Advertising campaign encourages return to church

By Tim Guidera - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) – Beverly Gorden didn't even know something in her life was missing until she found it again.

"Every day I wake up," said Gordon, "I realize what my faith is and what God is about and how important the Catholic church.''

Gorden returned to the religion she was raised in five years ago, after an extended period away from the church and before the advertising campaign that is now encouraging other lapsed Catholics to come home to the nation's largest denomination.

Catholics Come Home has been rolled out in dozens of cities across the country, including the Diocese of Savannah in late 2010. While it is too early to tell how effective the television ads have been here, 90,000 lapsed Catholics have returned to the church in Phoenix since the campaign was launched there three years ago.

"We're not critical of people who've left the church or are not practicing their faith,'' says Bishop J. Kevin Boland, of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah. "Basically, we're trying to welcome them back into the fold.''

"If people have left the church for whatever reason,'' added Father Jeremiah McCarthy, pastor of Savannah's Blessed Sacrament Church, "whether it's some disagreement with the church some disagreement with a sister or priest, that should not keep them from the fullness of being part of a Catholic community.''

Catholics Come Home was started by former advertising executive Tom Peterson, who said he received a calling to use his professional skills to help the church.

It is not an initiative by the hierarchy of the church to convert new members, but primarily a lay movement. It is described as neighbors reaching out to other neighbors with a gentle invitation back to the faith they hold in common.

"Faith properly understood is something we want to share,'' says Bishop Boland. "We should be wanting to give it away so that others can be enriched by it.''

We're not trying to bash anybody over the head with anything,'' said Father Dan Firmin, of the Catherdeal of St. John the Baptist. "We're just here to simply extend the invitation, to say, look, we're here, we're your brothers and sisters and we love you.''

Since the campaign launched here in December, Gorden says she has rediscovered a sense of fulfillment.

And she has found loved ones sharing an interest in joining her back at church.

"Every time you see the ad, it's kind of like your spirit rises and you're thankful for that welcome home,'' said Gorden, who attends St. Ann's Church in Richmond Hill. "I saw the commercial and I hear the comments that said 'I was missing' or 'I felt confused' and I guess I did and I didn't even know it. The commercials make me realize I made the right choice."

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