“There was no one to help me.”

Yesterday, I attended a book signing for the publication of When they Come Home. Written by Melanie Rigney and Anna Lanave, the book has terrific how-to advice for parishes interested in being intentional about welcoming back inactive Catholics.

Starting and Stopping

One of the authors shared her own experience. Though having received the sacraments as a child her family did not regularly attend Mass or participate in parish life. As she grew up there was not much encouragement or reason to go to church herself. A marriage to man who was not Catholic was the final step away from the church. Or so she thought. Over the years she felt drawn back to Mass and she would go and it would be fine except that no one ever greeted her or drew her into conversation. She said she had questions, she wanted to talk, and yet, there did not seem to be a place or people for the conversation. She tried other denominations, she made some terrific friends and she had some serious conversations about God and faith and she continued to give the Catholic Church another try.

Not a Unique Experience

I do not think this experience is unique to this author. I do think our churches over the next ten days will be filled with just such people. People who are responding to the Spirit at work in them, people who just can’t seem to stay away from church but who sure don’t feel like they really belong and wonder if they really are still part of the family. What struck me in yesterday’s presentation and in conversations I have had with other Catholics returning to the church is that all they really need–at first– is to be greeted and welcomed! They do not expect the experience to be perfect or to discover that everything that didn’t like about the church has changed. They want to feel welcomed and to be invited to come again.

Say Hello

I decided driving home last night that I will do two things over the course of Holy Week. Today, I invited two friends who are inactive and not quite ready to come to Mass to a Tenebrae Service at the Dominican House of Studies. It is a beautiful evening of chant and music and prayer which sets the right tone for Holy Week. Next week, when I see an unfamiliar face at one of the services I am going to say hello and whatever else may seem appropriate. In some cases the person I greet may end up being a fellow parishioner who goes to a different Mass but odds suggest that if I do this a couple of times, I will encounter a less regular church-goer.  Really, how difficult can this be!

Perhaps why I am so taken with these authors’ experience is because I spend a lot of my day thinking about evangelization on the grand scale of Archdiocesan initiatives and emerging trends and new programs and yet at the core of evangelization is a friendly encounter of two people who both feel drawn to Jesus. It can be the start of a great relationship.

20 Replies to ““There was no one to help me.””

  1. I am thinking about going to the Tenebrae Service next week. What time does it start? And it would be cool to finally meet you! I go to church pretty regularly but because of stuff I’ve been through I am like an empty shell. I am like a fallen away Catholic present in church. Great post,btw!

  2. ooh, you’ve touched a sore spot.

    My family has attended Mass at the same parish on a regular basis the past six years, however there are only a handful of people who can put our names to our faces – and those only because they know us from outside church.

    I’ve given up on attending parish events. I’m tired of having people look right through me.

    1. There is your problem, it’s all about you and perceived slights to your tender ego.

      Mass is where God condescends to meet man and it’s PRIMARILY about this encounter with the Divine that one goes to Church.

      personally I couldn’t care less if anyone notices special little me.

      1. Jeffrey- there are nicer ways to convey your point, and the sarcasm was mean.

        I believe you go to my parish, and give some of your past commentary, I believe we have attended some of the same activities there. Granted, I write as “anon,” but were I to use my given name, I’m fairly certain you would not be able to put a name to my face, and I wouldn’t accuse you of “looking through me.” Don’t give up on attending parish events, but maybe take the initiative to do the meeting and greeting yourself. If you came up to me and said,”My name is Cynthia and I’d really like to get to know some families better here,” I’d be quick to introduce you to everyone within reach. We are friendly people but maybe not the most aware group on the planet- make your needs be known! If you have a need that isn’t being met and you suffer silently about it, then you share in some of the responsibility there.

      2. I have taken the initiative to introduce myself. No one has extended the same effort to me. No: I see you at Adororation all the time, or Doesn’t your family usually go to Vigil Mass? or Your child looks about the same age as mine.

        My husband and I have offered to help with instrumental music. Our gifts have been ignored except for the last Sunday our parochial vicar was with us, and we played then only because I strongly asserted our desire for the priviledge.

        This being frozen out is wholly alien to me.

        And, Mr. Job, I am well aware of the primary reason one goes to church. But one goes to worship as part of a community of faith, not to worship alone. That was the point of Ms. Timony’s post.

      3. Jeffrey, having just taught the Our Father at RCIA, I came across a reflection by Pope Benedict on the “our” of the Our Father (in in book Jesus), and he speaks about how esential the community is in the process of reaching beyond ourselves and toward God. Indeed, Mass is all about God, the God who calls us not as indivdiuals but as his people. We need one another in order to fully express who we are as God’s people.

      4. Primarily, yes. Totally, no.

        Even if you couldn’t care less if anyone notices you, there will be people in your parish who would care a *great* deal if you noticed them.

        In my experience I would say that the vast majority of people I’ve known who have left the Catholic Church have left not due to theology, but to do with the apparent lack of love they’ve found among those alongside them in the pews. At times when it is hard to perceive Christ in the Eucharist, He may be more readily recognised in the friendly smile and concern of a fellow Christian.

        When I moved to a new town I went to Mass and the usual tragic pattern of events unfolded – no human contact before, during or after, aside from a perfunctory handshake at the Sign of Peace. Later that day I went to a Protestant church. I received a warm greeting by two different people as I made my way into the church and was personally handed a newsletter. When I sat down in a chair the couple next to me immediately greeted me and asked me if it was my first visit. We chatted for about five minutes before the service started and afterwards they took me to coffee in the hall and they then invited me to Sunday lunch. Now, in which church do you think it was *easier* to see the face of Christ?

        “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth, yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.” -St Teresa of Avila

  3. One in 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. “The harvest is great, but the laborers are few…”

    1. Jon, that is the statitic and more importantly, studies have shown that ex-Catholics still consider themeselves “Catholic” no matter how “ex.” if we begin to realize WE are the laborers, we might begin to turn that phrase on its head!

  4. “What struck me in yesterday’s presentation and in conversations I have had with other Catholics returning to the church is that all they really need–at first– is to be greeted and welcomed!”

    We had a priest in our parish for several years who was very engaging and energetic. I think he actually got a little nervous for the Masses around the holidays, looking at them as a great opportunity to pull back those who had fallen away. But even at a non-holiday mass, he was quite welcoming. If there was an event after the mass, he’d talk about it rather than allow another to simply read the announcement. He’d further encourage people to participate when shaking hands after mass. Events were enthusiatically attended as people were looking forward to being part of a the larger family of which he often spoke. At one event, not many were dancing until he took to the center of the floor, upon which a crowd quickly gathered. It was like, “Well if Father’s willing to put himself out there, I will too.” One his great gifts is helping people to feel part of something greater than themselves. The new priest who is there now is very nice (VERY NICE) but definately more of a “mass is over, turn out the lights” kind of guy.

    As spiritual fathers, our priests can do much to set the tone for a congregation. We are sheep; we do follow.

    1. I agree, I had a pstor who at coffee and doughnuts would come over and say, “Susan see that young woman over there, she is a graduate student, go and talk with her, “and then he’d move on to another parishioner and another newcomer. He did indeed set the tone.

      1. A man who ventured to come to Mass in October (after having been absent for maybe a year) met the priest on the way out, and the priest said, “See you at Christmas!” It was jarring, but not as jarring as a mother of eight children being scolded by another parishioner in the vestibule for “daring” to have so many children. We all are guilty of judgments and I remember what one priest said to someone who said he didn’t go to church because there are so many hypocrites there: “Well, don’t let that stop you, there’s always room for one more.”

  5. One thing I’ve noted about some of the Catholic churches I’ve visited is that the building design doesn’t encourage people to visit with each other before/after Mass. I’ve yet to see a Catholic church with a coat room, and often the narthex is next to non-existant. That layout definitely sends the message of “Mass is over, go home.”

    1. What church do you go to? I am something of a church nomad, so I’ve been to several. I normally go to St. John’s in Gaithersburg because a good priest friend of mine is pastor there and it’s fairly close to my house (about 10 to 15 minutes away). Most churches I’ve been to have been pretty friendly to me, but then a lot of times I’ve shown up in scrubs from working a long shift in the ER the night before. I noticed people are friendlier to me in my work uniform. On the flip side, when I’ve shown up at new places in street clothes, or “normal people clothes” as I call them, I’ve been ignored, and most people seem to think that I am “just another young adult or teenager.” Most times, since I’m just visiting those churches it doesn’t really bother me. But at my childhood parish, where I’d known many of those people for around 18 years, it really bugged me. I was like, “I’m the same person in both scrubs and street clothes, really.”

      1. I don’t want to say here, because given the hostility demonstrated by some posters here (in general, not just the occasional snarky comment directed at me) I’d rather not give out that much personal information, and also I think it would be unfair of me to name the parish given that it’s not unique in parishioners’ apparent lack of interest in developing relationships within the faith community.

        We haven’t met IRL but we sort of know each other from another context. Perhaps my current parish is your childhood parish?

  6. Cynthia, St. Paul’s in Damascus is one church that comes to mind that did build in some gathering space, but it is true that usually people have to move to another room or the basement for fellowship.

    1. St Vincent de Paul in Berkeley Springs WV finished their new sancutary two (?) years ago. The old sanctuary became the new narthex, and it really is a nice gathering space. [I don’t know whether there’s a coat room … we’ve only been in the summer during our vacation at Cacapon State Park.]

  7. The link to this site was sent to me by a friend and I’m in the NY Archdiocese. I find this post particularly interesting because I wrote a post on how important the Christian friendship I’ve found when I returned to the Church here in NY. (And since I’m ill and undergoing chemo, it’s even more important.) You really don’t know how important a “hello” and an invitation to coffee or lunch can be. It can literally be life saving or life changing.

    I’ll be moving to Houston soon and have visited a parish there. The members begn welcoming me almost before I entered the door and stay in touch; I’ve already got a community of friends waiting for me.

    God bless you all.



    1. Thanks so much for taking a look at the blog and sharing. I have a dear friend who found his faith in the Catholic community in Texas. I wish you the best.

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