Church Hospitality: A Two-Way Street?

Blogger Jerry Galipeau has been a man without a parish for some months. Two weeks ago, he wrote about his experience worshiping at different parishes in the Chicago area. And not being welcomed anywhere.

Last week he wrote a bit more about it. This bit intrigued me:

One person has suggested that hospitality and welcome needs to be a kind of two-way street in Catholic parishes. He likened the experience to someone who goes shopping for a particular computer in an electronics store. If not waited on by a salesperson, the shopper needs to reach out, find a salesperson, and begin to seek help to find the particular computer. This got me thinking. Perhaps when I arrive at a parish, I should go to any person and simply say, “Hello, I am visiting here, can you tell me about your parish?” I think I will try it over the next few months and see what happens.

I don’t think this lets anybody inside the church doors off the hook. But it does shine a little illumination on the importance of a person taking responsibility for engaging a community and making one’s home with them. Even if such a person is an introvert. Usually, that just means energy expended rather than gained.

Maybe our task in the parish isn’t to “service” people by welcoming them. But to create an environment in which they feel/sense/experience welcome on a level appropriate to their personal situation.

I don’t get on the road much. I’m thinking about my four weeks in Omaha this summer, though. I could worship with the community at Creighton. Maybe the first Sunday there I will introduce myself and ask someone to tell me about the community.

It would be fascinating to go to some of the parishes around Omaha and do the same. On the other hand, I already get two, sometimes three Masses on a weekend as it is. I’m supposed to be away to study. Not to perform liturgy experiments.

Anybody have any experiences of visiting a parish, or coming in new to the community, and asking, “Can you tell me about your church?”

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to Church Hospitality: A Two-Way Street?

  1. Liam says:

    Todd: You pasted twice to the same link. This is the entry you’re missing:

  2. Brendan Kelleher svd says:

    Though his work came in for increasingly critical assessment in later years, many of the basic insights of James Fowler and his “Stages of Faith” can help shed light on both on how people approach a community when they are “shopping around”, and why they attach themselves to a particular parish community.
    Then there are still pastors who consciously or unconsciously nourish a certain type of parshioner, so, for example, creating a parish where people looking for a more proactive living out of their faith life don’t feel welcome.
    Over the years, when back “home” in the British Isles, I’ve attended weekday and Sunday Masses with my elder sister and younger brother at their “home” (???) parishes in the UK and Ireland where there seemed such a disconnect between the celebrant and the congregation, and among members of the congregation, that I wondered how it functioned as a parish.
    And there were the years when both my parents were alive and I visited them at home – they lived in a town that was never “home” to me; their parish priests were at different times diocesan, Benedictine and Vincentian, each PP being very different. All of them moved around over the years, and I tend to get back to that side of the world from Japan, where I’ve lived since the mid -seventies, on average every five years.
    Behind this issue lies, I beleive, unfinished business with regard to the reception of Vatican II’s teaching on both the Church and the LIturgy. That is however a topic that would require an even longer comment.

  3. Jim McCrea says:

    My experience in visiting Protestant parishes is that there have ALWAYS been greeters to welcome visitors (the churches were small enough that it was easy to pick out visitors) and make sure that they knew where to go. Not true for too many Catholic parishes I’ve visited.

    At my parish we have announcements prior to mass and one of the things we do is to ask visitors to stand so that we can greet them. Those who do are applauded and well-placed greeters go up to them and give them a brochure about the parish.

    Most of us regulars who are anywhere near the visitors try to make it a point after mass to go up to them, thank them for attending, and ask them how they found us. We also make a point to invite them to the parish hall in the basement where we have coffee and food. Yes, food … real food!

    We are inevitably told that by the visitors that they have been “blown away” by the friendliness of the parish.

    I firmly believe that the onus is on the parish, not the visitor, to be on the lookout for newbies and to welcome them.

    • Liam says:

      “At my parish we have announcements prior to mass and one of the things we do is to ask visitors to stand so that we can greet them. Those who do are applauded and well-placed greeters go up to them and give them a brochure about the parish.”

      Having once been in a parish that did this, all I can say is how grateful I and many others are that we are no longer in a place that does that! It’s a dreadful practice for *many* people. It screams: Introverts Must Remain Closeted. Funny how unwelcoming a welcome can be, all with the best of intentions.

  4. Ray MacDonald says:

    Yes, when we moved to this little town in 2005 I took a trip up before our move to deliver some lighting parts for the new house. During that time I visited the local Catholic Church and when I saw the caretaker outside trimming some shrubbery I asked if I could look inside.
    He took me in, gave me a tour, made sure I had a copy of last Sunday’s bulletin. He was justifiably proud of the interior – it has been redone in the original 1913 style, and has glorious natural lighting in the daytime.
    He’s a great guy and remembers my name to this day – unfortunately he’s not a typical member of the parish, but a great guy nevertheless.

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