Michelle Martin

You’re welcome

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

When was the last time you felt welcomed — really welcomed — at church? At your parish or elsewhere?

Or look at it the other way: When was the last time you felt unwelcome? Like an interloper, or like your presence was an inconvenience?

I started thinking about that on Easter, when a Facebook friend of mine wrote about her experience visiting a church while she was traveling. The church, a larger non-Catholic Christian church, had a coffee bar in the lobby, so she bought a latte on the way in.

Except when she walked into the sanctuary with it, she was chased down by the ushers, who told her the coffee she had just paid $4 for was not allowed. The coffee had to leave, whether or not she left with it.

They encouraged her to leave it with the barista, who, seeing she felt upset and singled out, offered to make her a fresh one after the service.

So much went wrong there. If you don’t allow coffee in the sanctuary, why do you sell it before the service starts? Or at least make sure there are signs near the coffee counter so that guests know the policy before they pay for a cup? And if someone does violate the policy by mistake, have the ushers offer a fresh cup afterwards?

I thought about it a week later when I went to the neophyte Mass in Vicariate II (see story, page 11), where newly received Catholics were welcomed to the wider Catholic community by Bishop Mark Bartosic. There were refreshments there, too, but they were offered for free to the entire congregation, after the Mass.

I’m encouraged when I visit parishes and am greeted when I walk in, and by parishes that ask those in the congregation to greet one another before Mass starts, even if that means my husband and children and I end up saying “Good morning” to one another.

But most of us Catholics have a long way to go. How often do we think of the places where we sit as “our pews”? How often do we plant ourselves at the end, making the middle of the pew less accessible to anyone else?

How often do we forget what it’s like to make it to Mass with a little one (or two or three) in tow, only to have people give you the side-eye as you retrieve a toddler from the aisle or a preschooler sings the wrong words, loudly and off-key?

If we are going to renew the church, and if we are going to reach out to our neighbors, we have to make them feel welcome when they show up. That means more than tolerating their presence; it means being glad they’re there, and showing it.

Maybe even making sure they know they’re welcome to a cup of coffee. After Mass.