OLYMPIA – At the Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter where Paul McCarthy volunteers, the men have started calling him “Mr. Michael” or “The Michael Guy.”
Blame it on his hat, emblazoned with the logo of St. Michael Parish in Olympia.
McCarthy is one of 650 outreach volunteers at St. Michael’s who last fall were given hats, aprons and bags, all with the parish logo, to wear and carry while working in the community. The “Wearing Our Faith on Our Sleeve” initiative is intended to provide outward signs of the volunteers’ faith, hope and strength in the Gospel.
“It’s part of who we are as Catholics,” said Benedetta Reece, St. Michael’s steward for pastoral care and community outreach ministries, who coordinated the project. “We want to make it as visible as possible so [the community] can come to us for help.”
St. Michael Parish in Olympia gave its outreach volunteers items emblazoned with the church logo as part of the parish’s “Wearing Our Faith on Our Sleeve” initiative. Photo: Courtesy Benedetta Reece
Reaching out to all
The project is part of a parish strategic plan to discern where the Holy Spirit is guiding the church community over the next 10 years, Reece said. Drafted in 2016, the plan is based on six elements of discipleship: to grow, worship, serve, give, connect and share.
McCarthy, the parish’s executive volunteer for community outreach, said the plan inspired the outreach committee to ask, “How can we reach out to all areas of the community: immigrants, homeless and the elderly?”
St. Michael’s parishioner Terry Massoth wears an apron with the St. Michael Parish logo while serving a meal at the parish’s winter shelter. Photo: Courtesy Benedetta Reece
Part of the answer was creating items with the parish logo. The hope is that volunteers who wear them will help spread the news of what St. Michael’s does and can do for the community, McCarthy said.
St. Michael’s is already known around town as a place people can go to get help, he said. A conversation about the hat or apron he’s wearing while volunteering at the shelter often turns into someone commenting, “‘Well, you can get clothes there or gas vouchers,’” McCarthy said. “Then they might ask, ‘Do you guys do this?’”
“We help them out in more ways than just serving the meal,” McCarthy noted.
A tool for evangelizing
Another hope, Reece said, is that the logo will be an evangelization tool, prompting people to ask volunteers about their faith. Some volunteers have already had that experience.
Whenever he wears his logo hat, it’s definitely a conversation starter, McCarthy said. “I usually have people tell me, ‘Well, I used to be Catholic,’” he said.
Father Jim Lee, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Olympia, and staff member Benedetta Reece present outreach volunteers with items bearing the church’s logo, a crucifix and a St. Michael medal, blessed by Father Lee. Photo: Courtesy Benedetta Reece
Parishioner Tim Gaffney, who takes the Eucharist to nursing home residents, said they see his logo bag and ask, “Can I pray with you, too?”
Gaffney has found the bag is also a good way to connect with other parishioners. “I always take it with me to the grocery store,” he said, noting it helps break the ice with people he recognizes from Mass or the parish directory.
The St. Michael’s items were designed by Bob Falkner, a former St. Michael’s staff member who attends Holy Family Mission at Frances.
“It’s all about evangelization,” said Falkner, whose graphics business produced the items. “It’s a great way for St. Mike’s to get their name out. It’s hard to find a parish that is as active as St. Mike’s,” he added.
The aprons, hats and bags given to its outreach volunteers are so popular that St. Michael’s has ordered more, available for other parishioners to buy at cost.
Initially, some volunteers were hesitant to wear the parish logo, not wanting to be “someone who shows off,” Reece said.
But, she said, “it’s very important for us to wear our faith wherever we go. This is what we do as agents of the Catholic faith in our town.”