An elderly lady rang me recently. Her husband passed away last year and she is very isolated. She just wants to connect with someone. We all know someone who needs a friend: at work, in our family circle, in our neighbourhood. But we sometimes get stuck when it comes to the next step.
Here are some tips that may help you to invite them to an Easter cup of tea (offer to assist your parish, school, workplace or neighbourhood group to organise something). You may also invite them to an Easter Mass, or just to share a conversation. By the way, if you are feeling isolated, the following applies to you too!
No more excuses
I am too shy. Maybe they will reject me if I make contact with them. Maybe someone else is better placed to make a connection. All these things may be true. But deep down, they are all excuses. The truth is, if you have noticed someone, or have been thinking about someone, then they have already connected with you on some level. Maybe if you don’t make the connection, no one will.
Pray for support
Okay, it can take lots of courage to make that first step. Ask God to be with you. Start praying for the person you have in mind to approach.
Make a commitment
Commit to God your decision to connect and tell a close friend. Ask them to hold you to account. Be specific. Set a day and a time for making contact.
If you are approaching a person from your parish who you don’t know well, do so in a public place and let someone know what you are doing. If you are uncomfortable in an encounter, politely break it off or don’t initiate it. Your safety comes first.
What will you say?
If you don’t know the person, introduce yourself. Seek common ground. Are you at the same place for a reason such as sport, Mass or work. Ask their opinion: “What do you like best about living around here?” is better than, “Have you lived in the area long?”
What are you inviting them to do?
People are naturally suspicious. Be quick to explain the purpose of making contact. You may invite them to an event, share a prayer card or just make a connection. If inviting them to an event such as Easter Mass, Easter cup of tea, street party, be sure to give clear instructions. People usually want to know what to wear, what to bring, if it costs anything, how long it will be. Also reassure them you will meet them there and sit with them. On the day, introduce them to two or three others if possible.
Worried about if they ask faith questions?
If we identify ourselves as a Catholic, we can sometimes fear getting questions we may not know how to answer. It is okay to respond by affirming their questions and experiences, for example, “That is a good question. To be honest, while I love God and my faith, I don’t know the answer to that. If you are interested, I could find out more.” Or “I am sorry to hear that you have had a bad experience. I understand if you don’t want to come to the Easter cup of tea. But I would still like you to come.”
Using our Year of Mercy cards
One great initiative is the pocket-sized Year of Mercy cards available at your parish and also in some diocesan schools. Each card comes with a beautiful image and quote, and a space for someone’s name, your name and a short message to tell someone you are praying for them for a certain reason.
How would an approach work? It’s a simple idea that allows us in a non-threatening way to share our faith, for example, “Hi Emily. You were telling me about your brother being sick recently and I thought of you with one of these message cards. It’s just something to let you know that I’m keeping you and your brother in my prayers.” Think of people outside of the faith/Church circle and write a special message on these cards as an appealing way to share your faith.
It is best to keep follow-up contact as natural as possible. Jesus invites us to love one another. He does not ask us to force people or pretend to be their friend. Once we have made initial contact, sometimes a wave or a “hello” helps keep the connection going, rather than racing across for an in-depth chat every time. Allow the connection grow at its own pace.
As we prepare for Easter, let us bring the resurrection to one other person through the simplest of interactions! Smile and say “hello” to someone new.
If your parish would like a workshop on ways to reach out, contact the Pastoral Planning Office tel (02) 9831 4911, firstname.lastname@example.org