Hospitality and Welcoming the Stranger

“You can tell we weren’t in a Catholic Church,” I said to Elena yesterday, as we walked back to our car after attending Sunday service at First Presbyterian Church in Neenah, Wisconsin. “How can you tell,” she asked. “Because every person I came across said “Hi,” or “Welcome,” or “Great to have you here.”

Elena has a job this term singing with the choir at First Presbyterian Church. Yesterday was her first time singing with them and, since I had driven her back to school the day before, I decided to stay and go to the service with her before driving back to the Twin Cities.

We walked into the Church ninety minutes before the service was to begin, since Elena had choir rehearsal. As she went off to the choir room, the woman welcoming people who came in introduced herself and told me where the coffee and snacks were. She told me I was welcome to sit in the coffee room before the service and that others would be coming in as well, but that I was also welcome to attend the adult education class, which would begin shortly. I decided to go to the class and, after getting my coffee, went to the room where it was being held. Every person who walked into the room for the class introduced themselves to me. After the class, several told me how happy they were I was able to be there and that they hoped to see me again.

As I walked into the service, expecting to sit alone, one of the women who had been in the class, waved me over. “Come sit with us,” she invited, making room for me in the pew. She proceeded to introduce me to the people sitting behind us After the service, the women I sat with, as well as several others, made a point of saying that they hoped I enjoyed my visit and would come again as they said good-bye.

I also found it striking that in the worship aid, under the description for Sharing of Our Gifts and Offerings was a parenthetical that instructed, “Please sign and pass the Fellowship Pads, noting other names as they are returned and greet one another after the service.”

As we talked about our experience at First Presbyterian over brunch afterward, Elena asked, “Why is it that Catholics aren’t as welcoming to people they don’t know?

I don’t have a good answer to that question. We talk about the virtue of hospitality, but we don’t seem very good at practicing it. It is true that some priests begin mass by extending a corporate welcome to visitors, but individually we don’t seem to go out of our way to welcome make visitors feel at home, to make them feel like it matters to us that they are with us.

I think this is an area where we might take a lesson from our Protestant brothers and sisters.

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8 thoughts on “Hospitality and Welcoming the Stranger

  1. One of the advantages of our tiny parish is that we do tend to greet the stranger… because we recognize each other and know who is new/visiting. With our last priest, we even asked visitors to introduce themselves to the congregation before mass. It certainly got rave reviews from visitors, who often wrote notes to the pastor saying how very welcomed they felt. I managed to continue that until I retired from being the lone parish musician/leader of song (for the English masses).

    But, sadly, it is very unusual to see this open, welcoming attitude in a Catholic Church. And sadly, we don’t do it anymore, altho we do take a moment to greet one another before mass (before the entrance hymn).

  2. As a Presbyterian pastor, I am glad to read this. As a formerly frequent attender at mass, I am ambivalent.

    After my son died, I went to mass in a large parish fairly regularly. Among the reasons I felt comfortable there were that I could sit quietly, have no leadership responsibility, and be assured that no one would speak to me! And over the course of five years, no one unknown to me ever did.

    Looking back, as I say, I have mixed feelings. I am grateful to have been able to worship somewhere in which I could remain anonymous. But I would be stunned if someone were able to pull that off in the Protestant churches I have attended and pastored.

  3. At Mass, might the demographics of Catholic parishioners represent the welcoming spirit of our parishes.

    The ‘Loaves and Fishes’ Gospel reading this morning speaks to the Lord’s public ministry and His feeding the body before He fed the soul at the first Eucharist – Might dioceses, priests and parishioners find merit in reflecting upon the reading?

  4. Pingback: By their fruits you shall know them? - FAMVIN News

  5. Is one difference attributable to the real presence of Christ in the tabernacle in a Catholic Church, which is not the case in Protestant churches? Consider whether the real presence of Christ in the tabernacle in the Catholic Church causes those in attendance to focus on giving reverence and thanksgiving to God, as opposed to being focused on being social to those around them.

  6. I think Julie’s answer is spot on. More than anything, our Churches are due great reverence because of the real presence of our Lord. Our parish has a large gathering space in the entry, and after Mass it is like a huge party, all the priests come out to visit with the assembly. Because it is a large city parish, I don’t know how well we do with strangers, but if someone identified themselves as a visitor, they would be welcomed by both the priests and the community.
    Inside the Church, however, all is silent………

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