“Welcome back” is a common, familiar phrase we use in our daily lives all the time. We welcome people back from vacation, sick leave, summer break, holidays – the list goes on and on. It’s an innocent salutation that makes us feel like we were missed. However, in 2021, this simple phrase has taken on a whole new meaning for all of us. We are welcoming people back to work, to shopping, to restaurants, and to normal life activities after a year and a half of unprecedented sickness, death, quarantine and gathering restrictions. “Welcome back” is not so simple a phrase anymore. For many, it includes fear and trepidation surrounding health, financial and mental and emotional concerns.
As compassionate people, we need to be mindful of the stress and anxiety that is caused by welcoming people back to Church and Faith Formation specifically. We need to use Jesus as our role model in meeting people where they are and loving them as they are. Once Jesus established personal relationships with people, they wanted to know more about Him and His message. They were comfortable around Him because a level of mutual respect and trust had been built that served as the very foundation upon which Christ built His Church. We, too, are being called to do that with our fellow parishioners, families and children. We need to reach out to one another with open arms and open hearts. Compassion and understanding should pour forth from our worshipping communities in endless supply. We must be willing and able to offer religious experiences in new and creative ways that will help people feel safe and welcomed.
It is not enough to say, “Welcome back,” we must first examine what we are welcoming everyone back to. What is it that we are doing to make people feel welcomed and show them that they were missed? How have we changed – what have we learned throughout this pandemic that makes us a better, stronger worshipping community and better Christians/Catholics? How has the ability to return to Church and receive the Eucharist made us more faith-filled?
We learned firsthand that God accompanies us through every messy, sad and scary event we experience. We learned our faith was the rock upon which we began to rebuild our lives. We learned that we long to be fed through sacramental experiences that give us grace. We learned that we are better and stronger when we unite ourselves in faith for a common cause or purpose.
God welcomes us all back to our respective houses of worship not because we were separated from Him but rather because we were separated from each other. We now know that we are stronger when we are united. We know with certainty that we need one another in ways we never ever imagined. We know we are each called to make the world and our Church a better place.
None of us can predict the future so all we have to work with is the here and now. And now is definitely the time to show others what “Welcome back” really means.
By Andrea Hoisl