frmark_headshot_150x150From the Pastor…

STM has a reputation for being a friendly parish. I have heard a number of visitors say that their experience here was very positive, and that they found the STM community to be enthusiastic and open. This is always good to hear. It tells me that we are doing really important things well. Indeed, it is a joy to see parishioners gathering after Mass in the narthex and in the church itself, greeting one another, and exchanging hugs and best wishes.

However, I also occasionally hear parishioners, some of whom are relatively new to STM, tell me that they are struggling and that they don’t yet feel welcomed or at home here. They say that they feel “on the fringe” of the parish, and that it saddens them. This is not good to hear, and it tells me that we still have a ways to go in being a truly hospitable parish.

STM has a Welcome Committee whose members are committed to greeting parishioners as they arrive for Mass and for sending emails or hand-written noted to newly registered parishioners. This is a great service to our community. I too send a letter to new parishioners, usually within a couple weeks of their registration, welcoming them to the parish and encouraging their participation. These are important steps. But all of us – not just the members of the Welcome Committee – share a responsibility to make one another feel welcome.

It shouldn’t be left to the newcomer to take the initiative to introduce him/herself to established parishioners. If a parishioner sees someone whom he/she doesn’t recognize or whose name he/she doesn’t know, the parishioner should greet that one. If a parishioner sits down in the pew and doesn’t know the person sitting nearby, the parishioner should introduce him/herself. Each of us might make a point of introducing ourselves to at least one individual or family that we don’t know each Sunday.

I know from experience that, if I enter a room where everyone else seems to know someone, but I don’t, and where everyone seems to be laughing and chatting with someone, but I am not, I feel particularly alone. Everyone seems to belong except me. It lifts me up when someone approaches and says “Hi,” or even just looks my way and nods and smiles. It doesn’t take much to make a big difference.

If we don’t reach out to greet strangers when we gather for Eucharist, I don’t know where we would do so. Let’s make STM a place where all people feel truly welcome.

Another item. Parishioners know that the Parish Council has been working for several months to articulate our sense of self-identity and mission. The Council is about to complete this work and should be publishing its conclusions to the parish shortly. We are now shifting our attention to see how our parish’s physical facilities serve that identity and mission. To this end, I have assembled a committee of 15 parishioners to advise me in this effort. Bill Morrison has agreed to chair this committee. The committee has selected and contracted with the Washington DC architecture and planning firm of Cox Graae+Spack (CGS) to undertake a thorough assessment of the condition and remaining useful life of our parish buildings, building systems, and grounds; to evaluate their ability to meet present and future needs; and to identify improvements that are needed to insure that parish facilities are capable of meeting our growing, and in some cases changing, needs. This planning process, which should last about 4 months, will result in a phased program of improvements that the parish would hope to undertake over several years.

In order to assure that the final plan truly reflects STM’s needs and desires, CGS representatives will be meeting several times not just with the planning committee, but also with parish staff and other parishioners who use parish facilities most often.

My hope would be that we could begin to make the “first priority” improvements as early as the fall of this year.

Parishioners should watch for further information and invitations to participate in the planning process.

One last item. I again encourage parishioners to participate in the upcoming ecumenical program, “From Conflict to Communion: Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue and the Next 500 Years.” The program is scheduled for Sunday, January 28, at 6:30pm in Mulhern Hall. STM will host the community of St. John’s Lutheran Church for a pot luck dinner and a conversation about our hopes for closer communion with one another. Check the bulletin and parish website for more information.

Fr. Mark