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Abbot Peter Novokosky

Welcome the stranger

Parishes that want to welcome and integrate new members into their community could do well to look at what the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Saskatoon is doing.

Twice a year those who have joined the parish are invited to gather for lunch, to introduce themselves and be welcomed by the dean.

According to the March Saskatchewan Anglican newspaper, after people register with the parish, “a letter of welcome is sent to each newcomer and they are given the date for the next newcomers’ lunch.”

There, they are joined by cathedral staff members, key ministry leaders and a selection of longtime parishioners.

After a period of socializing and enjoying a meal together, the group forms a circle where they take turns introducing themselves. A recent event welcomed immigrants from India and South Africa, as well as members from Manitoba and residents of Saskatoon who have joined the parish.

Susan and Charles Mowat said, “We felt very welcomed when we joined the welcoming committee because we wanted to be part of passing this on to others.”

“The cathedral is not just a gathering of individuals on a Sunday morning,” added Kris Nevland, a member of the welcoming committee and a choir member. “It is a family; we know each other and we care for one another. There is enough diversity here for all of us to feel that this is our spiritual home.”

The group then uses A Service of Welcome, a Celtic prayer service taken from the Iona Worship Book. The service invites participants to recognize the gifts that all people bring to a community of faith.

Creating a place of warmth and hospitality in Saskatoon’s cathedral is very important to Dean Scott Pittendrigh, Sarah Donnelly says in the article. “Because of our visibility we often receive people who are new to this city and perhaps even new to Canada,” he said. “This congregation is very committed to opening their hearts to those they don’t yet know. The cathedral is a large building, but the parishioners do a great job creating an intimacy here that is greatly appreciated by those who walk through our doors. It’s a wonderful community of faith.”

For parishes, or parish groups, looking for ideas on how to welcome newcomers to their faith community, this seems like a fine model to follow. Pope Francis has encouraged major churches and shrines to establish a Holy Door this year. A Welcoming Door could be a permanent fixture on any churches well into the future.