Deeper Hospitality

gath space after Mass 2One of the struggles of most parishes–mine certainly included–is how to “do” hospitality. Years before I arrived, “ushers” and “greeters” were “replaced” with HM’s, hospitality ministers. The implication is that they do more than greet and ush. In principle, they do.

To be an usher is to fill a secular role. Seating people, pointing out the restrooms, and handing out programs are all duties one experiences at a concert or public lecture. Are ushers, greeters, or HM’s just filling any old role in my parish? Maybe it’s not so different from the music hall or political rally.

As a parish liturgist I struggle to infuse something more into the effort at welcoming people. I ask questions, like: are we really greeting parishioners? Really? These people are part of the “stones” of the community, according to Saint Peter.

Our HM’s ask questions: the woman who finds it uncomfortable to hold doors for some older men, who seem discomfited that a female is polite in this way to them.

The fine dotMagis blog addressed the general topic of hospitality here recently. Hospitality is less a function than an attitude. Can I expect the HM’s I oversee to realign to this attitude? Or those in your parish? What difference would it make if they did?

Three thoughts from this post make me wonder how to apply to church hospitality:

The challenge is to offer friendship without binding the guest and freedom without leaving them alone.

Can our aim be true? How can one fine tune dozens of people standing at the door and encourage them to get this just right?

Hospitality means openness to what guests and strangers bring to us. We receive a revelation from the guest which can change us and enrich our lives and open us to new possibilities and ways of thinking and living.

Here’s a difficult thought, especially for a university parish like mine. I’m not sure my parish is always open to a “revelation from the guest.” Enrichment is so often more palatable when it comes from a workshop. We can nod and affirm while we sit in corporate chairs. But then it comes to implementation, and guess what? The workshop leader isn’t here and doesn’t know my parish. So things stay largely the same.

One last thought: imitating Christ …

Often our lack of hospitality is simply the failure to notice and acknowledge others and their needs—the needs of the larger world and the needs of those closest to us. Jesus models that attentiveness. He noticed the sick, the excluded, the hungry, those that others passed by. God continues to be attentive. As we contemplate the ministry of Jesus, we are called to heighten our awareness of others so that we can carry on the ministry of Jesus.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Deeper Hospitality

  1. Liam says:

    I think offering friendship tends to be grandiose (in a kind of mirror image of the grandiosity of certain concepts of which traditionalists are fond – the tendency to grandiosity is very human…) and therefore prone to remain conceptual in this context, and I’d suggest that this idea is a classic half-baked noble-sounding-but-not-thought-through one. Jesus could offer friendship to the stranger because he could read souls, and thus be intimate with them. Most HMs, so far as I am aware, typically lack that charism. Real friendship is premised on intimacy.

    The more elemental issue with encounters between strangers is openness vs fear. An attitude of openness (being open to being surprised, as contemplatives ideally are, for example) can beget trust (and trustworthiness), which then becomes the foundation for intimacy, upon which friendship can grow.

    If one’s approach to hospitality is preoccupied with checking off a task list, one might be less open to surprise and more vulnerable to fear of failure. On the other hand, failure to look objectively at a spectrum of needs (which might well be inventoried and reviewed over time through tools like check lists) might also leave our imaginations static, and less open to surprise, just by a different route. (That is, one can often reach the same destination by opposite routes in these things….)

  2. Jim McCrea says:

    If there is one area in which most Protestant churches beat most Catholic churches hands down it is in the welcoming of visitors as they arrive … and leave. I have yet to visit a Catholic parish where I though they did a good job. My former parish was poor. One thing very necessay is to ensure that late arrivers are not abandoned once the mass starts and the doors are closed.

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