Last night I attended the new members event at my new parish, Old Saint Patrick's here in Chicago.
I had no idea what to expect. The email invitation I received asked that I meet Bridget in the church for the church tour at 5:30. Wasn't sure if there would just be a few of us or not. When I arrived, there were two others waiting in the church for the tour. By the time the tour started, there were over thirty of us. I found the tour to be fascinating and led by a well-informed parishioner who not only loved talking about the history of the parish and the artwork and design in the structure, but he also told us how much he loved the parish. A few photos I took during the tour:
Once the tour was completed, we were all led through a door behind the sanctuary into the rectory. There was a table there as we entered. Name tags, with our names already printed on them, were waiting for us. I thought this showed care for us. There is a difference between, "Please fill out a name tag" and "Please find your name tag on the table as you enter." This showed that there was planning and forethought. For me, this is a sign of intentional hospitality.
We were led into the front room of the rectory. There was a beer, wine, and soft drink bar set up there. Volunteer parishioners staffed the bar area and others came around with delicious appetizers. There was lots of conversation happening in the room; a great sense of just being comfortable. Here's a shot I took during the cocktail hour.
What struck me the most was the age of those in attendance. I would say that the median age was 31. Two couples brought their infants with them, a few of the women were expecting their first child. Most people there were either married or engaged. A couple I met was there because they are in an interfaith marriage (Jewish and Catholic) and Old Saint Pat's has programs just for interfaith couples.
After about an hour we were asked to move into the dining room, where four large tables were set for dinner. Beautiful centerpieces adorned every table. We ate on real plates, with real silverware, stemware, and cloth napkins. I just felt like this parish went out of its way to make me feel special. It was like being at a modest wedding reception. At each place setting was a menu. Here's a photo I took of that menu:
The pastor, Fr. Tom Hurley, circulated among us during the cocktail hour then, just before dinner, he welcomed us. He told us some of the "lore" about the rectory, including the fact that there had been a break-in and a murder in the early part of the twentieth century in the very room in which we were gathered. He is very easy-going and has a great sense of humor.
He told us that there had been a parishioner who was a local chef who had volunteered to prepare these monthly meals of welcome for a number of years but that he had recently moved out of the city. When "Zahra," a parishioner who had attended one of these welcome meals, heard that there was a need for a new chef, she stepped up and she and her mother (who is Muslim) began preparing these meals. Fr. Hurley then said the prayer of blessing over the meal and he joined our table for dinner. When he reached out to introduce himself, he did a double take at my name tag and asked if I were the Jerry Galipeau. I was a little embarrassed and the others at the table looked at me and said, "OK, Jerry, spill it. Who are you?" So I just told them a little bit about who I was and how much I have grown to feel comfortable and well fed as a "pew Catholic" at Old Saint Pat's. Happily, the conversation moved on from there.
The dinner was absolutely delicious. Not sure if you can read the entire menu, but the words at the bottom were most important, because what they conveyed is what I surely felt last night.
I was "lovingly served."
After dinner, Fr. Tom introduced Zahra, her mother, and the volunteers who had made the entire evening happen. Lots of applause and "thank you's." He told us that these monthly welcome dinners usually average between 35 and 50 people. He gave us a little more history about the parish then asked each one of us to stand, say who we were, and share a little about our connection to Old Saint Pat's. Most people had recently moved into the neighborhood. Others came to Old Saint Pat's when they were interviewing for jobs in the city and when they moved here, just gravitated to the parish because of the sense of warmth, hospitality, and energy they found here. A few had attended a retreat sponsored by the parish and felt drawn to worship here because they had made such good friends who worshiped at the parish while they were on the retreat. When my turn came, I told the folks where I worked and what I do. I told them about the blog and how there were many people anxious to read about my own experience of the evening. I asked for their verbal permission to include the photos I had taken (they all agreed). And I said what an extraordinary evening it was. "Look," I said, holding up the menu,"This is a Catholic parish and they had menus for us!"
I would imagine this was not an inexpensive affair. I guess I was waiting for some "hard sell" about sacrificial giving or about giving of our time, talent, and treasure, but there was none. Just a place that opened up its arms wide in welcome. I was made to feel like we in that room were the most cherished people in the parish. I plan to follow up with Bridget today to ask if they need any more information from me and if I will begin receiving my parish giving envelopes in the mail.
Almost every person who introduced themselves said how grateful they were for this special meal. Some had only been to Mass there a few times. Others expressed their gratitude for the music, for the way they felt welcomed on Sundays.
Intentional hospitality? I don't think it gets much more intentional than this.
Here's what I came away with:
1. A heart filled with gratitude for Old Saint Pat's
2. That intentional hospitality is just that: intentional
3. That intentional hospitality takes work but, more than that, it takes hearts and minds convinced that reaching out and throwing a banquet of welcome is worth every penny, every minute of time, and every ounce of energy expended by those great people last night
4. A tremendous sense of grace and relief that, after two years of roaming, I have finally found a new Catholic home
5. That, even though I am not actually a "prodigal son," I felt like I was right in the middle of Luke's Gospel last night: "Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.