A Welcoming Parish 

Whenever we travel abroad, one of the highlights of our trip is attending Mass in a different country. From the largest cathedral to the tiniest chapel, the beauty of the Mass and the presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist is always there for us. Over the years, we’ve encountered good homilies and bad homilies, guitars and cymbals and majestic pipe organs and choirs. Some churches looked more like conference rooms than sacred spaces. But we’ve also worshiped in beautiful, uplifting churches where art and music were a foretaste of heaven, even aside from the Mass.

But the lasting impression of churches we’ve visited is the welcome and acceptance of the various parishioners. It makes me feel like a “secret shopper” when we approach the doors of a church, always wondering what we’ll find and how we’ll be met. Our current trip to Scotland included a Sunday Mass that I won’t soon forget. We were in the Highlands in the area around Inverness. We’d spotted this particular parish church earlier in the week while out exploring the neighborhood. It was, as they say, a “wee kirk.” Made of old brown stones that looked softened by the years and the weather, it was surrounded with pots of colorful flowers. Standing at the front door were two men who welcomed us with smiles and handshakes. They asked where we were from, where we were staying, and where we wanted to sit in the church. They walked us inside, introducing us to other members of the parish as they guided us through the narthex. They pointed out the restrooms and invited us for coffee in the parish hall after Mass. Everyone we met was friendly to us. The couple in the pew in front of us turned and introduced themselves, pointing out the missal and hymnal we’d be using. They also asked us to come for coffee.  

The Mass was reverent, the music simple but well-chosen, and the homily was moving. As we left, we stopped in the hall for coffee and spent almost an hour talking with dozens of friendly parishioners. These were not the taciturn Scots you might expect. We were invited to dinner but had to decline the warm hospitality. We won’t soon forget the warm, welcoming people of this little parish.  

In my “secret shopper” response that I might write to their pastor, I’d tell him that their well-kept grounds and landscaping caught our eyes. Even a modest church is welcoming if it’s clean and well-maintained. Having greeters outside the front door is especially nice for visitors. They were folks with a natural gift of making us feel a part of their community almost immediately. And they did it without shoving a handful of ministry brochures, visitor information, or church bulletins in our faces. They didn’t abandon us at the door, either. They made sure we were introduced to other folks and then comfortably seated for Mass. When we saw them again at the coffee hour, they spoke with us again.

Every church seeks to be welcoming to new people. Some are good at it, some aren’t. This little church is a gem. They’ve kept things simple, but effective. And it centered on seeing visitors as being worthy of welcome. We weren’t ignored, but we weren’t treated as mere numbers, either. We felt like fellow members of the Catholic family, whose presence in their parish was valued and noted. It made going to a new church feel a lot like home. And isn’t that what all churches are hoping for?

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

             —Romans 15:7


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. SR
    Aug 14, 2017 @ 02:12:23

    Hey Judy,

    Wonderful post and if you have any pictures would love to see them. You know Judy I am a convert to the Church going on 13 years now. The one thing I still miss about being Protestant is the people are so welcoming and friendly. When I became a Catholic, it was so different or maybe it is just my parish. We do have a door greeter but that is about it. Other than that you just walk in and sit down. That was really hard for me to get use to, and truly I do not think I ever did. However, I live in a very small community and luckily I knew about 95% of the people in there, anyways. Newcomers though are not so lucky.

    When I see someone new and can get to them I always try to introduce myself and make them feel welcome. I think this is one thing many Catholic churches are missing.

    I know Jesus is the only reason we should be there and the focus should be on Him always. I also think though, just leaving new people to fend for themselves in a new Church is wrong. Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience with us. God Bless, SR


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