St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church, Tampa

Interview with Dr. Valerie Mainguy, Director of Development, Stewardship, Marketing & Communication. Valerie has been a parishioner of St. Mark the Evangelist for 20 years and has been on staff for six years.

Is your parish known for its hospitality?
Yes! Our mission statement is to “Invite All on our Journey to LOVE.” “Invite” is the action verb of our mission and we specifically state that we invite “All.” This means we are very focused on inviting and welcoming. This mindset is in our hearts, smiles and eyes. This is who we are. We aspire to be the most welcoming church in the country! 

When did your focus on intentional hospitality begin?
When I started working at St. Mark’s, I let the pastor and the leadership team know that although I had been a parishioner for many years, no one had ever invited me to get involved. It was sad, actually. I learned that many of our parishioners had the same experience. Back then, there were some strong cliques and if you weren’t a part of those groups, it just wasn’t very easy to engage.  So our pastor and staff began this journey of how we could uplevel our welcoming and make all of our parishioners know they are an important part of our church family.  

How did you all start to be more welcoming?
It started with the staff developing a new mission statement, embracing it ourselves and sharing it with our ministry leaders in order to help everyone embrace this new way of thinking. We wanted people to know that all are invited into our ministries and to our events and we REALLY wanted them to come… that this was not just lip service. We wanted everyone, all parishioners, to exude hospitality and welcoming by being God’s heart, smile and eyes here at St. Mark and also around our community. 

How do you communicate this spirit of welcoming?
We have strong branding with our mission. We have welcome signs as you drive in, a welcome message on the front of our bulletin each week, a welcome message on the church screens while you’re waiting for Mass to start, a welcome letter on our website and when you first walk into the doors of the church, we have a large mosaic on the floor that says, “All Are Welcome.” We also include “All Are Welcome” on every email we send…it’s our tag line. 

How are you welcoming the larger community?
We want the community to come to St. Mark the Evangelist.  One of our core values is to be intentional in inviting all to join us here on our journey to LOVE and get closer to God and for some, it’s for the first time in their lives. We partner with the Rotary Club each year for the New Tampa Brew Fest which brings many people onto our campus for the first time.  We offer tours too because people love seeing our church. Our Lenten Fish Fries are open to everyone and we have 800-1000 who enjoy those each week. We want to be a community gathering point and strive to be inclusive and open.  At the time we opened the doors to our new church, we had over 37 different nationalities represented in our parish!  

What are some other ways you welcome people at your parish?
We encourage and empower our parishioners to help people find a seat, get comfortable and feel at home. We let them know that this is our /their church home and you don’t have to be an usher to be friendly and welcoming. We also have official greeters who stand outside and greet people as they walk into church. We have official ushers who help people find a seat and official hospitality ministers who serve coffee and donuts after masses.  We don’t want anyone to have the feeling I had for 15 years so now every person and every ministry is asked to be involved in hospitality.

How do you welcome newly registered parishioners?
After someone registers via our website, we send them a welcome letter and the individual or family is invited to a welcome reception. We’ve had wine and cheese or sangria and salsa receptions. At this event, we hand out a welcome packet and our Parish Resource Manual.  We explain our mission and we talk about all the ways we have to communicate with our parishioners. We also let them know what events are coming up over the next three months and invite them.  

How do you demonstrate that you are a family?
One thing we tell new parishioners is that this parish is their home and we are your family. I give them my cell phone number and I tell them to call me directly or the Parish Office if you need us. We get a lot of calls so we feel confident they know we’re really here for them.  

What is your hospitality budget?
Zero – other than our coffee & donut costs.  So much of welcoming involves being friendly and caring which costs nothing! We do run ads in local papers/magazines around Christmas but we are able to barter or negotiate on pricing so there is very little cost. We also have volunteer receptionists who hold the title of Office Angels. They sit at the front desk and their primary responsibility is to be the welcoming face of our parish.  They always offer a warm smile and let people know they are loved and valued.

Is this a team effort?
Absolutely! ALL of our staff and volunteers are incredible!