Friday, March 28, 2014

Still an Unwelcomed Stranger

Friday greetings from a rainy and cold Midwest.

It has been nearly a year since I stopped worshipping at the parish I called home for over a decade: Saint James here in Chicago. Since leaving the parish, the church building has been torn down.

It hadn't been in use for nearly five years. I was one of those who agreed that it should come down and the parish should follow the vision of Cardinal George to build a new church a few blocks away, in an area where people live and there is more activity occurring than the original site for the church.

The reasons for my leaving are quite complicated and I most probably will never share them here. Put simply, it became more and more painful and stressful for me personally to go to Mass at Saint James in the months leading up to my decision to leave. It simply was not a healthy environment for me.

Over the years, in my travels, I have heard people complain about an aspect or aspects of their parishes. Some have deep disagreements with a parish staff member. Others dislike the music choices. Others deeply dislike a new or renovated parish church. I once heard a prominent pastoral theologian, who himself was a pastor of a Catholic parish, respond to one of these complaints by stating directly to the person complaining: "There are plenty of Catholic parishes. I would urge you simply to leave the parish that is causing you so much pain and anguish." The surprised complainer looked at the priest and said, "Oh, this is my parish; I would never think of leaving my parish!" I must admit that I felt an inner resonance with this person and the response given. And that has been my own mantra for most of my Catholic life, until this time last year.

When one reaches a point, like the point where I was, that attending Mass is too painful and stressful, I knew that I had to make a decision, and that decision was not an easy one. But it was one that had to be made.

In the year since leaving Saint James, those of you who read this blog have watched me float around from parish to parish. This has been a painful year for me as a Catholic. I have not yet found a community that resounds with me. And I am still floating. It is quite challenging to remain faithful (which I have done) and to do so without a kind of permanent home in which to live my Catholic faith. I wonder where God is leading me. I know that it is somewhere; it just hasn't become apparent yet.

I have worshipped in places with very small congregations where I am obviously a stranger among regular parishioners. Yet no one, not a soul, in any of these places has ever reached out and asked me if I were a newcomer; no one has reached out and offered any kind of personal welcome. This has been more than disappointing for me. And it makes me think about how complacent some Catholics are in their parishes, in parishes where the numbers of Sunday worshippers may be on the decline. I have continued to be a tithing Catholic. I am not patting myself on the back here; I just very simply follow the call to give ten percent of everything that I earn to the Church. While I am certainly in no way a wealthy person, my weekly contribution is not insubstantial. I have often wondered if a money counter, or a pastor, or a business manager would ever notice a larger-than-usual check from a non-registered-in-the-parish person at Mass in the collection (and often several weeks in a row) and perhaps give me call, either thanking me or inquiring about whether or not I want to register in the parish. So far, nothing.

Perhaps I am craving some kind of special treatment and I need a dose of humility here, and maybe that is the lesson to be learned in all of this.

Perhaps what this past year has taught me is something more important. When I do eventually find a spiritual home, a parish community, I need to be someone who doesn't hesitate to reach out to a newcomer or visitor. This has been a hard way to learn this lesson.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Phil O'Donnell said...


I am sure you will find your way. We left St. Athanasius after 30 years there because of differences with the pastor, but have since returned when they got a new pastor. God has a plan for all of us, sometimes we just have to find it.


Tom Gull said...

So sorry to hear you were not welcomed. When I was a parish business manager, we kept track of the donations by check from unregistered worshipers. I was prompted to do this after a friend who moved to a new area reported the same non-acknowledgement. Unfortunately, most parish staff members are not trained in or even aware of "customer relationship management."

Linda said...

I do not believe that expecting a greeting as a newcomer is "special treatment"
The next time you come East, come visit St. Thomas in Providence, RI.
I guarantee that you will be greeting and welcomed!!

Liam said...

I went through this when a cumulative series of red flags of bad leadership finally led me to leave my parish in Cambridge MA after many years.

I will caution about the failure to welcome: many territorial Catholic parishes these days tend to be a last refuge of introverts who have found the omnipresence of relentless American extroversion in many other communities to be more of an onslaught than a welcome. For introverts, giving you space is a form of empathic welcome.

You may recall from your youth that this was particularly common in New England, whose resident are often faulted for coldness or reserve, but who are really just trying to give other people more social space, as it were. As is often said by folks who move to New England, it can take a long time to make friends, but the friendships that finally happen tend to be deep not shallow.

411onstar said...

I can relate Jerry. I have made a conscious decision not to set foot in my neighborhood parish because of how the parishioners made my family and I feel when wwe visited for the first time in our new neighborhood with our newborn son on Easter Sunday many years ago. It is frustrating and unfortunate, but if we continue to seek, we shall find. I truly believe that.

Kate S said...

Oh, Jerry, what a tough year!

Several years ago, we reached the decision to leave my husband's life-long parish for a variety of reasons. Jim was on his own to try a couple of other parishes in the meantime. He joined one parish where he knew the pastor and he became part of the choir. After leaving the choir, he subsequently left the parish. He sat in a pew by himself, and didn't make a connection with anyone else. We have since joined the parish I belonged to when I first moved here years ago. We have mutual friends there and Jim has once again joined the choir. So far, so good. I don't know how much of this has to do with parish personalities and how much has to do with Jim's personality. He is not likely to make the first move but would respond quite sociably if someone were to approach him.

Prayers for you as you continue your struggle!

Anonymous said...

Agree with Liam on his caution...I'm a bit of an introvert who detests the glad-handing at "welcoming" churches. All I want is to find a pew, and pray to prepare myself for the Mass.

When we moved here, we tried a number of parishes, and ended up driving 45 minutes weekly to St. John Cantius for going on 9 years. Couple points, having read some of your earlier posts:

We go to the English (Ordinary form) Mass (9am Sunday). This might be a better stepping-stone than an immediate dive into the High Mass. Also after mass, there is in the basement a "cafe" with coffee, food donated by parishioners, and an atmosphere including adults and about 50 kids letting loose a bit after behaving in Mass. So not in the least bit stuffy...and frankly even a bit of a challenge for my introversion.

So perhaps the lack of a "hearty greeting" is merely a community respecting your right to prepare for Mass without interruption.

Praying that you can find a parish that helps you best worship Him.

Known as 332