At my uncle’s funeral in May my cousin spoke eloquently about him. She said the phrase that was repeated again and again in the letters which they had received was that he was a ‘true gentleman’ and people spoke of the quality of his smile. He was a welcomer at his local Methodist church and many had spoken of how one of the reasons they had joined the church was through his initial welcome. Not only did he smile at people had the skill to identify the newcomer, to engage them in conversation, find out their name and whether they were visiting or new to the area. In particular if they expressed any need he would make sure that they were put in contact with help within the church community and follow it up.
I was impressed. Like so many good things the marks of a good welcome are not difficult – and they do start with a smile. I wondered if Methodists are friendlier happy to be engaged in conversation. They may also be more in tune as to why people come. Does our language of obligation shape our expectations of why people come? If we are fulfilling our duty might we see others as doing the same? So the stranger will be a visiting Catholic here to fulfil their obligation. How much has RCIA shifted our consciousness that the stranger might be searching? If we know why we come we might be able to recognise what we offer. At its heart, I guess, it is about praise and petition — we give thanks for what is good, we turn to God in our need.
For what a Catholic Parish can do I found a couple of posts on Jerry Galipeau’s Gotta Sing, Gotta Pray blog fascinating. Followers of his posts will know that he has been looking for a new parish in the Chicago area. He was not just looking for good liturgy but a welcoming community that wanted him, whoever he was. as a member. The parish he finally decided upon caused him to reflect on his experience in other parishes:
He also them wrote about how his new parish welcomes new parishioners – read and be impressed:
I suspect we have a tendency to say well they can do things like that in the States… Though it would be nice to be offered the 3 course dinner and that level of hospitality does lend itself people engaging with each other. I took away a number of thoughts:
- the tour of church – I suspect what was important here was that the person spoke with care and enthusiasm and that this was an activity (they moved around the church) rather than a presentation.
- there was a team that did this in which the pastor was a key member
- whatever hospitality you offer do it well
- the intention to welcome was genuine and did not have ‘strings’ attached
This may seem to be a distance from RCIA but a catechumens parish has to be serious about the quality of welcome it offers to everyone.