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home : features : parish life

5/4/2017 9:00:00 AM
St. Pius' newcomer coordinator helps new parishioners connect
After attending St. Pius X parish in Loudonville for more than 20 years, Carmella Turpin confesses that "I can't imagine being the new person" who's just registered as a parishioner.

St. Pius' goal is to make that change easier. With 2,000 registered households and up to a half-dozen new ones joining the parish each week, St. Pius created the role of "newcomer coordinator."

Ms. Turpin is the second such coordinator, taking over for Sheila Fitzgerald last fall. She spends about 10 hours a week checking in with new parishioners: welcoming them personally to the parish, sending emails about upcoming events and serving as a point of contact for people who like St. Pius, but don't yet know who to approach with questions.

"A lot [of requests] are pretty basic," Ms. Turpin told The Evangelist: "'How can I arrange baptism for my baby?' 'What kinds of ministries do you have?' 'When is school registration?' A lot of people are looking for religious education."

The newcomer coordinator connects parishioners with St. Pius School officials, faith formation staff or the parish secretary, Jenn Maroney. For other questions, Mrs. Turpin may text or email Rev. James Walsh, pastor, who'll get back to her within a few hours.

Personal touch
"This is much more than having somebody sign a paper [to register] and call the secretary if they need something," Ms. Turpin remarked. "I can give a little more of a personal touch. When they register, I reach out to them; I don't wait to hear from them."

Father Walsh agrees.

"The first part of our parish mission statement says that we are a warm and welcoming faith community," he noted. "We don't want newcomers to fall between the cracks and feel they are just a number. Our goal is to welcome them, answer any questions and meet their needs."

Both the pastor and Ms. Maroney say that having a newcomer coordinator takes some work off their plates.

"It's great, because she's there to answer any questions" from new parishioners, Ms. Maroney said. "She puts them in contact with people" at the parish and school.

Father Walsh told The Evangelist that, to make newcomers really feel at home at St. Pius, "there is a lot of follow-up required, and I don't have the time to do that important work. That's where Carm comes in. She does a wonderful job of helping newcomers feel connected to our parish."

Plus for parish
Ms. Turpin's role benefits St. Pius, too.

"There's a lot going on at the parish, all the time," she explained. In addition to common parish groups and ministries and all the activities related to St. Pius School, there's a moms' group, a support group for divorced and separated persons, a grief ministry and much more.

When Ms. Turpin contacts newly-registered parishioners, she tries to gauge what groups they may be likely to join or what volunteer opportunities might interest them.

Getting people involved keeps them active in parish life, she said. That starts with an invitation to attend an event she organizes, like the upcoming wine-and-cheese reception where new parishioners can meet each other and Father Walsh, or a Sunday-morning "coffee connect" hour.

Helps her, too
Even Ms. Turpin herself benefits from her role. A widow who recently retired from a position with New York State, she noted that her own family has stayed active in the parish. Both of her adult children, Carla and Alexander, are catechists. Her daughter also teaches at St. Pius School, while her son is a cantor at Mass.

"I get to know a lot of people," the newcomer coordinator said. "I feel like I am more of a participant and contributor to the parish by helping in this role. People will see me at Mass and say, 'Oh, I talked to you!'"

On average, Ms. Turpin said, only about 20 percent of parishioners tend to participate in parish life. The way to keep a parish vibrant and likely to grow is to boost that number -- and one way to begin is by having a newcomer coordinator call and say, "Hey, we have a hospitality Sunday coming up. It's a good way to meet other parishioners."

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