder them. It is to just such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.’ Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them”. (Mk. 10:14-16)
- Finally, a quotation from our parish patron, St Peter: “Above all, let your love for one another be constant, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be mutually hospitable without complaining. As generous distributors of God’s manifold grace, put your gifts at the service of one another, each in the measure he has received” (1 Pet. 4: 8-10).
Duties of Welcome Ministers
- The ministers come early to the church on Sunday: by 7.45am for the 8.30am Mass, by 9.30am for the 10am Mass, by 11.15am for the 11.45am Mass, and by 5.30pm for the 6pm Mass. If there are more ministers present than the Mass Warden needs, some will not have the privilege of serving as ministers on that day – any latecomers of course will be those most likely to be dropped. Welcome Ministers should always wear their sash when on duty, so they can be identified in case of need; but they should remove their sash as soon as they are off duty, to avoid any risk of confusion.
- In advance of special celebrations, for example, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil, ministers make sure they are aware of any additional duties to help make the celebrations run more smoothly.
- If there is an earlier Mass that has not yet been completed, some ministers stay at the entrances and encourage those arriving to wait at the sides of the porch, or outside the church or in the parish centre, allowing those who have been attending the earlier Mass to leave first.
- The ministers make sure the church is clean and tidy, clearing any leaflets left from the previous Mass. Any personal items left behind by parishioners should be placed in the church shop for safekeeping. The ministers open the windows as necessary for fresh air.
- As parishioners arrive for Mass, enough ministers are in the church porch to welcome and greet with a smile, and to offer Mass leaflets and newsletters.
- Ministers should be interested in and eager to get to know persons and families. If they notice persons visiting for the first time, their greeting is extra special: they might introduce themselves by name, ask their name, invite them to complete a Household Details Form, and ask if they have any questions. If a parishioner is known to have had a recent illness or death in the family, or has been absent or traveling, the minister might gently ask how things are. If there is not time to do this before Mass, the minister could try after Mass.
- Ministers should have special concern for the elderly infirm and those with disabilities. For the time of Communion, the minister might inquire if the person needs any assistance with walking, or if Communion should be brought to them. If any such special arrangements are needed, the Sunday Mass Warden should be notified.
- If the church is becoming crowded, some ministers should help those arriving to find seats. Ministers politely advise anyone trying to reserve more than one seat, for friends or family members expected later, that the Church regards this as incorrect, wishing to emphasize that we are a community of equals because we all share in the one and same Jesus Christ through our baptism.
- Ministers also welcome those who come late, not judging them but presuming that they have a good reason for coming late. Latecomers should be gently encouraged, but not compelled, to minimise disturbance to others in the congregation by taking their seats at a time of transition, and by using the side aisles not the centre. To avoid disturbance during the readings and homily, suitable times to enter might be towards the end of the opening prayer, after the second reading, or after the homily.
- During the Mass, ministers try to ensure that everything goes smoothly and there is dignity and order in the assembly, but always being gentle in their approach to anyone who appears to be causing any problem for others. If any young children appear to have left the supervision of their parents or carers, ministers should try to re-unite them promptly.
- Ministers should be aware of what to do in case of fire, to extinguish it swiftly if possible and to help people leave the church if necessary. They should also be alert for any suspicious bags or packages in or near the church, and inform the Mass Warden quickly.
- Ministers organise the parishioners’ procession to take Communion, pew by pew. If any people are obstructing space needed for the congregation to move safely, ministers should politely ask them to clear the way.
- After the Mass, enough ministers should be at the doors of the church and in the porch to collect leaflets, again ready with a friendly word and a smile. If the next Mass is due to start within 15 minutes and the church is very crowded, ministers should encourage parishioners not to linger in the porch, making it more difficult for others to leave or enter the church.
Qualities of the Welcome Minister
- A friendly face and a smile, with a positive outlook so that your greeting is warm and inviting.
- People-oriented. More than other lay ministers, you are person-to-person, showing love and respect for every person, and interested in people and families.
- Able to enter into and correct a situation charitably and creatively. Instead of using strong negatives, such as STOP or NO, ask questions or suggest alternatives in a kindly manner. For example, you might ask “is there some way I can help?” or “is there anything you need?” Always be a servant, not an enforcer.
- Non-judgmental. When someone seems to be in the wrong (for example, wrongly dressed, or late for Mass, or disturbing others) you try to find the positive, to excuse the person (remembering the prayer of Jesus, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”).
- Love for the Church and pride in the parish and a desire to make the parish even stronger. No parish, no family, including the family of God is perfect. We come to Mass because we are trying. Our parish too is trying and we are proud and happy to be part of that.
- Sensitive and alert. The minister has a good eye, overseeing and watching what is going on. You rejoice when things go well, and are alert and ready to assist when there are problems.
- Able to take some abuse. There may be occasions where there are misunderstandings, where what you do is not taken the right way. You may be the object of some anger or abuse. Here, patience is called for, and some creativity. You must creatively deal with the problematic situation in a way that resolves it peacefully rather than escalates it.
- Peace and joy. You are doing the Lord’s work. As Jesus welcomed the children, you too find joy and peace in welcoming the congregation and helping God’s family celebrate this special moment of the week, the Sunday liturgy. A model for others.
- A model for how to participate at Mass. While you may be busy about many things, as far as possible you actively join in the Mass, participating in prayer and song, in listening and celebrating. Your prominent good example will influence and teach others how to participate actively in the Mass.
- Looking to the good of others. To be a minister involves some sacrifice. You do not get the best seat, you may be distracted during the Mass as you serve others. You are sacrificing your own private quiet and prayerfulness at Mass in order to help others be at peace and prayerful. Following the teaching of Jesus, your spirit of service extends in a very special way to the poor, the child, those with special needs or disabilities, those who may seem lost or out of place. Like Jesus the Good Shepherd, you are one who gathers rather than scatters. You are at the service of God’s family.