Allow me to share two different experiences of Mass.
The first one:
A young dad and his toddler walk into church, lots of people everywhere. No one says, “Good morning! Welcome to ______. We are so happy you joined us this morning!” He received a scolding look from an older parishioner and stern words when his toddler lost his mind during the consecration. During the homily some insensitive comments were made about divorced people, when the deacon preaching doesn’t know this young dad’s wife just left him two weeks ago. Leaving Mass with his son, this dad feels hurt and irritated.
Do you think this young dad felt welcome at this parish? No.
Now, a second example:
An elderly couple arrives at church. The husband pulls to the curb and helps his wife with her walker. Seeing her struggle up the sidewalk, someone eagerly greets her and helps her inside: “Good morning, ma’am! Let me help you inside!” By the time this woman gets inside, two other people have greeted or warmly acknowledged her. The husband meets his wife inside after parking the car, and finds the same gentleman who helped her inside is still chatting with her. When it comes time for Communion, the couple is touched when an usher has already arranged for holy Communion to be brought to them. As they leave Mass, the priest chats with them saying, “Have a great day. I don’t recognize either of you, but please tell me your names. I would love to see you next Sunday!”
Do you think this elderly couple felt welcome at this parish? Yes.
In Marker 8.3 or Unleash the Gospel, Archbishop Vigneron talks about if evangelization will have its full effect, “we must ensure that our communities extend a warm welcome to everyone who walks through the door.” This idea should radically change the way we envision any parish.
Could any person walk off the streets and experience your parish as a warm, inviting community?
Would they feel welcomed and seen?
Or would people feel overlooked, judged, or invisible?
These and other related questions are ones we have to become comfortable asking ourselves in ongoing ways as clergy and lay people. All too often we can see — and treat — the parish as a place for those who belong and are already a part of the community.
However, the first mission of every single parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit exists to evangelize: to go out, connect, engage, and build relationships. The Catholic Church has a primary mission to go out and evangelize. With that in mind, our parishes then do not exist primarily for those who already belong. A parish exists for those who do not yet belong and are taking their first baby step on the journey toward God.
What are some ways to increase a welcoming spirit in our parish communities?
Here are some ideas to talk through and develop with your leadership team or pastoral staff:
Each time a new parishioner joins the parish, have a member from the pastoral staff give them a phone call welcoming them to the community and inquiring how they can best serve their needs.
Develop a hospitality team. Create a goal that each person who walks into Mass is personally greeted by two or three other different people.
Create a series of welcome videos for your parish website or social media. Feature different parishioners on what they love about your parish, why they joined, and ideas on how to get involved.
Have a parking lot team. Are two or three people who can help seniors or those needing assistance getting from their car to inside church? Friendly faces and smiles directing the flow of traffic can make a difference.
Our parishes are much more than just buildings that house the pews, bodies, or the tabernacle. They are spaces of encounter, places to experience warmth, love, acceptance, and belonging.
Experiencing the parish as a place of welcome is an easy yet effective entry point where individuals can be seen as they are. This, then, is the fertile ground for deepening their spiritual journey with God.
Have you had an experience where you felt very welcomed at a parish? Similarly, what was a time where you felt unwelcome at a parish? What made you join the parish where you currently worship? How can you be a light that extends that to other people as well? Join the hospitality conversation in the Engagement group on the online community!