ALLOUEZ — After the COVID-19 pandemic forced parishes to pause activities for more than a year, the Diocese of Green Bay is now encouraging parish leaders to begin opening their doors and welcoming people back to church.
On Aug. 15, Bishop David Ricken ended his order — called a dispensation — freeing Catholics from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. The declaration was first granted in March 2020, as the spread of the COVID-19 virus grew throughout northeast Wisconsin.
“With the dispensation lifting in August, we thought September would be a great time for parishes to intentionally welcome folks back who may be returning,” said Peter Murphy, Families and Schools of Discipleship Mission Team leader and chair of the diocesan reengagement task force. “We want to welcome them back to Mass, either from the pandemic or maybe they left before the pandemic.”
To assist parishes in welcoming people back to Mass, the task force created a campaign titled “Welcome Back Weekend: Every Given Sunday.” Parishes are encouraged to hold a welcome back weekend Sept. 25-26.
Murphy said parishes can promote Welcome Back Weekend “in a variety of ways. … Reaching out through phone calls, postcards or personal invitations,” he said.
Parishes can also purchase yard signs and banners with the “Welcome Back Weekend” image to place outside of their churches.
Prince of Peace in Bellevue is among the parish communities planning to welcome people back to church.
Young Adult Night
“We’re doing a few different things, but probably the biggest is our first-ever ‘Young Adult Night,’” said Rachel Hickey-Sember, communications coordinator at Prince of Peace. “It’s designed around a game night, as well as a meet-and-greet for folks to be introduced to our new director of young adult and youth ministry, Neil Saindon.”
The Young Adult Night will take place after the 4:30 p.m. Mass on Saturday, Sept. 25. More information is available on the parish’s Facebook page.
Prince of Peace also introduced a Sunday evening liturgy in August which features contemporary Christian worship music. The Mass begins at 6 p.m.
Polka Mass and booyah lunch
Holy Family Parish in Marinette will welcome back parishioners with a 10 a.m. polka Mass on Sept. 26, followed by a booyah lunch.
“We used to do polka Mass and thought it would be nice to bring it back,” said Lori Paul, advancement director for diocesan Catholic schools and a member of Holy Family Parish. “We wanted to have food afterwards that would be COVID appropriate … so the bowls will be poured for them and rolls are in separate wax bags. We also are offering to-go containers of soup for those that do not want to be indoors.”
Parish youth will help serve the meal. Yard signs and bumper stickers with the Welcome Back Weekend logo are being distributed to parishioners, added Paul.
Other parishes have been planning welcome back activities even before the Welcome Back Weekend was announced.
St. Leonard Parish in Laona will hold an outdoor Mass at the parish cemetery on Thursday, Sept. 16, 6 p.m. Fr. Anil Polumari, parish administrator will celebrate the outdoor Mass, which he first offered in July.
“Fr. Anil is planning to have an outdoor Mass once a month as long as the weather permits. He wanted to do something different for the people to welcome them back to Mass after a long and difficult year of COVID,” said Jeanie Mertens, director of religious education at St. Leonard Parish. “The (July) Mass was offered for our departed loved one and for ourselves.”
Cemetery statue blessing after Mass
At St. Mary Parish in Pickerel, Fr. David Zimmerman, pastor, plans to bless a new statue of Jesus in the parish cemetery, which replaces a previous statue that was destroyed in a July 2019 storm, said Nancy Killoren, a member of the parish pastoral council.
“Thanks to Vande Hey Co. Inc. and many volunteer hours, the cemetery once again has a beautiful statue of Jesus overlooking this sacred place of burial,” said Killoren. “In conjunction with welcoming back parishioners, Fr. Zimmerman will bless the cemetery and new statue following Mass on Sept. 26. There will also be a gathering to celebrate the blessings God has bestowed upon our small parish.”
Restoration of statues in Manawa
Fr. Matthew Rappl, administrator of Sacred Heart Parish in Manawa and SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Weyauwega, told The Compass that he wanted to find a way to thank God for the eventual end to the pandemic. He decided to restore statues depicting the Holy Family, which sit near the sanctuary of Sacred Heart Church.
“At our first public Mass when we returned from COVID, I let the parishioners know it would be a beautiful way to say ‘thank you’ to the Holy Family — for their prayers and assistance in getting us through the first waves of the pandemic — if we restored the statues to full color,” he said.
The parish raised more than enough money for statue renovation, so Fr. Rappl decided to also illuminate a stained-glass window of the Immaculate Heart. The window’s access to outdoor light was eliminated in an early church renovation.
“I did a little looking around and found that we could make a template for the outline of the entire window,” he said. It was illuminated with an LED panel a few days before the solemnity of the Assumption on Aug. 15.
Welcome back website
The diocese’s reengagement task force has created a website, catholicinmotion.com, to help parishes welcome people back to church.
“Most parishes are making sure they have hospitality,” said Murphy. “Priests are going to welcome folks at the beginning of Mass and thank them for coming at the end, just to be real intentional about welcoming folks back. … With the COVID still going on, doing it safely, but being extra welcoming.”