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Long IslandReligion

Asking the Clergy: How do you welcome congregants back after summer?

Labor Day typically marks the end of the “summer slump” in attendance for many houses of worship. This week’s clergy discuss how the transition away from vacation mode is made sweeter with parties, special ceremonies and a return to the sanctuary.

Rabbi Matt Abelson

Jericho Jewish Center

Religion goes on year-round, but admittedly, due to school schedules and vacations — not to mention a lull in major holidays — many congregants are more distant from the synagogue during the summer than in the other seasons.

Formally, the two ways in which we welcome back members are a dessert reception and a barbecue. Both of these events provide low-key opportunities for congregants to reconnect with one another and clergy if they have been away or distant during July and August.

Welcoming members back may be a bit easier in the Jewish tradition because the turn of seasons coincides with the two most important holidays of the year: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, known together as the High Holidays. They are occasions that, more than any other, bring congregants in the doors once the summer has ended.

While I encourage congregants to attend synagogues in all seasons, I acknowledge that, occasionally, the pause in attendance during the summer can generate a freshness that initiates a period of newfound commitment.

The Rev. Natalie M. Fenimore

Minister of Lifespan Religious Education, Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, Manhasset

Historically, many Unitarian Universalist congregations recognize the end of summer with a celebration of Homecoming or Ingathering in September. This is a time when friends return from their summer travels, and we renew our connectedness.

Our congregation comes together in worship and begins religious education classes for children and youth. We also have a big picnic for everyone outside on the lawn. The air is filled with bubbles and grill smoke, music and storytelling.

Many Unitarian Universalist congregations have a ritual at Homecoming or Ingathering called Water Ceremony. During the ceremony, sometimes called the Water Communion, people bring to the worship service a small amount of water from a place that is meaningful to them, and pour their water together into a large bowl. As water flows from many sources, it is all life-giving.

Our combined water is symbolic of our shared faith coming from different sources and being life affirming. The water is blessed by the congregation and is sometimes boiled and used as the “holy water” in child dedications and other ceremonies. Often a small amount of water from one year is added to the water from the next as a symbol of our connectedness across time.

The Rev. Randolph Jon Geminder

Rector, Saint Mary's Episcopal  Church, Amityville

Many years ago I welcomed a college student back home at Christmastime. He expressed how great it was that the Mass was as he remembered it, and that the sacred traditions with which he grew up were still "alive and kicking." Although he loved being of the younger generation and had admittedly sowed many wild oats, he affirmed that the church needed to remain constant in a changing world, as a safe harbor for her dispersed children.

So it is with welcoming folks back at the end of summer. They need to know that their spiritual home is still there and as active, joyful and welcoming as ever. Our parish schedule does not change in summer — the choir sings, the daily Mass is still offered in addition to Sunday, and, most of the time, the church is open all day.

In short, we welcome folks home by reminding them that all is as it was, and there is no place on Earth where they are loved more.

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