Sunsets For Liturgical Ministers

Do you ever wonder, as I do, if certain Church ministries will go dormant and die? In the recent past, we saw a brief resurgence in the role of commentator. The commentator at liturgy was supposed to explain things to people as the liturgy progressed. Sit now. Stand now. Sing now. Sit because of this. Stand because of that. Sing because we tell you to.

Thank goodness we have evolved from that in large part. The deacon is still in the rubrics to give directions at times. I like when the deacon just gestures the direction to stand or kneel. No words necessary.

In my current parish another ministry seems to be entering a fallow period: hospitality minister. It’s been difficult to fill the roster this semester. My scheduling guru told me he had a choice between scheduling a number of people almost every week or leaving large swaths of weekend evening Masses blank. The software, he told me, could decline to schedule people on consecutive weekends for the same ministry. Do it, I told him.

We wondered if HM’s being on duty every week was a discouraging factor. I don’t know that it is, but I also knew that weekly Massgoers could make the determination themselves if they wanted to pitch in as needed handing out hymnals from our racks and passing the collection baskets.

It was another campus ministry at which I served that did away with ushers entirely. Small baskets were clipped at the ends of the pews. During the preparation of gifts, each basket was passed down its row. The person on the end came toward the altar and emptied the money and envelopes into the bigger collection basket.

Getting back to the present, what if people feel well-greeted and welcomed as they come to church? I’ve not heard the usual suburban complaints about cold, unwelcome liturgies at my new place. What if the function of people greeting and welcoming is already happening by the ideal minister of hospitality: the entire parish? Books can be picked up and put away by adults. Bulletins can be left on tables near the entrance and inner doorways. One basket could be kept at the end of every pew. As long as the whole parish was doing its job welcoming and greeting newcomers, other members, and visitors, would I really need a full schedule?

Has anybody else phased out ushers?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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9 Responses to Sunsets For Liturgical Ministers

  1. Gavin says:

    “What if the function of people greeting and welcoming is already happening by the ideal minister of hospitality: the entire parish?”

    Duh. This is what should be happening. As someone who does visit churches frequently, that is the one overriding factor in where I return to: are the people friendly or do I get a forced handshake by someone guilted into being a “hospitality minister” or do I get glares for wearing a suit and tie? Yet friendliness won’t happen unless people really want to be at Mass.

    What I find helps is pre-Mass activities. At my prior church, although there weren’t any activities scheduled before the early Mass, there was usually a few people chatting in the narthex whom I could stop to greet as I entered. It always started off my work day right. Another part of this is ending “ethnic Catholicism” where if your last name doesn’t end in the right letters, no one wants you there.

    There’s so much work to get done, but I think making up “ministries” doesn’t help.

  2. Liam says:

    There’s another issue: what does “friendly” look like to strangers? There used to be clearer regional preferences, but our mobile society means many strangers are From Away, so what they think of as friendly might not be what locals think of as friendly. The cultural residue of different regions has not been erased. For example, many non-New Englanders still find New Englander socially cold or reserved, whereas many New Englanders still have a social habit of respecting a desire for a certain privacy (that’s why many celebrities come here to get away).

    While there are seekers who are turned off by the relative anonymity of many non-rural US Catholic parishes, there are others who find it a blissful relief from the comparatively relentless befriending one can encounter in other denominations. (And there are many non-American cultures in which “typical” American friendliness might be perceived as socially aggressive.)

    An architect-liturgical designer friend of mine says that one mistake of many modern Catholic churches is that they fail to give congregants a chance to hide and get lost. Catholic churches have to be a place where people can both gather in the Lord and join the Lord to get away (as Jesus frequently did).

    As for ushers aka hospitality ministers: there should be a designated person to whom people not familiar with a church can be readily pointed to direct their questions.

    And do make the ritual of the Mass (whether in missalettes, in the front of the hymnal, et cet.) and the readings easily had by newcomers.

  3. Randolph Nichols says:

    Excellent points Liam. I’m forwarding your comments to the head of our parish committee (of which I am a member) that has been discussing the “welcoming” issue. The committee reflects a diversity of opinion that I wasn’t expecting.

  4. Neil says:

    I’m an usher; I haven’t ever called myself (or been called) a “hospitality minister.” I do think that ushers are useful, or at least potentially useful:

    1. In case of emergencies, there is someone who is tasked with gently asking a disruptive person to come to the narthex, or calling 911, or calling for the assistance of medical professionals, or getting pre-stocked sugar products for a diabetic in distress, or getting the defibrillator, or helping with sudden evacuation due to fire. Obviously, most ushers have no special training, and perhaps a small congregation can handle most of these situations more or less automatically, but a specially designated responder might make things much more efficient.

    2. Some churches have ushers lead people to their seats during services to mimimize disruption and awkwardness, and to gently prevent people from taking their seats during the Bible readings, which would prove to be distracting.

    3. The chance of theft from the collection baskets is lower if ushers keep an eye on them. At our church, two ushers are present when the money is taken from baskets and placed in bags, and then put into the equivalent of a safe. I also assume that the chance of theft from the pews, especially during communion, is much lower if an usher is present, and, again, keeping an eye on things.

    4. As others have mentioned, there should be someone who is quite visible who can answer questions – or even anticipate questions. One obvious one has to do with those who can’t negotiate the communion line because of handicap – some, especially those who are temporarily disabled, simply don’t realize that the priest or deacon or eucharistic minister can bring the Eucharist to them, if they request it.

    5. I take Liam’s point about “relentless befriending.” When I greet people, I simply open the outside door, nod, and say “Welcome to St Paul’s,” and then something about it being the Second Week of Advent, or the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, or just “Happy Sunday.” No forced handshake. It would be a terrible thing to suggest, however subtly or unintentionally, that one has to be extroverted and free from any trace of sadness or anxiety to come to Mass.

    But I think that there is also a perception that the Catholic Church is something like an impersonal machine that runs of itself. I really think, based on my experience, that people like some
    acknowledgement that they are there and that it is a good thing. This is especially the case for infrequent Mass-goers, or people who are arriving – for whatever reason – late, and are worried that their non-attendance or tardiness will be immediately noticed and frowned open.

    Furthermore, I think that Catholic churches do a very bad job of involving people who are unlikely to immediately volunteer for things. The usher is a familiar face who is unintimidating, and is (I would think) a likely recipient of hesitant questions from habitual non-joiners: “What is Cursillo?” “What happens at Scripture Study?” “Why is the priest dressed like a clown?” “Do we really ‘rise again from ashes, to create ourselves anew?'”

    Well, hopefully not the last ones.

    Neil

  5. Liam says:

    Randolph

    You could mention (or neglect to mention) that I am a fellow St Paul’s parishioner…I didn’t realize that ministry was under discussion. Then again, there’s much I don’t know.

    Neil’s points are even better than mine, of course…

  6. Tony says:

    We have a vibrant ushering ministry in our parish! Why would we consider phasing out one of the last classicly male ministries in our parish.

    We did phase out our liturgist thought. That turned out to be a ministry we could do without.

  7. Todd says:

    Wow, Tony, you really got rid of your priest?

  8. Tony says:

    Todd,

    No, we kept the priest. It seems that he was under the impression that “liturgist” was part of his job description.

  9. Todd says:

    Tony, being a liturgist is more than part of a job description for a bishop or priest. It is their responsibility. Some are in the position of being able to carry out that responsibility. Other designate a lay person to carry it out. The curial corollary is the CDWDS.

    Good leadership assesses when it can fruitfully delegate the role, and when it need not.

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