At my parish, there is only one English Mass, so we have mostly the same faces every Sunday. Our tradition is to invite everyone to have breakfast together at a local restaurant afterwards. Consequently, we have developed a unique camaraderie.
Ours is a tourist town, so we have many restaurants nearby. We try to go to a different one each Sunday so that we can spread our patronage around. Depending on the season, we’ll have anywhere from 4 to 25 people at breakfast.
Welcomed, Ignored or Rejected?
In previous parishes, I have often felt like a perpetual outsider. Sometimes I was too committed elsewhere to have time for church organizations, so that accounts for part of it. However, other times I tried to get involved but felt rejected.
A friend told me that she was an usher at her urban church for thirteen years, but nobody said so much as “Hello” to her. Sounds like my old neighborhood in Houston. Maybe that’s just a problem with city living.
In a rural parish, I don’t think anybody could slip in and out of Mass unnoticed or un-accosted! Somebody’s bound to say, “I don’t think we’ve met. Are you new?” Followed by: “Are you related to X?” “Have you met Y?” “Would you like to join our group Z?”
It’s like the parish where my daughter once lived. The congregation was about half black and half white. They had all known each other forever. If you were a stranger, someone made sure to welcome you.
There, the sign of peace took a good five minutes as everyone wandered around with greetings. That was the hugging-est parish I’ve ever known! It may have been urban, but it was in a distinct neighborhood with a real history and sense of community.
I have also attended Masses where, at the peace greeting, people were encouraged to introduce themselves as a way to get to know each other. I noticed that only the most gregarious did that. Everyone else just shook hands or nodded and said “Peace.”
Sadly, people tend to be too reserved or snobbish to readily greet a stranger. Some think that such exchanges are not appropriate in church. However, what better place to love and get to know your neighbor?
One parish I attended would ask newcomers and visitors to stand, introduce themselves, and tell where they lived. It was really interesting to learn who you got each week! All were given a small memento and asked to come again.
That practice worked also to remind the longstanding parishioners that they, as individuals, needed to welcome new parishioners and help them feel included. When it comes to joining anything, people like to be asked and appreciated.
In one parish, I did my best to get involved, but as a single mother, the pastor and ruling clique didn’t see a role for me in the parish organizations. It was as if my “type” belonged only in a support group—which was outside their intended purview.
Parishes really need to be careful about the image they project. The welcome mat has to be out for everyone. It’s impossible to be all things to all people, but parishes need to offer as broad a spectrum of outreach as possible.
I recently read the story of a man who went through quite a transformation to become Catholic. Despite his sincere longing for the faith, soon afterwards and for about ten years, he was barely attending Mass because he felt so left out and alone at church.
Catholic Identity and Bonding
Catholics cannot risk having this effect on each other. With anti-Catholicism running rampant again, we need each other greatly. We should rejoice in our fellowship and in the wonder of Catholicism.
In previous blogs, I have written about maintaining a Catholic identity in a secular culture, following Catholic traditions and having Catholic books, magazines, and objects in the home. Strengthening this identity is critical to keeping the Church relevant in your life. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/musingsfromthepew/2021/09/catholic-identity-versus-a-secularized-environment/
If you also have a Catholic group of friends or belong to a Catholic organization, you further solidify your connection to the Church because you are likely to share views on Catholic issues. It’s amazing how much you learn and are fortified this way.
My breakfast group, after exchanging gossip and news of course, might discuss Church matters. Lately, we’ve come to realize that our group has reaffirmed not only our place in the Catholic family, but also our relationship as family to each other.
A restaurant breakfast is not feasible for most Mass-goers, but the coffee and donuts or parish hall breakfast that many parishes offer can achieve much of the same goal of bonding. Take advantage of this outreach. Be Catholic. Be family.