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.


5 thoughts on “Welcoming the Stranger

  1. Perhaps the answer to your question lies in your answer to this question: When you see an unfamiliar face at your church, do you greet that person? Please understand that I don’t ask this in an accusatory way. I’m just wondering if you’ve considered the question from this different perspective.

    My own guess is that it’s because Catholicism is more of a “top down” affair than other religious traditions. Implicit in that is an assumption that the leaders have the responsibility to do things like that, not the congregation. That’s just a guess; I have no empirical evidence.

  2. I have a speculation…and I speculate not as a Roman Catholic but an Episcopalian with long and affectionate relationships with Jesuits and the Religious of the Cenacle. Please accept my speculation with the generosity and good will with which I’m offering it. I don’t intend to offend.

    I wonder if the position on Eucharist might be part of the difference.

    For the EC church, anyone who has been baptized is welcome to receive communion. Some parishes, as a response to pastoral needs, offer an even more open table. (This subject of “communion before baptism” was a topic of great discussion at this year’s General Convention.)

    For the RC parish, however, reception of Eucharist is widely known to be limited to only to those in communion with Rome. I wonder if some Roman Catholics might be reluctant to be more welcoming to strangers because they don’t want to need to either ask if the person is Roman Catholic (and then need to say…sorry but you can’t receive communion) or somehow feel responsible for letting/inviting a non-Roman to Eucharist?

  3. This post really piqued my interest because I participate in the ministry that welcomes new parishioners to our Catholic parish. I believe much depends upon whether the average parishioner takes ownership in his/her parish community and wants to share community with others. I try to greet and smile to anyone that I encounter at weekly Mass whether I recognize the person or not. Our pastor stands at the front of the church each week and welcomes all that walk through our doors. There is no special formula. Each one of us can be a beacon of welcome in each of our communities. Each one of us can be part of the solution…

  4. I live in a small village that has an Episcopal church as its only public building. They have one service at 10:00 on Sunday. I usually attend Mass at my parish about a half mile away, where we have seven Masses on Sunday. We do have a hospitality group who greets people as they arrive at Mass. But after more than 15 years in this parish, I still only know a handful of people that I see, so it’s impossible for me to tell who is a newcomer and who is a regular member of the parish. Maybe there are just more of us, so it’s harder to pick out the newcomers?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s