For more than 40 years, the Sacred Heart Fall Festival in Pinellas Park has been a local tradition enjoyed by residents near and far. This year, Father Kevin Yarnell also wanted to share the Catholic faith with festgoers.
“Thousands from Pinellas Park and the surrounding area attend one or more days of the Festival to enjoy the rides, food, live entertainment, and a variety of vendors. All those people seemed to represent an opportunity to evangelize,” said Father Kevin.
Especially, with the focus on evangelization that Courageously Living the Gospel represents, he wanted to think outside the box.
That’s why this year, the parish added an evangelization tent to their Festival Lane. Nicely decorated with plants and a place to sit, the sign overhead simply invited people to talk to Father Kevin who greeted festgoers.
“The interactions ranged from simple greetings to a few deep conversations,” Father Kevin said. “Some people walked right up with a question but some of the best interactions started with a comment about the writing on their t-shirt, a stuffed animal they’d won, or just a simple hello.”
Did this creative outreach make a difference?
“Two adults joined our RCIA program and a few misunderstandings got cleared up,” said Father Kevin. “Also, we planted a lot of good seed and we’ll pray for an abundant harvest in the Lord’s time.”
In addition to Tent Evangelization, Father Kevin has started another initiative at his parish called Pew Connectors. A Pew Connector is a parishioner with an outgoing personality who commits to get to know the dozen or so people who sit near them at Mass. Thirty people have signed up to fill this role.
“We ask the Connectors to learn names and something about each person – to get to know them in a meaningful way. Once they do that, we also encourage them to introduce people to each other and connect them,” said Father Kevin.
He said pew connectors are especially helpful for the people who come to Mass and don’t experience a warm welcome and may be timid or unsure of themselves. These individuals may be greeted by an usher and they’ll say a polite hello at the passing of the peace, but they will likely not have a meaningful conversation with anyone. The parish then, can seem cold and unfriendly. Pew Connectors can address this need.
“The antidotal stories the Connectors tell are really positive. We just need more people in the ministry. The vision is to have enough Connectors at each Mass so that everyone, especially visitors who attend, would have a meaningful conversation with someone during their time in the church,” said Father Kevin.