Friday, April 4, 2014

More from the "Unwelcomed Stranger"

Friday greetings from the Midwest, where this blogger was suddenly caught in a surprise "April shower" this morning as he headed to the train; more like an "April deluge!" Sitting here trying to dry out.

I am leaving later today for a week of vacation and I do not plan to blog during that time. Just need some down time away from it all.

Many of you have made comments here and sent me personal emails, Facebook messages, and notes regarding my recent post "Still An Unwelcomed Stranger." Thank you.

In the mid-1980's, the parish staff at Saint Mary Magdalen in Altamonte Springs, Florida, where I was director of liturgy and music, asked Fr. Jim Dunning, founder of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, to visit our parish and present a staff development day. He came on a Saturday and went to every one of our parish Masses. When he met with the staff on Monday morning, he was asked about his experience of Sunday Mass. To be honest, as a guy who grew up in the Boston area, Sunday Masses I attended with my family were quick 35-minute affairs for the most part. When I arrived at Saint Mary Magdalen, I was blown away by the singing at Mass, by the engagement of the assembly; this was Sunday Mass the likes of which I had dreamed about. So I figured that Jim Dunning would share the same sentiments.

Jim stated that at each Mass he positioned himself in different areas of the church, looking a bit lost, looking a bit like he was searching for a place to sit or some direction from an usher or parishioner. He told us that no one reached out to him in welcome. I was embarrassed by this. Frankly, it started me on a road to ensure that parishes where I ministered would do their very best to put hospitality and welcome at the center of our efforts as a parish. I must admit failures and successes along the way. And I guess for the past year, I have been doing a bit of what Jim Dunning did that weekend in Florida so long ago.

One person has suggested that hospitality and welcome needs to be a kind of two-way street in Catholic parishes. He likened the experience to someone who goes shopping for a particular computer in an electronics store. If not waited on by a salesperson, the shopper needs to reach out, find a salesperson, and begin to seek help to find the particular computer. This got me thinking. Perhaps when I arrive at a parish, I should go to any person and simply say, "Hello, I am visiting here, can you tell me about your parish?" I think I will try it over the next few months and see what happens.

Folks, I am not looking to be bombarded by hordes of welcomers when I go to Mass. Frankly, if I were to sit down in a pew and someone either turned around or tapped me on the shoulder, or glanced over at me and simply said "Hello, I haven't seen you here before; I hope you feel welcome to come back any time; I really love my parish," that would speak volumes to me.

Maybe there's a new little handbook for pew Catholics in the works in my mind . . .

Well, signing off for at least a week now, unless something in our Catholic world occurs that spurs me to blog. Enjoy these waning weeks of Lent.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

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