I spent the Fifth Sunday of Lent in a church on the west coast of Maui, Hawaii, and the experience made me think about the ministry of hospitality. It was clear that the parishioners at Maria Lanakila Catholic Church in Lahaina were used to visitors. We were greeted with “alohas” at the door by two smiling women and a friendly usher who showed us to a pew near the front. Before Mass began, a catechist explained the Children’s Liturgy of the Word to help ease visiting parents.
And the music? No hymnals, no worship aid. Two large screens on either side of the altar stood at the ready. The choir was in a loft at the back, but a cantor at the front acknowledged those from “other parishes, other religions, other islands, other states, and other countries.”
In every possible way, their parish community welcomed the stranger. What if every church community viewed the ministry of hospitality with this same intent?
In this time of transition from the global pandemic pause, creating a sense of welcome and belonging couldn’t be more important. How we do music can make a huge difference in how visitors to our communities feel.
Here are a few considerations to ensure a ministry of hospitality in your church community.
Cantor and singers: Do you look friendly? (If you’re not sure, ask someone for feedback or watch the livestream.) Are you musically prepared? Do you make more eye contact with the people or the binder? Do you articulate the psalm clearly and proclaim it with confidence?
Instrumentalists: Do your intros lead the assembly by reinforcing the melody? Do you signal the transition from verse to refrain with dynamics, pace, or intensity?
Song selections: If the song is new or less familiar to your regular attendees, do you teach it before Mass, play it instrumentally the week before, or repeat the refrain the first time through?
Worship aids: Do you hand out hymnals or hope people will pick them up? Do you announce the number clearly and actively, such as saying “Please turn to #137 for our communion song” versus saying “Our communion song is #137”? If you print a worship aid, is the print large enough for aging eyes?
Finally, it’s important to remember that musicians are members of the assembly first, not a separate or exclusive club. Make sure you are creating and embracing opportunities to connect with others in the community. Often the ministry of music extends after Mass and becomes a ministry of hospitality when others share the meaning or impact of a song that will reach beyond the church doors.
Mahalo and aloha!
Kathy Felong is director of liturgy at Holy Cross Catholic Church and a corporate vice president of communications, change, and culture in Erie, Pennsylvania.
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