By Matthew Biddle
Parishioners of Saints John and Paul parish in Willetton have enthusiastically embraced the parish’s latest initiative – wearing name badges at Sunday Mass.
The parish introduced the idea at the start of Advent last year, and it has since received excellent support from many Mass-goers.
Willetton’s parish priest Fr Greg Donovan said the response from parishioners so far was encouraging. “It has worked very well in terms of people knowing each others names,” he said.
Fr Richard Rutkauskas, assistant priest at Willetton, said the idea was just a small part of the parish’s focus on Christian stewardship.
“The whole idea of [Christian stewardship] is getting people to focus on their gifts and talents and how they use those gifts and talents,” he said. “Part of that initiative is trying to making a parish a more welcoming place.
“One of the things we thought of was to encourage people to wear name tags so that Fr Greg and I could get to know them a bit better.
“Also for the people themselves, they often sit in the same pews every week but they wouldn’t know who sits next to them or in front of them or behind them.”
Fr Greg said the size of the parish – there are almost 700 parishioners – was one of the main reasons for the introduction of name badges.
“I was finding it very hard to remember the names of people and when I asked parishioners, ‘Who’s that over there?’ they often couldn’t tell me,” he said.
“I thought well if they don’t know and I don’t know it’s not very good, so why don’t we do something about it.”
Fr Richard said he believed the permanent initiative is yet to reach its full potential.
“We’ve got more than half of the people wearing their name badges regularly, but it would be good to get more,” he said.
Two thousand badges were initially purchased by the parish, of which some remain in the church foyer for use by visitors.
“We encouraged people to take them home and to decorate them, and to put whatever name they wanted to be known by on them,” Fr Richard said.
Parishioners are asked to bring their name badges with them to all parish functions, although some have trouble remembering their new accessory.
James Cheng, a parishioner at Willetton since 1994, said the initiative has his full support, but added that initially some parishioners were embarrassed to wear name badges to Mass.
“Some of them didn’t like the idea, because it’s just like going to a seminar or a conference,” he said. “Initially I was like that too, but after a while I felt I would like to be identified, so people can call me by my name.”
Fr Greg said the simple initiative resulted in a visible increase in the sense of community within the parish.
“A lady was unwell and she was unable to come to Mass for a while, and a parishioner who recognised the name when it was announced took a casserole around there,” he said, and recommended the use of name badges to other parishes.
“Once we see their names, or they see our names, it really breaks the ice and encourages people to speak to each other.”