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?