Holiday scheduling best practices from St. Joan of Arc Parish in San Ramon, California

Advent and Christmas are a time for spiritual joy. They also bring additional church services and an increased need for volunteer liturgical ministers.

MSP “has an imperative role in scheduling our liturgical ministries during the Advent and Christmas season,” says Raymond Figueroa, the scheduler at St. Joan of Arc Parish in San Ramon.

Figueroa uses Ministry Scheduler Pro to coordinate 34 different ministries involving liturgy, teaching, support/service, spirituality, and hospitality. Here is a peek into his holiday scheduling “best practices” to help you use MSP to your advantage, no matter your church size.

Begin early – way early

Don’t just “Step into Christmas” like Elton John might…get a really big jump on it. Whereas many churches might start thinking about holiday scheduling the week before Thanksgiving, Figeroa recommends even earlier planning.

“In mid-October, I send out requests through MSP asking people to enter their vacation and ‘unavailable dates’ for November, December, and January,” said Figueroa. “We’ve been doing this as a standard practice for years.”

He realizes that most volunteers won’t have their Advent and Christmas break plans before Halloween hits, but the beauty of MSP is that it makes it easy to tweak schedules. How it works is once volunteers respond to the October availability request and the initial schedule is created, “They still have options to request a substitute through MSP,” as he reminds volunteers. “It gives everyone great flexibility, and our scheduled ministers have the autonomy to make their own substitution requests.”

Keep it fair

At St. Joan of Arc, there is great enthusiasm for serving at the Christmas and New Year’s Masses. “Generally, people are pretty generous and flexible about serving, with some serving multiple times on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” Figueroa said. A greeter, for example, might serve at one Christmas Mass and then stay to help greet the faithful arriving for the next Mass.

Since there is little doubt of having enough volunteers for these services, Figueroa lets everyone have an equal chance at a ministry for these liturgies. “I like to be equitable, so I create a separate holiday schedule post through MSP and let people know positions are open for sign-up on a first-come, first-serve basis,” he explained.

Using MSP in this way saves him a bit of time and effort. “I don’t have to worry about fielding phone calls from volunteers asking to serve at their preferred Masses and ministry positions,” Figueroa pointed out. “The convenience of simply clicking on the schedule post link makes it easy to sign up.”

Even in years where the schedule hasn’t filled up as quickly as usual, such as during the pandemic, the ability to share the link to the holiday schedule post has been an easy way to “give our ministers a gentle reminder that we still have a need.”

Once all positions are filled, he prints a sign-in sheet to post in the church vestibule to track attendance, which he said: “has always worked well for us!”

Affirm your volunteers

Liturgical ministers truly go the “extra mile” during the holiday season! Figueroa believes they deserve recognition and gratitude, which may encourage them to continue their important volunteer service — for example, holding a blessing of liturgical ministers during the liturgy or giving small gifts of appreciation.

Getting others involved in affirming volunteers is important too. “Our ministry leaders are great about communicating with and encouraging their respective teams,” Figueroa said. “As a result, when ministers are asked to serve more often during the holidays, above their regular commitments, they’re more likely to say yes.”

Whether your holiday scheduling situation is like St. Joan of Arc’s or a little different - these insights will help take some of the time and pressure out of the challenges you face. Here are a few additional resources to help you in scheduling special services:

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