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.
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.