Hospitality is more than just being nice to people
A radically participative parish will have four faces it shows to the world. Strangers will see these faces on their first visit to the parish, and the parish will be “known” in the diocese for these characteristics. The four faces of a participative parish are:
- energy (Spirit)
Fourteen hundred years ago, St. Benedict wrote in his Rule, “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for he is going to say, “˜I came as a guest, and you received me’” (Mt 25:35).
If we are going to become participative, vibrant communities that make Mass matter, we have to turn around. While most of us are looking for Christ “up front,” Christ is coming in the doors at the back of the church. Having ushers and greeters at the doors is great, but it’s not enough. My third-grade teacher used to ask us, “If Jesus came to your house, would you be able to show him where your Bible is?” I was so worried wondering if we even had a Bible that it didn’t occur to me to be amazed that Jesus might come to my house. And yet he does, all the time.
Jesus is coming to your house
The Benedictine Rule is this: any guest is like Christ. If Jesus came to my house, I would not send a greeter to the door while I went to look for my Bible. And, in a similar way, we should not rely only on greeters to welcome guests at our church while we busily attend to celebrating the Mass. I’m not suggesting all 700 people in the pews crowd around every person who comes to the door. However, every guest ought to feel that kind of attention. They should feel overwhelmed with welcome.
Here are some suggestions for creating a hospitable atmosphere:
- The pastor, even if he is not the presider at that Mass, is outside or in the back of church greeting people as they arrive.
- The ushers are not only keeping a look out for newcomers (as opposed to their buddies), they are also handing out hymnals already opened to the gathering song. Even if you store your hymnals in the pews, the ushers should have a few that they hand to the guests.
- Regular parishioners in the pews move over to make room for guests instead of making them crawl past to a seat in the middle of the pew.
- People say hello to each other. Regular parishioners go out of their way to say hello to guests and even shake their hands.
- No one is shy about helping guests who are unfamiliar with the Mass find their way around the hymnal or the worship aid. Every adult in the parish knows how to find the outline of the Mass at the front of the hymnal and how to help guests follow it.
- The location of the bathrooms is not a parish secret, but is clearly indicated by signs.
- The Sunday bulletin is written and edited in plain English without using Catholic acronyms, jargon, or parish code language.
- Everyone in the parish, even the children, feels like it is his or her personal responsibility to watch for guests and reach out to them every Sunday—just as if they were Christ.
Hospitality is much more than being nice to people. It is dying to self. It is putting the needs of others before one’s own. The guests at our liturgies may not know it, but they are primary symbolic elements of our worship. The guests symbolize the poor, the marginalized, the prisoner, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the underserved in our society that Jesus came to serve.
Every Sunday is a rehearsal in “foot washing.” We remove the garment of our personal security and shyness, wrap it around our waist, and kneel our egos down in front of the guests before us. We pour the waters of welcome over their feet and dry them with our towels of comfort and love. And all this is merely practice for how we are to live in the world. If we cannot even welcome, as though they were Christ, the guests who come to our churches, we will have little chance of welcoming the marginalized in society whom Jesus places at the head of the table.
The next topic in this course will be e-mailed to you in a few days. In the meantime, pray over the readings for this coming Sunday, before you go to Mass. Meditate on the instances in which Jesus acted in a hospitable way. Then choose two actions from the bullet points above to implement in your circle of influence—even if that’s just you!
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