Making the Lord’s Day one of encounter

People pray in the pews at St. Mary Parish in Royal Oak in this 2016 file photo. St. Mary Parish is among those in the archdiocese who are taking a closer look at their “Sunday experience” by reaching out to Massgoers, hosting post-Mass events and making parish information more readily accessible.
Mike Stechschulte | The Michigan Catholic

Farmington — It’s the most important day of the week.

And for many parishioners, it’s the one day a week they will interact with their parish.

It might seem like a lot of pressure, but Sunday is the day to engage and transform that band of joyful, missionary disciples.

Whether that means keeping parish offices open or coordinating staff and volunteers among the different Masses offered during the weekend, parishes across the Archdiocese of Detroit are examining their “Sunday bests,” taking a closer look at what can be done better to become missionary outposts.

“Once a month, we have a liturgy planning meeting where we look at the logistics of the parish environment,” said Michael Chamberland, evangelization coordinator at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Farmington. “We look at everything from the cleanliness of the parish and pews, to the maintenance of the grounds.”

The “Sunday experience” is a term sprung from the Amazing Parish Conference that took place in April 2016, a prelude to Synod 16, in which parishes across the archdiocese met at the Renaissance Center for a conference hosted by Denver-based “The Amazing Parish” workshop group. Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron later emphasized the importance of the “Sunday experience” to evangelization in his post-synod pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel.

In addition to the Detroit conference, Chamberland said representatives from Our Lady of Sorrows attended the Amazing Parish Conference in May 2015 in Denver. Afterward, the parish looked at everything it was doing, from music selection to the roles of greeters.

“Beyond just having basic welcomers or greeters, we had outside greeters with ice scrapers or umbrellas, ready to greet people in the parking lot,” Chamberland said.

One of the recurring themes during the conference was the lack of availability of parish staff to answer questions and offer services on the day most people are likely to want them.

To address this, Linda Maccarone, stewardship coordinator at St. Mary Parish in Royal Oak, and the parish staff at St. Mary started hosting “welcome weekends” in which Maccarone or someone from the parish would have registration forms and information about baptisms and weddings.

“We found that we had a lot of people coming to church, but they weren’t registered,” Maccarone said. “We started giving out these information packages at welcome weekends to make it easier from them, since the parish office isn’t open on the weekend.”

St. Mary Parish is in downtown Royal Oak, a hotspot for young professionals and young families who have moved in during recent years. With so many newcomers to the area attending Mass at St. Mary, many families don’t know anyone and haven’t yet established roots with the parish, Maccarone said.

Choir members sing during Mass at Sacred Heart Parish in Grosse Ile in this file photo. For many parishes, careful music selection is part of creating an engaging “Sunday experience.”
Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

“We are looking at Sundays as a chance for people to come to know one another at the parish, besides just the pastor,” Maccarone said. “When people come to me asking how they can get their baby baptized or get married, we keep telling them getting registered is the first step.”

Besides being more connected with the parish on an administrative level, Maccarone said the parish has started hosting more social events after Mass in an effort to make the Sunday — or Saturday evening — experience one of prayer, socialization and community building.

The “Sunday experience” also challenges pastors to look at the Mass itself, said Fr. Paul Synder, pastor of St. Mary.

“As a pastor, I enjoy working with the ushers or music ministers, making sure not only do ushers help people find their seats, but also be there to answer any questions someone might have,” Fr. Snyder said. “During the week, I talk with our musicians, encouraging them to be more attentive to what hymns we’re choosing, choosing more familiar songs so people can engage in the liturgy.”

Recognizing that many people work in downtown Royal Oak, Fr. Snyder said the parish has added a noon Mass on Wednesdays, and it’s also started offering intercessory prayers for other young people who have left the faith.

In Fr. Snyder’s opinion, a meaningful “Sunday experience” goes beyond hosting events or greeting Massgoers in the parking lot, however helpful those initiatives might be.

“A meaningful ‘Sunday experience’ invites and helps people to pray, to encounter the Lord in a profound way,” Fr. Snyder said. “It might not be a dramatic experience every Sunday, but every time we encounter the Lord, it should leave us changed.

“The parish should try its best to provide an environment to hear the word of God and celebrate the Eucharist,” Fr. Snyder continued. “When we go home after Mass and realize the word or the reverence of the Mass really struck us that day, that’s what we mean by a meaningful ‘Sunday experience.’”