No matter how hectic a week becomes, it’s always better when you start by giving an hour of it to God.
That’s a message the eighth-graders of St. Francis Xavier School in Taos hope will stick with the adults of their parish.
The students had colorful invitations printed with the weekend Mass times, along with personal appeals for people who have been away from church to come back during Lent.
The sixth- through eighth-graders then signed, addressed and mailed the invitations to 700 registered households in the parish as a Lenten service project.
“You’re invited!” the colorful correspondence announces in bold letters, along with short excerpts from essays the students wrote on the subject.
“When you walk out of church, you feel better about yourself, knowing that you have God in you,” one of the students wrote. “Even in this busy world, at church, you only have to worry about God.”
“You will feel the presence of God back in your hearts,” another student assured. “A gracious cycle of someone getting filled with the Holy Spirit with the help of a friend.”
“I go to church because it calms me down and helps me connect with God to know him more,” another stated.
Principal and junior-high religion teacher Jordan Tobar got the project started. He opened the floor to discussion among the students before they began working on their entries for a Knights of Columbus essay contest.
“Our discussions made us realize that we are called to share our love of God with those around us,” the students stated on the invitation.
A good start
The eighth-graders weren’t just going through the motions. They want everyone in their parish to get right with God.
“So you can go to heaven!” Josie Wilson stated in a recent interview.
“It fills you up,” said her classmate, Olivia Luebbering.
“With the grace of God,” Bricyn Werdehausen added.
“We want them to come back so they can be closer to God,” Olivia stated.
Ava Kleffner said she loves watching people spend time visiting on the church steps after Mass.
“It brings everybody so much closer together,” she said.
Olivia said the great part of coming to Mass is how it affects the rest of the week.
“It helps you become a better person,” she said.
“Ideally,” Ava added, “people are taking the grace of God with them back to their home. You hope they’re taking what they learn at Mass and teaching it to other people.”
Pray and invite
The eighth-graders talked about things that keep people from coming to Sunday Mass — such as work schedules, having young children, being tired, feeling alienated from the community, not thinking it matters, and not feeling welcome.
“Some people feel like they’re too broken to come back to church,” said Maggie Lock. “They feel really separated from the Church, and that’s why we have to help them, to encourage them and welcome them back.”
“We can greet them when they come and ask them how they’re doing,” Bricyn suggested
“We can say, ‘Hey! Sit next to me!’” said Ava.
“Maybe you can invite them to go to Mass with you and then go to dinner with you,” said Lauren Kleffner.
Students also brought up the importance of praying for the people they’re inviting.
“You can’t force your beliefs on people,” said Josie. “But you can pray for them and invite them. It’s hard to say ‘no’ when someone does that.”
“He gave his all”
Molly Verslues said that if she had been away from church for a while, an invitation like this would make her seriously consider coming back.
Said Olivia: “I think I would at least go back and give it a try one weekend. If it was a good experience, I’d keep coming back.”
“I think it’s a witness,” said Bricyn. “I mean, if there are children in the school who want me to come back, I’d feel a lot more welcomed.”
Several eighth-graders stated their conviction that coming to Mass is worth the effort.
“He gave his all, so we can give him an hour,” said Maggie.
“All he’s asking is for us to go to church and live our faith,” said Josie.
One parishioner wrote back to ask the students to pray for her grown children to come back to church.
“We can do that,” said Lauren. “We can pray for them and invite them. I think it’s great that we can help change people’s church life and help them get closer to God.”
“Just let go”
One of the eighth-graders said she’s noticed more people at Mass since the invitations went out.
“It makes me really happy to see people coming back,” she said.
Mr. Tobar, who grew up in St. Francis Xavier Parish and is a graduate of St. Francis Xavier School, agreed that a mailed invitation is more effective if it comes from young people.
“It makes all that much more special and powerful,” he said. “I think that’s why it’s gone over so well with our parishioners.”
He pointed out that the invitation as also a reminder for people who attend Mass regularly to invite their friends and family members who do not.
He noted that another principal and the directors of religious education at several other parishes had called to ask about the project, hoping to try it at their parish or school.
He marveled at the insights the students shared before writing their essays, including:
“You just let go of whatever is going on in your life and give it over to God,” said Lauren.