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Leadership Summits and Hospitality

June 24, 2016

Fr. Don Thimm, pastor of Holy Apostles Parish in New Berlin, Wisconsin, wanted his parish to be more deliberate in its approach to hospitality. While the community was dedicated to providing a sense of welcome and outreach, he believed that its members and ministries could be more focused and effective in integrating hospitality into the life of the parish. To that end, Fr. Thimm and his team of “Mission Guarantors” – a small group made up of parish staff and experienced parishioners – invited over one hundred parish leaders and volunteers to participate in Holy Apostles’ first Leadership Summit.

The summit was focused on asking, in Fr. Thimm’s words, “How we are, how we can, and why we would want to do hospitality.” The summit involved two separate meetings, which featured a video presentation from the Global Leadership Summit as well as breakout sessions during which participants discussed what hospitality might look like in society, in church, and specifically at Holy Apostles. They were challenged to come up with concrete ideas for how their specific ministries might better incorporate this foundational value into their activities. “It was really about hospitality not being simply a ‘flavor of the month,’ but a constitutive part of who we are,” said Fr. Thimm. “How do we begin to incorporate this sense of welcome and hospitality in everything we do, from facilities to ongoing interactions with staff? Every ministry has to evaluate itself on what they’re doing to promote hospitality.” The summit meetings generated a list of over six hundred suggestions from the participants, which the Mission Guarantors collected and considered. It became clear from the discussions and suggestions that a focused and simple approach would be the most effective. “We’re not looking to spend money, and we’re not looking to create busy work,” Fr. Thimm explained. “We’re looking to do things that can have immediate impact. Rather than create more, we needed to step back and refocus our primary purpose and align better around that.”

Accordingly, the Mission Guarantors collated and disseminated a condensed list of about one hundred suggestions from among those generated by Leadership Summit participants, all of which were aimed at better integrating hospitality into the grounds, worship, and ministries of Holy Apostles. These were all simple, low- or no-cost, and quickly-implementable items that would not require additional staff, facilities, or fundraising, and included such widely varied possibilities as sending a weekly email blast with parish announcements, improving signage across grounds and buildings, ensuring bathrooms are clean and well-stocked, and involving children and teens more at weekly liturgies, among many more. The curated list was not meant to be either prescriptive or exhaustive, but a means to provide some concrete suggestions and spark the imagination of all parish members and leaders in focusing on hospitality as a vital aspect of discipleship.

Fr. Thimm is pleased with the success of the summit and the precedent it has set for Holy Apostles. “It was a really energizing experience for the participants, and they were newcomers, oldcomers, everybody in between,” he said. “It was a great time for mingling and creating relationships, and creating a pattern where we will have these summits to come together and talk about important topics, generate ideas, and create some feedback on them.” He is hopeful that future summits will be similarly successful. In the meantime, however, the Holy Apostles community is hard at work implementing the many ideas generated by the vibrant discussions during its first Leadership Summit.

By: Katherine Brown, Los Angeles, CA

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