THE Catholics Returning Home program has been likened to opening a door for those wanting to find a way back into the worshipping community.
The course provides an entry point for those wanting to reconnect with their faith and the parish community.
A vital element in running Catholics Returning Home is embarking on a six-week publicity campaign before the start of the program.
‘Publicity is the key to recruiting returning Catholics — the number attending corresponds directly with how well the publicity gets out,’ said Sally Mews in her book Inviting Catholics Home.
The team needs to be creative and inventive in putting the invitation into the marketplace.
‘Engaging the parish priest to speak about the program in his homilies is very effective in encouraging parishioners who have never thought about it before to consider asking family members and friends, after all, many families have a member who is not attending church. This makes a big difference,’ said Lisa Carter from St Agatha’s Parish, Clayfield, on Brisbane’s northside.
‘We placed a large banner on our parish fence, overlooking Oriel Rd and this certainly challenged parish members to think about who they could invite.’
The team left reminders on the pews urging Mass attenders ‘to read me, take me home and put me on your fridge’.
Catchy inserts in the parish and school newsletters, short announcements at the end of the liturgy, handing out brochures and invitational cards, as well as placing advertisements in the local suburban papers have all proved effective in drawing returnees.
‘Having returning Catholics tell their story is your best advertisement, because it reminds you that your own faith is a precious gift,’ Lisa said.
What happens after the six-week program many ask? Do those who return get lost in the crowd? Kathy Robbie said that in her experience after running six courses that ‘it is merely a stepping stone along people’s journey of faith and that great sensitivity is required to gauge where people are at and to give them time and space to find their feet when they return’.
It is important to leave room for the Holy Spirit to guide people and for them to take the next step at their own pace.
One lady found her home in the St Vincent de Paul Society and loves visiting and helping those in need.
One young man set his heart on being a reader, but was deeply touched by God through an experience at a charismatic prayer meeting and now desires to become a missionary.
A mother of young children decided to enrol her children in the local Catholic school where she has become very active.
A very timid lady has become a volunteer serving each week in the Evangelisation Resources Down Under office as well as undertaking a Beginning Theology course and joining a Little Rock Scripture group. Another woman has become a member of her parish Catholics Returning Home team, while for another person, it was a Cursillo weekend that deepened his faith walk.
For some, the course provides a means of dipping their toes in the waters of their Catholic faith for quite some time before they are willing to commit themselves further.
Each person’s journey is unique and their reasons for returning to the practice of their faith vary, but what they are grateful for is the invitation that this course holds out to them.
Returning Catholics are delighted that such courses exist since they provide an open door to allow them to reconnect.
Changing the parish culture is one of the by-products of running the Catholics Returning Home program.
‘It challenges us to be more welcoming and mindful of the newcomers in our midst,’ said Harry Mole, who has run several programs at St Catherine’s Parish, Wishart, on Brisbane’s southside.
‘You really need to look at your attitudes and actions if the parish chooses to run the program. It’s no good the team welcoming people back only to have them frozen out, isolated and ignored once they have finished the six-week course. The entire parish needs to embrace the call to be a welcoming and inclusive community,’ he said.
Having someone who is friendly and caring on the other end of the phone line is vital when people make their initial contact.
Encouraging fellow parishioners to be agents of welcome, enlisting their prayer support for the team and the returning group, and taking the time to report back what has happened to the parish community are all important in becoming a vibrant and evangelising parish.
Reminding parishioners that this is one way that we can live out the Gospel parables of seeking out the lost provides an impetus for taking ownership and support for this ministry.
A Catholics Returning Home gathering in Brisbane, held at the Aspinall Centre in St Bernard’s Parish, Upper Mt Gravatt on May 7, drew team members from Birkdale, Carina, Clayfield, Corinda Graceville, Petrie, Tweed Heads, Victoria Point and Wishart parishes, while representatives from Bowen Hills, Chermside West, Darra/Jindalee, Goodna, Newmarket, Upper Mt Gravatt and Wynnum parishes came to learn about the program and how it can be introduced.
A new poster that can be pinned on parish and school noticeboards, in shop windows or community noticeboards was launched at the workshop. The bright welcoming image has been designed to remind those who see it, that the Catholic Church extends a welcoming hand to those seeking a pathway home.
Further information is available at www.bne.catholic.net.au/crh
Posters can be bought from the Everyday Mission office at the Catholic Centre, 143 Edward St, Brisbane for $1 each (with a minimum order of $5). Phone (07) 3336 9323 or fax (07) 3321 1705.
One of the key Brisbane archdiocesan priorities is to become welcoming and inclusive communities to which people, especially those who have lapsed in their faith are drawn and have a strong sense of belonging.
Parishes running a Catholics Returning Home program two or three times a year provide such an open door.
Mike Humphrys is a mission development officer with the Faith and Life vicariate in Brisbane archdiocese.
Testimony of “recycling’
G’DAY! My name is Trevor Goldfinch.
I was a very absent Catholic for about 25 years. Not even Christmas and Easter got me into a church of any kind.
They say big things can start from a small beginning.
Mine was an insignificant advertisement for Catholics Returning Home placed in the local paper.
Even that had to be put in front of me by an Anglican friend who made sure I followed it up.
For me personally, it was a big step. I had never heard of St Agatha’s, Clayfield!
I did not know a single person in the parish or program and I lived in a very different world in New Farm.
Yet in spite of traffic snarl-ups, getting lost in transit and the booze bus I lasted for all six weeks.
While there I learned a lot about myself and other people from so many different walks of life. At last I had found my spiritual home.
A Catholic by birth and upbringing, my journey has seen many changes over those many years.
In the meantime, oh! how things have changed in the Catholic Church during my long absence.
Today I must admit that I am very committed and proud to call myself a ‘recycled’ Catholic. This joyful feeling is now with me every day of my life.
Since that night in April 2004 when I made my first trip to Clayfield, I have knocked on the door of the church to find one hell of a party going on!