One of the things that I love about Father C, at the Catholic church I alternately attend, is his sense of welcome – for everyone from the littlest to the least frequent. That’s not always a common thing among Catholic parishes.
Back when my younger son was a toddler, there was a debate in the pages of the NC Catholic newspaper – what to do about those pesky parents with little kids at Mass?! The children make noise and get in the way. There were vehement opinions on both sides: Children are the future of the church, need to grow up in their faith, and should be welcome at Mass, versus, Children shouldn’t be at Mass until they can behave, and parents should just take turns going until the children are old enough. At one parish, a man yelled at a grandmother whose grandchildren were not silent. A lector stopped her reading and stared at the parents of a restive boy until they took him out. They didn’t return. Neither did we.
Father C said that he has one response when he gets complaints about noisy children at Mass. He tells the person complaining that they should not be glaring at the parents of small, active children, they should be praying for those parents. They are doing a vital and difficult job. He wants his parish to be a welcoming place for families.
He welcomes everyone – students and family, members and guests. Every week, he welcomes guests and says that they bless us just by being there and worshipping with us. In the fall, he gives a special welcome to the students who are essential to the life of the parish. And, in the summer, when the students are gone, he gives a special welcome to the families and ongoing members of the parish who also give it so much of its life.
Recently, he talked to the congregation about the need to have all of the ushers and ministers arranged before Easter Sunday. If enough people don’t volunteer ahead of time, that leaves Father C and others running around hectically on Easter Sunday itself. This frenetic activity gets in the way of greeting guests – particularly those who come only at Easter, may be hesitant and awkward about coming, and may take a brusque greeting personally. So, everything has to be arranged beforehand in order to be relaxed and welcoming to guests.
He particularly invited any member of the parish to be an usher, “You just smile, welcome people, and hand out programs. You don’t need any special training.” I was all ready to volunteer until I remembered that, first, I’m not currently a member there, and second, I would be at the Episcopalian church listening to my older son sing in the choir on Easter.
[Later note: My husband and daughter did go there for the Easter Mass. It was filled - the Sanctuary, the lobby and the library. And Father C let others serve Communion in the Sanctuary. He went out to serve Communion to those in the lobby and the library - those who normally would be last in a usual Catholic church.]