Welcoming the Stranger

I have a question that I don’t know the answer to and wish I did.

On any number of occasions, I have attended Sunday morning services at one or another Episcopal churches. Usually that happens because I’m giving a talk immediately after the service, as I was yesterday at Christ Episcopal.

Every time I have walked into an Episcopal church for the first time, I am no sooner in the door before someone detaches himself or herself from whatever group they were talking to, walks over and says something like, “Hi. I haven’t seen you before. Are you a visitor? Welcome.” As near as I can tell, the people who do this are not “official” church officers charged with a task, they are just people noticing a stranger and making the stranger feel welcome.

I have NEVER had that experience in a Catholic Church. Although I most often attend Mass at the Catholic parish to which I belong and where I, therefore, know at least some people, I quite often end up as Mass elsewhere. I have never, in all of my years of attending “new” Catholic churches had people come and welcome me as a visitor to their parish. In fact, I find myself joking to my husband when I get home from places like Christ Episcopal, “I could tell I wasn’t in a Catholic Church, because someone came to welcome me before I even closed the door behind me.”

Except I don’t really think it is a joke. We talk about welcoming the stranger being part of our Catholic faith. Why then don’t we practice it in those places where we have the opportunity? How many of us are on the lookout for new faces on Sunday morning?

Is there a reason others do a better job on this than Catholics do? If there is, I don’t know what it could be.

But I do know that we can do better.

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