Orthodox way to be a welcoming parish

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maxk

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Catholic parishes are usually a lot less welcoming to visitors, new members, ‘seekers’, and other newbies. Many people have been lost to Protestant denominations or even to atheism/agnosticism because they never felt welcomed in Catholic parish life in America. Typically, a teenager will be invited to a youth function at the local Assemblies of God church, get enthusiastically welcomed at that setting, eventually have a conversion experience in that setting, and be lost from the Church forever. Alternatively, a person never feels loved by his lifelong congregation, so gradually drifts away from Christianity alltogether.

My question: How can a Catholic parish be more welcoming without getting certain people bent out of shape?

Examples: Some parishes hold hands (spontaneously, not enforced by liturgists or celebrants) during the Our Father. A lot of self-described orthodox people object to this and will even sneeze into their hands in order to reject someone else’s hand. Others here have branded them all heretics for this practice.
In some parishes, the priest will introduce himself before Mass starts. Some orthodox people complain it is not in the rubrics, and is therefore forbidden.
Examples abound.
What would you self-described orthodox people do, if you were a parish pastor, to promote a welcoming attitude among your parishioners?
As I stated in my intro, many souls are lost because we are not welcoming enough, so it is a very important topic and can’t be avoided simply because we are uncomfortable with a practice that is not against the rubrics (ie hand holding).
 
Yes, we do lose parishioners to Protestant churches but it is not always because we are not reaching out to them.

In my parish night before last we had a welcoming for new parishioners. We had clergy, representatives from different parish ministries and food and drink. It was a bust. No one showed up.

We have coffee and donuts after Sunday morning Mass inviting new parishioners. Most of the time those attending are those already involved in different organazations in the parish.

A lot of Catholics don’t come because they are afraid they might be asked to get involved in some way in the parish. They just want to spend their 45 minutes to an hour at Mass and then flee.
 
One of the things that has attracted me to Catholicism is the fact that as a visitor, newbie and seeker, I’m was not suddenly descended upon by a presumptuious “welcoming committee.” I’ve been to Protestant churches where a glaring spoplight is shown on the new guy the second he walks in the door and he’s suddenly forced to be everybody’s best friend from the get-go.

“Are you married? No? Well, then, you’ll love our singles group!” “But I’m not here to look for a wife.”
“They meet on Friday evening, see you there!”
“But…”

This is only a slight exaggeration, but not by much. But its all very off-putting for some people, at least it was for me. The fact that I could attend a Catholic church and be welcomed without the third degree and prying into my personnal life was a blessing and kept me coming back.
 
I will relate my experience.

It is a long story but I was attending a local Roman parish when the pastor was suspended and they moved in a new pastoral associate, who called herself the pastor, that was an ex-nun… I will not get into it but suffice it to say that I decided to go elsewhere.

I started attending a more traditional sort of parish… I was ignored by most everyone… Finally after a couple of weeks when I was leaving the pastor stopped me at the door where he was after every Mass… He talked to me a bit, said that he has noticed me… But he did not introduce me to anyone or make any other attempt to get me involved…

Then I attended a byzantine parish (Melkite in this case but have found the same at Byzantine and Maronite parishes). When I sat in the pew and picked up the pew book, someone sitting near me showed me how to use the book… Then after the Divine Liturgy, when I was walking out, one of the parishioners grabbed me and introduced himself and took me around introducing me to everyone. When the priest and deacon came out he took me to them.

It seems that everyone stays for the coffee hours after the Divine Liturgy too.

I think it helps out a bit that, traditionally, there is only one Divine Liturgy per day, per priest, per altar. I find with multiple Liturgies, it tends to break the community into the 8 am parish, the 9:30 praish, and the 11:15 praish…
 
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ByzCath:
I will relate my experience.

It is a long story but I was attending a local Roman parish when the pastor was suspended and they moved in a new pastoral associate, who called herself the pastor, that was an ex-nun… I will not get into it but suffice it to say that I decided to go elsewhere.

I started attending a more traditional sort of parish… I was ignored by most everyone… Finally after a couple of weeks when I was leaving the pastor stopped me at the door where he was after every Mass… He talked to me a bit, said that he has noticed me… But he did not introduce me to anyone or make any other attempt to get me involved…

Then I attended a byzantine parish (Melkite in this case but have found the same at Byzantine and Maronite parishes). When I sat in the pew and picked up the pew book, someone sitting near me showed me how to use the book… Then after the Divine Liturgy, when I was walking out, one of the parishioners grabbed me and introduced himself and took me around introducing me to everyone. When the priest and deacon came out he took me to them.

It seems that everyone stays for the coffee hours after the Divine Liturgy too.

I think it helps out a bit that, traditionally, there is only one Divine Liturgy per day, per priest, per altar. I find with multiple Liturgies, it tends to break the community into the 8 am parish, the 9:30 praish, and the 11:15 praish…
David,
I found the almost exact same thing happen when I returned to the Byzantine Church.
My first Sunday, I sat in the last pew and a woman (whom I now call ‘mom’) helped me with the Divine Lturgy and told me how to go to Communion.
After that, I sat near the front (since I can’t see as well), and felt a bit more confortable. However, I had difficulity reading the small print, so I watched a 6’7’ man, to know when the sit and stand.

Today, everyone knows me and I am active in the parish of 70 families (another small parish will be merging with us soon), but the true ‘family’ gathering will still be intact.

While Roman Churchs are very large and not too many priests, and Eastern Catholic Churches are small and only one priest available, I’ll take the small church anytime.

Go with God!
Edwin
 
Great responses. The last two (Byz and Roamin) remind me of myself a lot. I have a very strong BS radar. I am very turned off by aggressive recruitment efforts whether it is in the narthex or at my front door. OTOH, I am very attracted to simple, real people. We had an experience where an older lady sat with our son and held the hymnal for him, tracing the words as the congregation sang them. He was just beginning to read so it was a big help to him. We had our hands full with other young’ns so it was a big help to us. It also gave my son a very positive experience of nice people in a Christian setting that wasn’t all about “FUN, FUN, FUN” like Vacation Bible School or CCD tends to be.

Deacon, I realize that many efforts like you describe are a “bust”. It happens in this parish too. But, I simply don’t think we should do nothing. (I also don’t think you are suggesting that 😉 ).

What I am trying to find are ways to be more welcoming, but still be Catholic. These efforts tend to generate two responses. From the left, we hear “who cares what Rome says, lets have dancing to affirm our young dancing troupe”. From the right we hear “who cares about the little old lady starving for human contact, I am here to worship the Lord, not hold some strangers hand.” Neither response is truly Catholic or even generic Christian.
 
I went to a parish that has a traditional praxis, and the people were very welcoming.

At an Abbey, a lady with a mantila came up to and lended me a prayer book so that I could follow along during the Liturgy of the Hours.

Seriously, I think a newcomer should be welcoming too. Go and find someone to talk to.
 
Do we really need to be welcomed? After all by our baptism we are entering our Father’s house. By our baptism we have a right to be there. I received no less than 4 greetings in the parish where I attended Mass this weekend. I found it a bit much - from the person at the door (probably necessary) to the Leader at Mass then the people either side of me then the priest.
What better welcome can we have than the opening words of the Mass “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

We have a beautiful liturgy - let it speak for us
 
I would prefer that, when entering the House of the Lord, the First Person I greet, on bended knee, is Jesus Christ.

I wish to collect myself and prepare for Mass. I have 23 hours in this day to socialize, and 6 more days besides.

Hope I don’t sound grumpy; I don’t mean to. It’s just that I have limited time I can spend like this, in this special way with Jesus, and so do most of you. I don’t want to horn in others’ prayer time, and don’t really care to have them horn in on mine. We are a community of believers, gathering together, to focus together on Christ Jesus ~ not each other.

Sunday Mass isn’t a social hour. St. John and the three Mary’s weren’t chillin’ at the foot of the cross. I like to use the time before Mass to let go of the things of the world, and focus on the transcendent. The things “higher” than myself, and my little world.

As to folks calling those who hold hands during the Our Father “heretics,” please now, let’s not exaggerate.

Those who hold hands aren’t heretics, but they do add a guesture to the Mass not found in the rubrics. We are not to add or subtract things. It’s a shame if someone has to fake a sneeze just to avoid the unwanted and unwarranted hand grabbing by over zealous violators of the GIRM. It’s a shame we cannot worship as the Church tells us to, without our neighbor expecting ~ almost demanding ~ our disobedience.

The time to reach for someone’s hand comes after the Our Father, during the Sign of Peace, at the direction of the celebrant. If we’ve already been hand-holding with our neighbor, then shaking his hand after that seems a little nonsensicle, doesn’t it?

To be “welcoming,” all one need do, as far as I’m concerned, is smile pleasantly when your eyes meet someone else’s. Outside Mass, chit chat all you like.
 
“they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. all the believers had everything in common. selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. every day the continued to meet together in the temple courts. they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

i don’t understand how you can read the end of Acts 2 and say that mass isn’t a place to focus on each other. yes, we focus on Jesus first, but we are also to focus on Christ within each of us and love one another. mass is the time where we focus on Him together as opposed to individually (which we should be doing daily in our personal lives). to make the mass about “you and Jesus” is to be selfish and almost protestant (their whole view of personal relationship is contrary to the 1st centuries’ view of a community). yes, we don’t want to disrupt worship with focusing on each other but we can’t and mustn’t ignore each other. say hello, smile, stay after, invite people, visit people. how can you know if some one has a need if you don’t know the people in your parish. you can’t say that it’s up to the priest, that is contrary to scripture and tradition. everyone in the early church knew the other members in their community. how well do you know the others (and i don’t just mean you’re little group of friends) in your parish. meet some one new every week until there is no one new to meet. if they aren’t comfortable with that then they aren’t comfortable with Acts 2. if you aren’t comfortable with that then you aren’t comfortable with Acts 2. again, i’m not saying to disrupt worship to do this, but worship is about worshipping together not individually.
 
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