Parish Newsletter A Service of the Parish Evaluation Project Milwaukee , Wisconsin   March, 2015   Finding a Friend             One paris h we surveyed recently as part of the Paris h Assessment and Renewal (PAR) process asked this question, “Have you met or become friends with other parishioners since joining the parish?”  The response was mixed.  Thirty-seven percent (37%) responded, “Yes, definitely.” Another 38% felt they had, at least to some extent.  The remaining quarter (25%) marked either “No, not really,” or “No, not at all.”  Other parishes did not think to ask this question so we have no way of gauging whether this was typical or not.  But what a significant issue this is.  Eucharist is essen tial and formation nourishes faith, but building relationships is what keeps people coming back.  Imagine what it would look like if the pasto r, staff, leaders and ministers concentrated on creating a spirit and environment where people get to know each other so well that they could become friends.  What a life-long gift this would become.  Friendships are unique and can’t be forced, but they can be encouraged, nourished and maintained in a paris h environment.   Modeling Encouraging people to form friendships will fall fla t unless people can catch on to what this might look like based on what they observed from their leaders and fellow parishioners.  For example, at the weekend liturgies, the greeters and ushers recognize those they know.  While not playing favorites, they call people by name, offering a welcoming gesture to those joining the celebration.  Choir members, Eucharistic ministers, even servers, are happy doing this service because they are doing it with others they enjoy being with.  The gath ering after Mass becomes a place people seek out one another, making contact and forming plans for the coming week.  If the emphasis for being a liturgical minister was, “Get to know each other better as a model to the congregation,” it could raise the level of community-building and sharing among all those attending.  The pasto r and staff might explore among themselves how to foster friendships in the parish, starting with themselves and continuing with those they encounter in their ministry.   Initial Invitations Imagine how newcomers would feel if they were told by a welcoming committee when they signed up,  “As you join us, know that we not only profess to be a community, we try to put this into practice.  We are a collection of many paris hioners from all walks of life who have different interests, backgrounds and abilities.  There are many opportunities to get to know them.  Come to our Coffee and Social after Mass so people can meet you.  You might eventually join a group or help out with a project where you can get to know other parishioners.  You might find people who’s company you enjoy and would like to know better.  This is now your new spiritual home.  Get to know us, as we would like to do the same with you.”   Small Groups “One way to foster friendships is to offer groups small enough so that people can share important aspects of their lives, their values and their concerns.  Making these encounters available for all is one way to keep a paris h vital and alive.  If forming relationships is important, then every paris h event and function would need to include small group interaction, either of short duration or long, one-time or on-going.  Planning groups, task groups, sharing groups, ministering groups; any way in which 3, 5, 7, 9 people could come together and get to know each other.  All of these groups, however, need to be constantly guided and challenged so they don’t become an end unto themselves.  This is what makes paris h friendships somewhat unique.  They are not closed groups.  The friendships that are formed are not just for themselves but are directed outward to serve others.  As Jesus mandated, “Go out two by two, preaching the Good News and setting people free.”   Tom Sweetser, SJ and Debora Elkins Website: www.pepparish.org