Memphis — Sometimes, all it takes is an invitation.
Since August, members of St. Augustine Parish in Richmond and Holy Family Parish in Memphis have been visiting parishioners who have not been seen in church in a while, asking how they’ve been doing and saying how much the parish family misses them on Sunday.
The project, called “Operation Olive Branch,” has pairs of parishioners — preferably a man and woman — drive out to the homes of people registered at the parish, bringing them information on Mass times, parish contacts and asking for prayer requests.
“We ran through two sessions of ChristLife, and we thought we were ready to do some evangelization,” said Fr. Joe Horn, pastor of the two parishes. “So we thought, meet the people who are already Catholic, but just don’t come. Let’s talk to them about why they’re gone.”
Fr. Horn came up with the idea alongside Sacred Heart Major Seminary seminarian Mark Livingston, who was assigned to Holy Family Parish for his summer internship. The two prayed about the idea and felt it was what the Holy Spirit wanted them to do.
“Over the summer, [I] took the idea to Fr. Joe, and we prayed about it; no ministry without prayer,” Livingston said. “We looked at something like Night Fever, where people outside the church invite people to come pray while adoration is going on.”
Keeping to the “no ministry without prayer” concept, Operation Olive Branch volunteers are divided into two teams: One team work in pairs to visit parishioners who haven’t been to Mass, while the other team stays in the church to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.
Since the program has started, Fr. Horn said he has seen more people come back to Mass.
“For most people, they need to hear that we wanted them,” Fr. Horn said. “Life is busy, but it’s not too busy for Christ. We hear stories about how during a time when a person died in the family, the priest wasn’t kind to them or there was something we missed.”
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