Deacon Mark Herrmann baptizes 4-month-old Victoria Marie Domke at St. Jude Church in Mastic Beach, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Evangelization and Welcoming

What we can learn from the business world

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Deacon Steve  KramerBack in July, my wife, Geri, and I had two wonderful encounters while shopping. Our daughter had told us about a specific pizza crust that was made from cauliflower (a must for those looking to watch carbs). It seems that it was only available in two grocery stores in all of Wisconsin. After being pleasantly greeted upon entering the store, we asked an employee if they knew where it was located. The woman spent 10 minutes searching with us and finally said, “Let’s go to the customer service desk.” The store manager asked another employee, and he cheerfully took us to the freezer aisle and showed us where the product was. On the way out, we made it a point of telling the manager what wonderful customer service she has instilled in her employees.

The second encounter was at a large establishment that sells garden supplies and plants. It was late in the season and we were looking for blueberry bushes. An employee said, “I don’t think we have any more, but let me check with someone else.” After contacting a man in another department, she said: “Guess what, we do have blueberries left. Follow me.” She walked us halfway across the yard and told us to see the man in the red shirt who was waving. The gentleman who helped us was knowledgeable, helpful and gave us some important tips for planting. Upon leaving the store, the cashier was quite pleasant and engaged us in conversation.

We had had two extremely enjoyable encounters at stores we had never been to before. Both establishments had a welcoming atmosphere, people who listened and employees who were happy to assist us. There was no doubt that we would definitely go back to both stores. I realized that there was a direct correlation between our retail experiences and what occurs in parish life: being welcomed with joy and having someone listen to us.

In 2016 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops enacted a strategic plan for 2017-20 entitled, “Encountering the Mercy of Christ and Accompanying His People with Joy.” The bishop’s priorities targeted evangelization, family and marriage, human life and dignity, vocations and ongoing formation, and religious freedom.

As deacons, we have the opportunity to welcome, to accompany our people, and to evangelize through our preaching and the celebration of the sacraments. When we prepare parents for the Sacrament of Baptism for their children, do we enthusiastically share the joy, awe and wonder of this entryway into the life of grace with them?

Author David Wheeler once said in the book “Evangelism Is …” (B&H, $24.99) that “servant evangelism is a combination of simple acts of kindness and intentional sharing of the Gospel.” Parents bringing their child to be baptized may or may not attend church regularly, but they have made an important decision. We have the opportunity to listen to their concerns, encourage and accompany them to learn more about Christ in order to shape their child’s faith life.

The majority of deacons in the United States are married men. The USCCB wants to encourage couples to enter into the Sacrament of Matrimony. Having received the Sacrament of Holy Orders and, for many of us, the Sacrament of Matrimony, we are in a unique position to teach, promote and share our lived experiences of married life with the couples we prepare for marriage. We live in the domestic church and can attest to the joy that we have with our spouses, therefore inviting youths and young couples to embrace the sanctity of the marriage covenant.

An effective deacon and an effective customer service representative will share one very important trait: empathy. Do we understand what our people need? What they are going through at a particular moment in their life? How are our communication, patience, problem-solving and positive-attitude skills?

We have been blessed to receive the joy of Christ. Share that joy and welcome others to the light of the world!

DEACON STEVE KRAMER, D.Min., is the director of homiletics and assistant professor of pastoral studies at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisconsin.

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