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Holiness #5: Looking Locally

Over the past few weeks, I have been writing about “holiness.” Specifically I have given examples of what holiness actually “looks like” in the world. I provided two examples on how college and university students have taken on a missionary mantle to reach out to their peers through two organizations: The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (or FOCUS) and St. Paul Outreach.

These are larger, national organizations. Is it possible that holiness can also be seen closer to home? During Pentecost Sunday weekend, I outlined the direction that I was going to lead the parish over the next few years. It emphasized facilitating an “encounter” with Jesus Christ through liturgy, through the Word and through reaching out and helping others. After prayer and discernment, two parishioners, Michelle Manning and Bridget Cowell, felt called to spearhead the “Encounter Christ Through Service and Help Others.”

First we needed to answer some fundamental questions? Are parishioners even interested in serving and helping others (Spoiler alert: the answer was “yes.”) Ok, then what kind of service could we provide? What were we already doing that people could tap into? What distances were people willing to travel to help others? Would different activities appeal to different people in different age groups? Bridget and Michelle put out a survey in order to gather some data and answer some of those questions.

What they found was that there was a significantly different type of interest, not only depending on age but also whether families had children and what ages the children were.

86% of households with preschool/elementary children with at least one working parent were interested in helping out (a very positive sign). Since we’re dealing with small children, here, there were some limiting factors. Full-day service, long-distance mission trips and even service in Philadelphia were really not an option. Parents were looking for activities in the immediate suburban location and expressed a preference for Saturday Sat AM/PM or Sunday PM.

Here is where the distinction between “Direct Service” and “Indirect Service” activities is important. “Direct Service” are activities where a person or a team provides a service one-to -one “directly” to a person or to a group of people. Feeding people at a soup kitchen is an example. “Indirect Service” provides something (usually material goods) to a person or group of people but works through an intermediary. The Giving Tree is an example. We supply the toys and someone else actually delivers them to the children.

Parents with small children preferred “Indirect Service” activities. These would include collecting cleaning supplies and food for Great Valley Food Cupboard and T/E Cares, helping to fill the now-famous bright orange food bags for the St. Gabriel Thanksgiving food drive, purchasing, collecting and wrapping Christmas presents for the Christmas “Giving Tree” as well as collecting items for the “Cradles to Crayons” program.  Children seem to enjoy purchasing and collecting the various items and then placing them in the various bins in the back of church. Parents find this a tremendous opportunity to talk about service to others and give their children a chance to make a positive impact in the lives of others.

A second group were households with middle/high school children and at least one parent working. 86% of these households expressed an interest in outreach programs. This was especially the case for high school students who might have a service project as a component of their school curriculum. This group also expressed little or no interest in mission trips outside of the Philadelphia area. Nevertheless, since we are dealing with older children, the type of outreach allowed for some more flexibility. People in this group were interested in local activities but were also willing to travel to Philadelphia as well. Cradles to Crayons was on the list as well as helping to crochet mats for the homeless. Some were interested in preparing meals for Sarnelli House (a food kitchen in Kensington), helping out with the Red Cross Blood Drive (November 18th) and, naturally, participating in the Catholic Relief Service’s “Helping Hands” food packaging event in the spring.

Looking at our “empty-nesters” or households with working adults but no children at home and at least one parent working, 75% expressed an interesting in helping out. 35% even expressed an interest in some kind of mission trip at some point. This is a highly-mobile group that was interested in any annual, full-day service projects in the greater Philadelphia area. They preferred weekday evenings and were also willing to consider Saturday or Sunday mornings and afternoons. There are several initiatives in the Kensington area such as a Christmas Party on December 7th and a “Women’s Day” at Visitation Parish, serving meals at Sarnelli House or making and delivering meals for St. Monica parishioners as well as making cards for shut-in parishioners of our parish as well.

Finally, 54% of households with parishioners who are retired with no children at home expressed an interest in helping to reach out to others. This is a group that prefers not to travel far as interest dropped by more than 30% if outreach activities were scheduled outside of the local area and in Philadelphia. Interestingly enough, 18% of this group did express an interest in some type of mission trip at some point. They showed interest in the monthly and quarterly “Indirect Service” collections and any local one-day service events, preferring weekday mornings and afternoons but definitely not weekends or evenings.

In addition to the outreach activities listed above, we are also planning several on-site service projects as well. These initiatives will take place on the St. Monica campus. Thus, they will be designed to involve many members of our parish working together, connecting our community and while servicing and serving others.

Pope Francis has challenged parishes to start looking like “field hospitals” after a battle.  Considering how blessed we are and with so many opportunities to reach out and help others, all of us at St. Monica need to prayerfully consider where we can reach out and help others. Bridget and Michelle will soon be providing additional information and a calendar of outreach activates in the near future. These will be posted on the parish website and on mine as well.

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