The parish as more than sacramental ATM

The parish as more than sacramental ATM

The previous thread on “Welcoming the stranger” has turned to discussion of “welcoming ministries” and post-Mass hugging and forced friendliness. Some people say they don’t go to Mass for that; they just want to get in, worship, and get out.

First, we shouldn’t need “welcoming ministries” or anything like that. It’s a typical modern appraoch to any perceived deficiency, which is to set up a bureacracy or process. It shouldn’t be up to any particular people to make the parish welcoming. It should just happen naturally. So how does it happen? St. Francis said, “Evangelize always and when necessary use words.” I would paraphrase it for this situation and say, “Always be welcoming and when necessary go up and introduce yourself.”

What I’m suggesting is that these people are your neighbors and potential friends. Mass is not just “me and Thee.” No Christian is an island; we are the Body of Christ and we are part of that Body in relation to one another. Get to know the people in your parish. Make an effort, but do it naturally.

At the end of Mass, don’t just run out the door to get in your car and get home as fast as possible.  Are they doing coffee and donuts in the parish hall? Go over and have one and strike up a conversation.

Do you see someone you recognize from church at the supermarket? Say Hi as you walk by.

Is there a parish picnic or St. Patrick’s Day dinner? Grab someone to go with, and find someone you’d think you might like to meet and talk to them. In other words, make your parish about more than being a sacramental ATM that you only use to make withdrawals. I’m not saying you have to be obnoxious, but smile at people. Don’t walk out the door with your head down, trying to avoid everyone else. Be open to those who are looking for a friendly face or to welcome them in.

Like I said, I have heard from many people how cold their parish was when they first encountered it. Some converts have said that they had a hard time leaving their friendly Protestant churches and entering cold Catholic ones, but persevered anyway. How many have not?

  • Considering the fallout that occured when a NYC peacenik Jesuit was sent to be pastor in a rural New Mexico parish, where a good half of the parishioners were military retirees and families (I know it sounds like the conceit of a strange sitcom for EWTN or something but it’s a true story), I could well believe this story. Of course, I’m not really at liberty to talk about details in this case I mentioned, but plenty of people in the northeastern corner of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe knew about it when it happened a couple of years ago (right during the buildup to Gulf War II – ouch). I could definitely see Fr. Pax asking young men in short haircuts to get lost. Only imagine if the whole parish had such a “peaceful” culture. How inclusive!!!

  • Maybe it’s just the larger parishes here, but for the most part I can’t imagine that happening in or near Chicago.  A small, tight-knit rural parish would be much more aware of strangers.

  • Still, it is a good illustration of how unfriendly many Catholic parishes, especially here in the Northeast, have become.

    I know I’m missing something here but can’t figure it out.

    How is a “parish in San Bernadino County, California” representative of “unfriendly…Catholic parishes, especially in the Northeast”?

    Isn’t San Bernadino in the Southwest or is my geography (like my math) totally screwed up?

    The reason I ask is that my parish, which is in Boston, is so skimpy that we’re practically willing to pay people to join! (Not with real money, but you know what I mean.)

  • You’re being too literal, Kelly. This California parish is representative of many unfriendly parishes throughout the country, and I’ve noticed the trend especially here in the Northeast. I’ve had more than a few people, especially those who have just moved to the area, tell me that when first started going to Mass at a parish no one greeted them or attempted to get to know, but generally treated them like an interloper or outsider. Maybe the cathedral is different. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is.

  • YouP>
    2005-05-05 01:35:05
    2005-05-05 05:35:05
    If you’re moving to CT…..don’t. We are God’s frozen people…

  • My parish in Queens is pretty friendly… and we had a soldier returned from Iraq at Mass last week. He got a pretty warm welcome.

  • Hmmm. Are we getting into a discussion of Most parishes have several Masses a weekend. Many people attend the same Mass every week, but some do not. If you see someone you don’t recognize, how do you know if they are new or if maybe they usually attend a different Mass?
    For many people, Mass is the only time they see the people who belong to the Parish.

    But I’m probably the wrong person to comment on this situation, I am generally a friendly guy, but I’ve talked to parents of other children who attend our Parish school for about 4-5 years and still don’t know their names. Its like you start with small talk, hi’s and how ya doing’s, to other chit chat, and if you haven’t introduced yourself, you reach the point of no return. It would be emarassing to say, “I know I have been seeing you and talking to you for 4 years now, but I don’t know what the heck your name is.” When you reach that point, it is probably better to hire a P.I. to find out their identity ;>)

  • < Who do they think they are? >

    Whoa!  Stop & think about this.  30 to 45 minutes previous, you called them your brothers and sisters, and asked them to pray for you.  Don’t you think it’s shameful that you’d do that when you wanted something, but now you won’t even acknowledge their existence?  What’s worse, ignoring the EMs or other laity but shaking hands with the priest is acting like the suck-up.  Stop it!  Either say hello to both or shun both.

    Question – Why does the Church have so many problems?  Answer – It’s a dysfunctional family.  The Bundys (Married with Children) were saints by comparison – at least they talked to each other.

    Pope Benedict said something about we need adult faith.  Well, that’s not gonna happen as long as a large segment of grownups in the Church resemble pre-schoolers in the back seat: “Don’t touch me!”  “Stop looking at me!”  “Mom, she’s looking out my window!  Make her stop!”   

  • Joanne and greeters, and these door guard/EM’s, and who tried (unsuccessfully, thank God) to get the tabernacle moved off to the side. 

    EM’s at the door is just another attempt by activist “Catholics” trying to bring more protestantism into the Church.

  • But back to these Marines – today, it’s quite the fashion to have shaved heads or very close-cropped hair.  What would make someone think of skinheads?  I would think police officers or military first.  Skinheads would be waaaay down on the list.  It says more about the accusers than the accused.

  • I was under the impression that these guys were simply attending mass both weeks.  My mistake.

  • Re sacramental ATM,

    Could you imagine making it to Heaven and receiving that “name” that gives one the understanding of the meaning of his life, only to find that it is an ATM PIN #!

  • The reasons for alienation in the typical American parish can vary from one setting to another. Along much of the Eastern seaboard, the pace of life is relatively fast, and people just don’t take the time. Longer commutes are also typical here, and people have less time for parish groups once tending to the needs of driving their kids everywhere.

    I’ve never lived in Boston, but my overall impression of New England is, that unless you’re a third- or even fifth-generation resident, it’s hard to break the ice when you’re “new” in town.

    All over the country, the suburbs are not conducive to building neighborliness, what with the rarity of ever seeing your neighbor, and needing a car to go anywhere at all.

    The leadership of parishes, sensing this alienation, respond in the manner of any committee—another gimmick. Well, I for one am not impressed with all the glad-handing. I left a parish that was notorious for that. On the other hand, try getting a priest or lay leader to return a damn phone call. You call that “caring and sharing”?

    I call it showing off.

    The solution has to start from the top, with a pastor who favors substance over style. He’d have to start by acting his age (a rarity with the 1960s throwbacks). From there, it’s a matter of realizing that not everybody in his assembly is husband/wife/2.4 children. Revitalize the Holy Name Society, the Ladies Sodality, support the K of C council if the parish has one, and put them in charge of the parish picnic. Make these aggregations the backbone of parish life. Have a swing dance on Saturday night. Have a coffee on Sunday morning. Open the doors of the parish center for more than just office space for an overblown staff.

    You know the rest.

  • Our parish is small enough that there’s only one early mass (7am) and one at 10:30.  Unfortunately, the 10:30 has been turned into one of those awful guitar masses.  It was supposed to have been only once a month, but somehow it morphed into a more than regular occurrence.  It is so awful that I left mass twice after walking in when it wasn’t supposed to be “campfire day”. 

    I go to a neighboring parish and will until (hopefully) the summer hours kick in and they drop the strumming camp leaders.

    This didn’t start until some new people got on the parish council.

  • Dom,
    I couldn’t agree more heartily. 

    I was saddened by some of the comments in the other post that seemed to say “If you ain’t orthodox I do’wanna even make eye contact”.

    If we are so totally convinced in the solidness of the Faith, why aren’t we bursting to share that with others? One of the best way to do that is engage other parishoners.  The nominal might be intrigued with your passion.  You might find that “Bob the EEM” has a very deep and lively faitn.  You might find that even if you disagree with Don and Barb on Church issues you can agree that childraising is tough or that you both can help with the Parish picnic.  You could find that you become less harsh towards your neighbor and listen more while still holding on to all that we know is wonderful in the faith.

    It’s safe to stay with those who agree with us, but even if we are “right” we aren’t perfect and the community has a lot to teach us about charity and mercy.

    Whenever my orthodox friends here at the parish start whinning my first question is “Have you tried getting on that committee to change it? Do you know the person in charge? Have you taken the time to get to know staff member X and express concern while at the same time being open and charitable?”

    The Body of Christ goes two ways: Up and Down, (Christ and us) and left and right (the community and us).  Both parts are needed to make us holy.

  • Ok, let me tell you about what really ticks me off.  I’ve noticed more and more parishes do this.

    I go in, I kneel and wish to compose myself in prayer for a few minutes….. then……

    “As a sign of the Body of Christ, please turn to one another and greet eachother.”

    Leave me alone! I’m in the PRESENCE OF THE BODY OF CHRIST.  He’s right THERE!  In the Tabernacle.

    Please, just let me pray for a few minutes.  I have a couple kids, and it’s about the only silent time I get all week.

  • I want to point out because someone has already emailed me about this: I am not talking about socializing during Mass or what Fr. Rob Johansen calls the “Grip-n-Grin.” I hate it as much as the next guy.

    I’m talking about socializing with people after Mass or outside of church.

  • I feel closest to others in the parish when everyone is quietly praying.  Since I receive early, I often watch others in the communion line – rather I pray for them and rejoice in what binds us together.  I often pray for people who seem to be strangers or for people who, for whatever reason, are not receiving.

    I do think that parishes should have some kind of mechanism for new people and converts to connect with others in the parish.  At least coffee and donuts after one Sunday mass.

    But in the end, we are at Mass to worship and not to socialize.  To worship, not to suit ourselves, but in the way God in his mercy is teaching us to worship him.

  • And people get connected to them when… they’re invited! When they get to know other people in the parish. And then when you see them at Mass, you have a name to go with the face and a history and suddenly you’re not just a solitary soul at Mass.

  • I remember the coffee hour at my Unitarian church years ago…the coffee hour was sacrosanct if not sacramental….In my experience catholic coffee hours don’t usually go anywhere…except back to the urn. Small study groups are better…now if they want to serve Dunkin Donuts coffee brand I might reconsider.

  • “What would make someone think of skinheads?  I would think police officers or military first.  Skinheads would be waaaay down on the list.  It says more about the accusers than the accused.”

    What no one seems to have noticed is that these incidents took place at the Spanish-language Mass.  It’s an even bet that the vast majority of parishioners in attendance at the Spanish-language Mass would be Hispanics [heavy sarcasm here]. 

    What with the vigilante Minuteman wackos much in the news of late, it’s only reasonable that Hispanics would be intimidated by [presumably, given the skinhead assumption] white, near-bald, muscled young men engaging in scanning the crowd, then leaving without talking to the crowd [again, presumably].  In fact, it says both quite a lot in favor of both the police and the “accusers” that the parishioners didn’t assume police officers or military first.  Police officers looking for someone don’t mysteriously scan crowds at Mass.  They talk to the pastor first, or perhaps mingle in the pews in plainclothes.

    I know the knee-jerk reaction in St. Blog’s is to blame everything on Sr. Mary Sappo, the hypocrisy of the “spirit-of-Vatican-II” crowd, yadda yadda.  But please, put yourself in the place of people who are often harassed because of their ethnicity. 

    I’d bet if the same incident occurred with African-American Marines scanning the crowd at a Tridentine Mass, half the lily-white congregation would wet their pants.

  • Pul N sez:
    < forcing people to shake hands with them >

    In any other situation – at work, down at the local, etc. – people would just shake the hand that’s offered to them and consider it normal civilized behavior.  Hey, I even took Rep. Sandy Levin’s hand, and I detest the guy.  It’s only at church where people suddenly turn anti-social and make an issue of it.
    < trying to bring more protestantism into the Church >

    Sorry, guy, but that dog won’t hunt.  I’ve read it all in the trad lit, and the vast majority of their claims that something is Prod are so outrageously goofy they would only be believed by Kool-Aid people. 

    Expecting priests to do what a lay person can do just as well (and probably should) leads to burnt-out priests.  This mad dash to the parking lot to be the first one out of there is not – repeat, not – a good thing for Catholics to be associated with.

    You want to know why the Marine incident happened?  Why did no one have the presence of mind to just go up to them and ask politely, “May I help you?”  Where were the ushers?  What do they think Fr Pat has them for?  And why were the cops expected to do their job for them?

    It’s the “Let Fr Pat do it all” mentality. 

  • Dave writes:
    <Revitalize the Holy Name Society…>

    Sounds good, but parish activities don’t create parishoners; parishoners create parish activities.  If there’s a in-crowd of cold fish running the parish sending signals that outsiders are neither wanted or needed, they’re also running the activities.  They aren’t going to assimilate newbies into parish liife.

    True story…

    When I was on active duty, moving around also meant a frequent change of parish.  Got to a new place and went to Mass (solo BTW; wife Donna hadn’t come up yet).  After Mass, look through the bulletin and see all these wonderful things to get involved with, stick around for coffee & donuts…

    and get completely ignored.

    It was awful.  There’s all these people there having a gay old time, but no one showed any inclination to at least nod.  Thought I’d introduce myself to the priest, who was engaged in conversation with a small group.  When they left, I started to say hello, but he just looked right through me, turned and walked away.  At this point, I removed myself from the premises, wadded the bulletin, and never went back.

    I suppose I could have just bit the bullet, put in a weekly appearance and nothing more, but this was way too much to stomach.  It happened 25 years ago, but even now if I found out the place had burnt to the ground, I’d just grunt – back then I would have cheered.

    We scouted around and jumped boundaries, but I wonder just how many people decide to walk permanently out of the Church (not just a parish) because of that crowd.

    I’ve other horror stories of parish life in the US, but this tops the others, so I’ll let it suffice.  (In all honesty, I’ve also some very good ones, so the situation isn’t all that bleak.)

  • DJ:

    You’re right, no argument here. I was providing a general answer, not a complete one. If it makes you feel any better, your story happens to me all the time. Try being middle-aged, living alone, and divorced, in the Land of Orthodoxy (aka the Diocese of Arlington). I usually start by saying hello to someone’s toddler hanging over their shoulder. I’ve gotten good at guessing their ages, and we take it from there. I also go to a monthly supper club predominated by young couples. We discuss our jobs, theology, baseball, and I get to hold the kids.

    Most of the time. But all this happens due to the initiative of the young associate pastor, who fortunately was blessed with a clue. Which is more than I can say for some of them.

    “If thereend him thank-you note so we’ll go back some time. 
    One thing I love about my parish is that it’s in DC. We get college kids, bums, little old Filipinas, Salvadorans, Africans, Indians, purple haired Goths, business people, tourists, a little bit of everything and nobody stares.

  • I agree completely, Domenic.  Mass is the time to worship God.  I don’t want to take a coffee break in Mass.  Honestly, Mass is what has kept me in the Church, not the company of other Catholics, which has been disappointing to date, frankly.

    I would like to see the Catholic church transcend its amazing hollowness and begin to encourage people to learn the faith, understand its beautiful foundations and build fellowship with each other OUTSIDE Mass.  The key is NOT JOINING THE DAMN COMMITTEE.  That’s a Catholic hangup.  Being on a committee won’t make you more holy, nor will it aid evangelization or much of anything else.  90% of it is just wasting time.

    Not only that, but way too much is expected of the committee structure in the Church, to the deficit of real community in the Church.

    Believe it or not, many Catholics who aren’t on the silly committees never figure out what it is those who are on committees do.  We don’t communicate in the Church worth a damn.

    Example:  So when you want to talk about the faith, where do you have to go??  The internet, natch.  Because it takes a medium like this one to scrape up enough catholics who care to get a conversation underway.  Pathetic.


  • Kelly,

    You ask: ic and Kelly Clark
    Working for a parish gives me an insight that I feel many pew-sitters don’t get.  And it irks me NO end that those who don’t get involved criticize what is or is not happening.

    My point was get involved. Committees DO make a difference.

    For instance, if you are working with the Art and Environment commitee, and you know good art, know the guidelines of the Church, etc, you can influence what is done for decorating the sanctuary.

    If you are on the committee that decides what the Church should offer the Small Group communities, you can be sure-as a few of our parishoners did-that the material is excellent-they are using Dr Hahn and other good stuff instead of the Renew garbage.

    If you are a parent and are on the RelEd committee, you could make a stand about what texts are being used.

    As a full time paid employee of the parish I’d give my right arm to have excellent folks GET INVOLVED with the programs that either I offer or the Parish offers because then I don’t have to fight so freakin’ hard to have excellence in what I have to offer. I have someone to back me up and offer to help me not stand alone so often.

    There is also the benefit that when parish staff sees that someone is involved, they are listened to much more.  If someone whines to the pastor but isn’t involved, it’s hard to take them serously.

    So before you bleep “commitee” and criticize all that you don’t like about your parish, get involved.

  • It doesn’t bother me at all if people don’t talk to me in Church.  That’s not the point and it’s not what I’m there for anyway.  The church is not some kind of club.  In fact it’s problematic if a lot of talking/visiting and so on is going on in the Church at Mass time.

    Rather, what are obnoxious are things like these:
    1) when you would like to attend a church event on a weeknight and either there aren’t any, or they’re closed unless you belong to some kind of clique.
    2) the incredible snottiness (bordering on bitchiness) that can occur at planning sessions for picnics and so on.  The people who are “in charge” consider it their party and really don’t want volunteers although they are pressured apparently to ask for them.  Sometimes it looks like aloof superiority they’re trying to effect, which is really funny in a most obnoxious sort of way.
    3) the downright nastiness that exists if you don’t have the “right” set of political or liturgical views.
    4) the pervasive and general nastiness in the parking lot of every catholic church I’ve ever attended.  I’m convinced this alone sends some recent converts off to the Baptists.
    5) the non-communicative touchiness of many Catholics about just about everything.  They don’t know what they’re talking about mostly, so they just insist on their story.  Period.  Like that country song—“th-th-that’s my story and i-i-i’m stickin’ to it.  Wouldn’t it just be easier to learn the faith in the first place????  Hello.

  • michigancatholic and Kelly Clark

    Now there’s an odd couple! wink

    So before you bleep work to change things.  I NEED folks like you so very much and it *s’s me off to hear people spout of here and I need you in the real world.

    So don’t knock being a part of your local parish structure, committee or no.  The parish is the place people should be meeting Christ, not on the internet.  Instead we find parish the place where folks are talked down to, stay on the surface with and don’t talk much about the Real Presence. In order for that to happen, good people here at St Blogs, Steubenville grads, NET grads, good orthodox types are desparately needed if souls are to be saved.  Please don’t not get involved. Souls need you. (after Christ’s grace…yes…)