“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.