A Welcoming Community
Aug 7, 2017
I returned from my vacation late Saturday night so I decided to visit a neighboring parish for Sunday Mass. Unlike you, this is a rare occasion for me, since I belong here to pastor you. It was an enlightening experience that allowed me to treasure our parish even more. As I entered the church the usher opened the door for me, but said nothing to me. There was no “hello”; or “how are you”; or even better: “you are new here, glad that you are visiting”. It was just a silent opening of the door into a very silent church. I arrived 10 minutes early and there was a pretty good group of parishioners gathered but no one turned to greet me, instead we all looked forward and said our silent prayers. About five minutes before Mass was to begin the owners of the pew I was in showed up to let me know that I was in their seat and they had me move in several feet to accommodate their entry.
When the reader began the greeting saying: “welcome to Saint “_____”. I did not feel welcomed at all, instead I found myself wondering if they really were interested in anyone new or if this was just a formulary greeting given to all the regulars. Usually when I have visited other churches someone near me will comment that I should join the choir, because I actually sing; however in this place no one turned to speak to me until they were told to exchange a sign of peace.
The good news proclaimed for the day was that there was a pearl of great price out there that we should keep our eyes on, but too often we get distracted by the world we live in. Then the homilist felt the need to warn us about how the Government was attempting to take away our religious freedom and that if we did not do something about it more terrible things would be coming; but remember…there is a pearl of great price in front of us. It was national “natural family planning week for the NCCB (National Conference of Catholic Bishops) so we then were directed to avoid contraceptive devices because of the evil they represent...but remember, there is a pearl of great price in front of us.
At the end of the Mass, we left silently and I could feel the urge to get out of the parking lot that seemed to be pressing in on everyone. It was as if we endured this sacred hour but now let’s get on with our business.
On my way home I reflected on how wonderful it is to be part of Saint Joseph’s parish. I love the “buzz” that seems to happen in the Gathering Space before each Mass and how people are greeted as they come in. More often than not, those who are new to the church are recognized and welcomed. When I first came here I was not sure I would like the greeting at the beginning of Mass to “turn and greet you neighbor” , but after this experience I am grateful that it is part of our parish custom. I love that people linger after Mass to catch up with each other and to pass on the news of the village to each other. It feels like a living community of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. I am grateful to be here.