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Gather Us In?

At the Pray Tell blog, Nathan Chase has a practical question: what do you do when your worship space is "too big" for the number of people gathered to worship in it?

His question takes for granted that it is desirable to have the members of the assembly at Mass sit (or stand) reasonably close together, and I think he's right about that. I like a little elbow room as much as the next Catholic, but it has certainly been my experience that I feel most connected to my fellow Massgoers when they are within reach. And I think being connected to each other is a crucial dimension of the liturgy. It also seems to encourage vocal participation (singing, answering prayers, etc.). If the sign of peace comes and I can't reach a single person (outside of my family) to shake hands, I wonder, am I really part of an intentional assembly, or are we just a lot of strangers who happened to show up in the same place at the same time for Mass?

Becoming aware of that dynamic has encouraged me to make a conscious effort, when I go to Mass, to get closer to the people I'm praying with. It seems to me we should relate to fellow parishioners differently than we relate to random strangers we encounter in public. So, I've tried to overcome my inclination to steer well clear of others, as if I were choosing a seat in a doctor's waiting room, and instead opt for, say, a pew near the front that already has a couple of people in it instead of an empty one near the back. I'm not getting so close that it makes people uncomfortable. Just close enough that I can't forget they're there, too.

I also try not to park myself on the aisle, blocking easy access to the rest of an otherwise empty pew. I'm always astonished at how many people do exactly that. Commuters know it's poor etiquette on the train or bus to force other people to ask your permission to sit in the seat you've blocked. Some people still do it, but when the train is full enough, people will ask them to move, because it's less awkward than having to stand (which, on a rush-hour train, always makes me wonder, Why bother with the passive-aggressive seat-hog act in the first place? But I digress). Since churches seldom fill to capacity, people (at least in my experience) seldom ask the aisle-seat-takers to move, and the result is a lot of pews left mostly empty but for the very ends, all the way back.

What can be done to avoid antisocial seating patterns at what ought to be a reasonably social celebration? Chase mentions a few ideas. The best solution, I suppose, is for people who attend the same Mass regularly to get to know each other -- if Massgoers are not strangers, they're less likely to behave like they are. But that's a long-term project, and of course there will always be visitors. Another possibility: have someone get up, before Mass starts, and invite people to move in closer to the altar and to each other. This kind of thing has to be done right -- it has to be genuinely welcoming, not scolding (nothing like this). The goal is not making people feel bad about the seat they've chosen, but inviting them to take an even better one. The only place I've seen this done was in Florence, Italy, at the Duomo. This happened twice, on two different visits three years apart: a sacristan -- the same fellow, both times -- came out before the Sunday Mass began to welcome us all and ask us to please move in closer. He did this in Italian, but his warm manner made his meaning clear. I ended up sitting inside the rail that encloses the altar (visible here), next to the credence table, and close enough to offer the sign of peace to tourists from a number of different countries. The experience of intimacy was not at all what I'd expected from Mass in such a venerable and cavernous space, especially as a tourist, but I've never forgotten it, and I've often wished more churches could pull it off.

What's it like at your parish? How would you fix this problem? Or do you prefer to maintain a decorous football field's distance between you and the next sinner?

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an associate editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.

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Interesting thoughts.  I think a lot of where people sit it is simply habit.  A former pastor of ours was returned for a wedding and offered Sunday Mass the following morning.  He commented that it was great to see so many old friends, and to see that they still sat in the same places as always.  To some extent, anyway, being part of a parish involves developing relationships with other parishioners, and not having those relationships makes one a bit of an outsider.    I've also noticed that I tend to sit by myself when I'm in a unfamiliar church, on vacation for example.  I get the that  feeling of not quite belonging.  I assume others feel the same, though maybe not.  The exception is when someone, an usher perhaps, or maybe a parishioner (I assume its a parishioner anyway) makes some effort to tinclude me.  It has been as simple as moving in to make room.  I try to keep this in mind when I see new faces in our parish church. 

I'm not too thrilled by the notion of an"intentional assembly," but I would very much like to see a deeper sense of community that would have its center in the Eucharist, especially the Sunday Eucharist. It would be good if there could be occasions to get to know some reasonable slice of oour fellow communicants. After Mass coffee, even coffee before Mass ( Can the hour-long abstinence from food or drink be all that important?). Perhaps, during this time, some of the parishoners could be on the lookout for new attendees, people who may have recently had a family member die, etc. Being part of a Catholic parish should have consequences that go well beyond simple Mass attendance.

I myself am not the most sociable of people. That's hardly a virtue. I should be encouraged to pay more attention to my fellow worshipers. And I ought to be willing to take some initiative. Only once, in my life, some years ago, did I find this sort of "communal" sense cultivated. It was at a university Catholic Center.

My problem with the notion of an "Intentional assembly" is that it sounds like too much like a club hat one voluntarily joins as one sees fit. Most of us have been baptized as children into the Church. In that sense, being a participant in the Church is part of what we have been inducted into with the consent of the community that has received us. Hence, we have responsibilities to the community that are not the same as those attached to ordinary clubs. Perhaps I'm just being cranky. If so, please chalk it up to my age, but I think that thee are good reasons not to blur the distinction between club membersinp and membership in the Church.

Jim - Yes! Making room for someone specific, without having to be asked to, is such a welcoming gesture. I wish it came more naturally to me, at Mass if nowhere else.

Bernard -- maybe my term is not the best one. What I meant by "intentional assembly" is just that the people who make up the assembly at a given Mass are aware of being there on purpose and with purpose. We've come there to do something together, rather than just being near each other by coincidence while we individually pray the Mass.

Mollie for pastor. A cousin of mine notice that her pastor when giving communion mentioned the person's name. "Body of Christ, Jim. Body of Christ, Mary." She was determined that the pastor would do the same for her. So she called up the pastor and volunteered her services for any help the parish might need. Eventually, she helped with filling envelopes and sure enough the pastor said her name when she received. (I tease her about it all the time.)

How many people does the pastor know outside his inner circle of volunteers? Some pastors do not even know the names of volunteers. So should it start with the pastor or lay leaders? Like many groups those in the church tend to get clickish unless there is leadership to foster community rather than favor those who have business or other reasons for being more visible.  So how do you provide a happy mix without people feeling intrusive. On the other hand should we learn to live with that tension?

The smaller number in many Protestant parishes forces people to mix in as they are challenged more.  Churches that are crowded seem to foster anonymity, strange as it may seem. 

I have always found that whenever I gave a party I made sure to greet everyone and make sure they were comfortable. Maybe we can find a way to do that in church. 

Mollie, what a great topic! I was going to say, "Don't get me started because, as an usher, I see everything." But you got me started. Just a story and a question:

My wife and I attended a weekday noon Mass at a beautiful cathedral. We were strangers in town. Instead of being celebrated upstairs in the really gorgeous church, the Mass was in the basement, a room that is replicated in any school lunchroom. OK. Probably financial reasons for that. The crowd was sparse, but we went up front and entered a pew in handshaking distance of another couple. The couple promptly moved back a pew, outside handshaking distance. At the sign of peace, my wife and I shook hands with each other. No one else moved or made eye contact, although the priest called for the kiss of priest. That was, perhaps, the first time the priest looked up after he entered (from the sacristy). Holy 1949, Batman, that was a downer. The folks in that town don't deserve that cathedral.

My question is: Why do so many people cling to the aisle seat? They stand up and move into the aisle to let in people who arrive during Mass, even during the homily, creating even more disturbance than the latecomers (another issue). What are they expecting? What do they get? Is it fear of fire, maybe? We have a couple of parishioners who are mildly agoraphobic; they arrive on time and stand at the back of the church. Have we scores of others with the same problem who lack the forethought of those two? If anyone out there is one of those immoveable objects, tell me why.

The aisle seat is like the end seat on the subway; it makes it more likely that, at least on one side, you won't get squished.  (But that wouldn't be a problem in an empty church). I never get the aisle seat, I have 2 daughters that always fight over it. 

My own parish seems to have a reluctance to shake hands at the Kiss of Peace. The Archdiocese is recommending it be downgraded to a "worship site". If that happens, I'm going to be shopping for a new one, and one of my selection criteria (there will be others) is going to be whether the congregation shakes hands at the Kiss of Peace.  

I like crowded churches, because half empty ones feel just so sad to me.

 

This isn't an issue at Newman Hall, Berkeley CA since at most liturgies the chapel is full.  

It's amazing that it's just like when I was a child when you are aware of someone's absence because they aren't in their usual pew.  

[Our family always sits in the balcony - a habit formed when our children were really young, and we were also the "very loud family," and we didn't want to disturb the really serious parishioners downstairs during the liturgies (most of the serious parishioners are also unmarried, unattached or retired).

Al Moser, our 90 yr. old Paulist, usually at our liturgies asks any visitors to identify themselves and accept the parish's warm hospitality.

The welcoming character of our parish is somewhat under assault recently these days after the new bishop Michael Barber of Oakland has intruded upon our peace by summarily dismissing our pastor and campus minister with no explanation, made pejorative statements about our worship and community,  and refuses to come personally to speak and explain himself to parishioners.  Sound a little scared to you?  

Barber, without ever once visiting Newman Hall, has pronounced our parish as representing a "negative Catholicism" - whatever that means?!?  A strange comment coming from a hierarch who has had no difficulty in demonstrating in the less than a year he has been in Oakland that he is hopelessly alienated and dangerously irrelevant to the lives of the people of the Oakland diocese.

 It may just be a matter of Barber being a really immature bishop-leader that he feels he needs to send messages and/or put his scent on the diocese.  He appears to be a very ambitious politician so all this authoritarian fever may be for the comsumption of his mentors higher-up the hierarchy ladder and to impress his patrones in the Vatican.

Hopefully, the Beatles were right:  "All Things Must Pass."  Reminds me of:  I once had a conversation with now deceased Bishop Walter Sullivan just after he returned from Roma and his ad limina visit.  I asked him his impressions.  He just smiled his very Irish smile and said, "Someday, they all will be dead."

I have always found that whenever I gave a party I made sure to greet everyone and make sure they were comfortable. Maybe we can find a way to do that in church.

My parish has opening announcements just before mass.  The first one is to ask visitors to stand so we can see and greet them.  There is inevitably a slight hesitation to do so until the first one does ... they the rest stand.  We applaud them and greeters rush about giving them a welcoming brochure with information about the parish.

Many of us have volunteered to be sure to go up after mass to someone who is visiting and personally welcome them, ask how they found out about us (our location is a bit off the usual visitor path in San Francisco) and to escort them (if they wish) to the social activities in our basement.  We put out a good spread and want visitors to be sure to join us.  Those who do join us are generally greeted by more of the regulars.

I have yet to find that done in ANY other parish I have attended.

More's the pity.

although the priest called for the kiss of priest.

 

Good show, Father!!!

The aisle seat is by far my favorite because, even if the church gets crowded and someone tall sits in front of me, I can still stick my head out into the aisle and have a better view of the altar and ambo. We can look back and get a view of the entrance procession even though everyone is standing up and blocking the view of the people who are in the inside. Also, we get sprinkled with more water. And we have a better chance of smelling the incense if there is some.

It's better in almost every way.

I sit on the center aisle because I don't receive. When the usher moves to my row, I step out and back and gesture for others to move into the center aisle, then I step back in place. They re-enter the pew from the side aisle. If I sat there or in the middle, I would disrupt the "flow."

Most people in the local parish sit with in their extended family groups. Everybody knows which pews "belong" to each family and keep out. I rarely notice visitors, as the parish is isolated and small, but when we "turned Catholic" years ago and didn't know the seating arrangements, a family patriarch asked me and my four-year-old to please move so his family could sit there. We moved down until there was no room and found ourselves in the aisle, so we had to change our seat entirely. It was kind of humiliating.

Raber is often lectoring or EMing, and needs to sit in the front. I prefer to sit toward the back with the widower farmers because I get hot flashes thinking about holding hands at the Our Father, and those guys wouldn't be caught dead holding hands under any circumstances. They also pass the peace with a nod.

Ushers? We have them, but I have no idea what they do except hang around in the lobby and tell dirty jokes to each other, and give people the bulletin after Mass. It would be nice if they took an interest in seat-and-greet. 

Raber, who is the "real" Catholic of the family, seems to want to stay in the local parish until the priest, who is quite ill, retires. I would like to switch to our sister parish, which is slightly more welcoming and has Bible study, after that.

It's my experience in both Anglican and Catholic traditions--most certain as a Unitarian--that when people are at worship, they feel that basic friendliness or courtesy would be unseemly because it would mean speaking.

 

 

 

When I went to chirch i usually sat in the front, mostly because I can't see well.  But also because most people seemed to have struck claims on most of the other pews.  The church was always pretty full, so no reall need to get people to move.  You can see a not very good pic of my small suburban church's interior here ... http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-yTf6LKyHuxw/UOucL_aJwGI/AAAAAAAALtg/7SwlcVKVfa...

I had to laugh when I read Jean's comment about "...widower farmers...those guys wouldn't be caught dead holding hands under any circumstances."  That pretty well describes my dad to a "t".  He always goes to Mass a half hour early, so he can say his rosary, but also to stake out his favorite seat to the left of the pillar three rows from the back. You don't have to shake hands with a pillar.  I'm not quite that bad yet, but I can see there from here; I have some of Dad's genes.  I think it's kind of an introvert /extrovert thing whether one likes to meet and greet people. I do try to greet people as I am coming into church or leaving.

 

Dang! Pillars! What a great idea. I'm going to make sure the next parish I "shop" has them.

I thought about the cry room--some of the agoraphobes do sit back there--but they used to make us sit in there in the run up to the Rite of Initiation at Easter, and that's bedlam. The cry room is actually the parish hall with a window that looks into the church proper, and the ushers put out the donuts before Mass (duh). That means all the toddlers back there who are already freaking out because they're bored from church can also freak out because they can't have a donut until it's over.

Trying to distract them with stuff in my purse doesn't work because I have nothing in there that would trump a donut.

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly

... the people who make up the assembly at a given Mass are aware of being there on purpose and with purpose.

But why must such awareness be expressed by physical proximity? Whenever this issue is raised, I always wonder about it. 

Just as everyone connects with God in his or her own peculiar ways, everyone connects with other people in different ways, no? That people aren't sitting close together, side by side, doesn't mean they are being antisocial, nor does it mean that they are rejecting being part of a community. 

[shrug]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A well written piece, Mollie Wilson O'Reilley.

My two cents:

From an old St. Joseph's Weekday Missal under the General Introduction #2 -  Participation of the Faithful  - that many years ago opened my eyes to my role in the celebration:

Participation of the faithful is not a ministry but an office. This prerogative is theirs, not as individuals but insofar as they unite to form one assembly or congregation. For it is  as a community that they are the sacramental sign of the Church. 

...It is of the highest importance, that, whether few or many, the faithful participate in the Mass as one body, united in faith and charity and avoiding every appearance of singularity or division. It is as a group that the Word of God is addressed to them and the body of the Lord is offered to them and that they are invited to pray, to sing, to perform certain actions and take certain positions. It is, therefore, as a group that they should respond. This common participation, lest it degenerate into more outward conformity for the sake of good order, should be motivated by a deep religious sense of their relation to one another and to God in Christ and of their office to be a sign of the mystery of the Church.

I'm assuming that immoveable objects, aisle seating and pillars, notwithstanding, are somehow incoporated into the ideal participation of the faithful. These wonderful people we see on most Sunday's do become a part of the fabric of our celebration. I'd feel remiss if they were forced by an overbearing usher or parishioner to, "Move in please; I'M IN CHARGE HERE,  thank you very kindly." 

I'm glad  they have taken the time to be at Mass, considering the many who choose to stay home.  I'm with Bernard Dauenhauer: no "intenional assembly"; perhaps a Christian community is sufficient.  And Tom Blackburn: My question is: Why do so many people cling to the aisle seat? Some questions are best left unanswered. Consider the inscrutable aisle clingers as guardians of the pew who are maintaining a cosmic balance that escapes our understanding. ;)

 

 

Here is how the Roman Missal itself, in the General Instruction, instructs us in the matters at hand.  The GIRM has a legal-document aspect to it, and while I suppose it's not really possible to legislate unity any more than it is to legislate morality, there are also some good theological and liturgical insights in the GIRM, and I'd suggest that this passage is an example.  I've taken the liberty here of italicizing some pertinent phrases and sentences.

 

II. The Functions of the People of God

95. In the celebration of Mass the faithful form a holy people, a people of God’s own possession and a royal Priesthood, so that they may give thanks to God and offer the unblemished sacrificial Victim not only by means of the hands of the Priest but also together with him and so that they may learn to offer their very selves.   They should, moreover, take care to show this by their deep religious sense and their charity toward brothers and sisters who participate with them in the same celebration.

They are consequently to avoid any appearance of singularity or division, keeping in mind that they have only one Father in heaven and that hence are all brothers or sisters one to the other.

96. Moreover, they are to form one body, whether in hearing the Word of God, or in taking part in the prayers and in the singing, or above all by the common offering of the Sacrifice and by participating together at the Lord’s table. This unity is beautifully apparent from the gestures and bodily postures observed together by the faithful.

 

I have read that GIRM passage many times. It's always quoted whenever this question arises and especially when the discussion morphs into, as it usually does, debates about "the active participation of the faithful" between the so-called OF and EF zealots/adherents.

I still fail to see how that passage traslates to: the faithful should sit together closely, and there must be physical contact among the faithful during mass.

 

 

 

By definition church means a gathering of people. We say People of God. The GIRM passage is spot on. No singularity. It is not really church if one person attends. That is why all those singular masses were atrocities, as it were. We show who we are by our actions towards each other.

I think parishes reflect the tone of the larger community, and I presume that's why the local parish in my neck of the woods is the way it is. Plus there's an irony about Catholicism, which is the Church Universal on the global level ... but at the parish level it can be insular, exclusive, and overly influenced by a few families or a specific ethnic group. Others have taken issue with that latter, but this area is still heavily influenced by the original German and Czech families whose progeny predominate and also happen to be Catholic.

"OF and EF zealots"?

I still fail to see how that passage traslates to: the faithful should sit together closely, and there must be physical contact among the faithful during mass.

Maria - I don't think the GIRM is telling us that we need to bring tape measures to mass to ensure that we're sitting acceptably adjacent to the next guy.  I do think, though, that there is real power in the symbolism of the People of God, gathered together to worship.  And that sitting such that, spatially, we look and feel like one People rather than many diffrent and widely scattered people, can be significant.

 

 

This really gets to how the changing mores of modern culture influence parish life. At one time, and that is still true today (at least technically), one's parish was determined by one's geographic location. That is all well and good however with stratification in neighbourhoods you have certain parishes catering to a largely upper middle class group, another a poorer one and so on. Thus going to the geographic parish is not guarantor of connecting with the cross-section of Catholics.

Add to that self selection and people moving to parishes that more suit their particular sensitivities and spiritualities (e.g. EF groups) or parishes that are on the other side of the spectrum. And you have selective, voluntary grouping of people who share the same, general outlook.

Similar for Catholic discussion sites although we had some conversations some time ago around attracting people with different views and engaging with them in respectful ways.

 

Jim Pauwels

Thank you. 

I must confess though, my (crooked little) brain tends to think kinda the opposite, i.e., when I see people sitting all over in the church, some alone in one pew, others together in another, some in front, others in the back, etc., as happens at my rather large church, especially during weekday mass, I don't see that as "many different and widely scattered people,"  but instead, as the song goes, this: "we, though many, throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord," as symbolized by the very fact that we have gathered together to worship in one place, regardless of where and how we are seated in that place, regardless of our varied places in this world.

So yes, I do fully agree with you about "the power in the symbolism of the People of God, gathered together to worship," but guess we disagree on just what symbolizes what. 

Thank God unity does not mean uniformity, eh? :-)

Raber, I think, would agree with Jim P. Despite the fact that Raber doesn't particularly like hand-holding any more than I do, he believes that it's important to show that the parish is united as the people of God, and that his being creeped out is a defect in his own character and needs to be broken down.

I understand and respect his point of view.

But he's still a regular communicant and feels a connection with the Church Universal that is long gone for me.

The kiss of peace is kind of depressing at a church in Florida.  I've never seen so many people who simply nod instead of shaking hands.  They're invariably elderly, so either they're severely germ-phobic or they have arthritis.

Angela, Come over to this side of the state. It's a Petri dish of germs. I noticed this morning that our weekday Masses are almost as filled in the middle section of the church as on out-of-season Sundays, and it has stayed that way even after Easter. No one was in the balcony. Two people were in the left section today and a scattering was on the right with most of the scatter in a knot at the front where the sacristan and his pre-Mass Rosary contingent sit. They form a circle to hold hands during the Our Father. My oldest daughter was scandalized no end. The point being that on weekdays, with the chance to spread out, most of our parishioners don't.

On Sundays we pretty much fill up, even out of season, so it would be hard to do a Garbo anywhere in the church. One more thing: Hardly anyone gets into the noon Mass on Sunday without being touched by an usher -- a pat on the shoulder, a handshake, a hug... some acknowledgement. (I specialize in hugging the widows because at my age I can get away with it.) A lot of the hugging strems from 20 men's and 21 women's Christ Renews His Parish retreats with cross-pollinated chrp brothers and sisters. We were all quiet, mousey and introverted until those retreats started.

I accept, and even honor, Jean's reason for clinging to the end of the pew. Hanging tight for cosmic balance unhinges my imagination, though.

 

 

Is shaking hands instead of actually kissing an American thing, or do people do it elsewhere?

Abe, come to my parish and you will be kissed, bussed, smacked and/or smooched to death at the Peace. https://www.flickr.com/photos/mhr_sf/5709144496/in/set-72157626694506210/

There is, of course, always a danger of it becoming the French kiss of Peace, but that's another story.

Kiss the people whom you know well enough to kiss them outside of Mass. Shake hands with all others. That's how we do it in France, where we are not afraid of germs.

Finn on mom's side. In Finland shaking hands is considered foreplay so not sure what the 1 or 2 Catholic churches in the whole country do. Hugs for close friends and fam, shaking hands for others....kissing...no...not for me...not afraid of germs but not my thing at least in public.

Claire, I don't think the distaste with hand-holding and kissing stems from fear of germs. I'm happy to hug children and the infirm, especially in nursing homes, and hold hands with the dying--the people who seem to need communication through touch. 

It's that the hand-holding at the Our Father and hand-shaking at the peace is done awkwardly and out of a sense of duty unless it's within the extended family groups who sit together. Outside of the family group, it's rendered meaningless by its tepidity. Sometimes think that if the folks in the local parish were freed from the obligatory touching that they clearly dislike, they might loosen up and be a little more welcoming in other ways,

Just one quick observation that has nothing to do with handshaking, etc. If I don't know my fellow congregants, don't have a chance to do much of anything else with them than take part in the Mass, it's hard for me to see much sense of community being achieved within the Mass. It's all too mental, "intentional," if you wish. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to have had sufficient instruction in the theology of the Mass, then maybe we can manage. But other folks are left with very little to go on other than some general sense that going to Mass is what they should do. Not a good recipe for enouraging them or their children to think of themselves as part of a community.

I think "Maria" hit the right point mentioning that all this may have to do with the introvert/extrovert thing.

Being VERY old and trying to be, in the Mass, in touch with "my Friend from Galilee" who gives himself to me, I need a personal space around me.

I once read that when Cardinal Newman (perhaps recently canonized?) was dying, he requested to be left alone in his last moments.

 

 

 

It's very hard to pretend that those who are in many churches for mass at the same time are a "real" community, at least not in the sense that they actually know one another and have a relationship and something in common beyond being at the same mass on any given Sunday.

The large suburban parishes I am most familiar with have anywhere from 1800 to 4500 familes. The churches seat 700+ people, and most masses are fairly full (all except the earliest!).  It is sheer chance to recognize a face, even if there is a coffee-doughnut social hour after mass, as there is in the parishes I know best.  Perhaps you might know a couple of people - but only those whose kids play soccer with yours or go to school with yours, or those who serve in the same ministries.  On Sundays, the luxury of a bit of space does not exist at most masses, which are crowded.  Some of us need a little space., as mentioned above.   The handshake of peace seems to be somewhat forced, although most of the kids love it - at least the outgoing ones. The more introverted children are often forced by their parents to do the handshake of peace and that is unfortunate.  I prefer to be in a pew by myself if I can be!  Mea culpa, mea culpa.

Anne, meet me by the pillar. I'll save space for you!

@ Svato Schutzner:

Actually, the point I was getting at has little to do with either "introvert/extrovert thing" or need for "a personal space." 

My point was simply that everybody is different, and that there is more than one way to understand what it means -- and what it looks like -- to be a "real" community and be part of it.

For me, there is no other place than at church -- any church -- that I feel less alone, like I belong, even if I'm the only person there (like on some early mornings when I stop by my church to pray), or even if I hardly know anyone there (like when I go to a different church while traveling). 

We believe; therefore, we belong. To me, this is enough. Physical togetherness or social friendliness (e.g., I know you; you know me; let's be friends) is just incidental.

 

@ Jim McCrea: 

Can I come too? Your parish church sounds and looks all kinds of lovey-dovey, in every sense of the word. I love it!

 

 

 

 

My goodness, you Yankees are reclusive. No wonder we are leaking members. So we are in Williamsburg, Va., (this is maybe 10 years ago), a place we had been exactly one time before. As we enter the strange church, my wife says something to the usher -- because we always talk to people -- about being from West Palm Beach, and the usher says, "Tom?" And he turns out to be a guy I was in high school and college with in the '50s and hadn't seen since. We had dinner with him and his wife, whom we also knew, that night.

Of course, we could have kept our heads down and headed right for the pillar -- and later had our melancholy dinner at an unusual melancholy tavern. Look up, Speak up. You'll only be snarled at maybe one time in a hundred. Except maybe in Michigan where everyone has his own cave and protects it from intruders.

Jean, here shaking hands is something one routinely does with perfect strangers, in and out of church. I don't think it takes an effort to do it. It is no big deal. I would never refrain from offering or taking an offered hand (unless it was from an enemy).

It's too bad that you live in a place where people dislike any kind of physical contact with strangers. Does that extend to eye contact as well, or are you allowed to make eye contact?

 

I think I'm making myself out to be more of a curmudgeon than I am.

Folks like Mollie, Jim and Tom, who seem to have affectionate natures and love for God and neighbor, of course want more community, whether that's sitting together, holding hands, hugging the peace, or whatever. 

But even when you're willing to keep your head up and look for the need you might be able to fill in your parish, you may not be welcomed. I tried for the first several years, in the first flush of being a new Catholic, to start a Bible study with another woman (interestingly, the only people who came were other converts, but most seemed more interested in apologetics and getting ammo to argue with Protestants, so it kind of collapsed). I participated in lector ministry, helped with CCD, When I stopped receiving, I gave up all that (not a good example for others), but I can't say I felt any more "out of it" than I did when I was participating, because nobody really wants anyone new.

Raber, who has a faithful Catholic longer than I've been an unfaithful one, tries very hard. But we hear from Catholics in other parishes that some communities are just plain clique-y, and that seems to be something that goes on at the local parish. 

I wonder if dioceses could do a better job trying to help parishes assess their "welcome" factor and to teach priests how to better spot and encourage parishioners with special gifts along these lines. 

Maria ... come one, come all.

And if you come more than once, the smallness of our masses (averaging 40 Sunday evening to about 250 Sunday @ 10 ... we also have Saturday evening and Sunday @ 8 am ... all of this for a parish of about 400 people .. not families, people) you'll be recognized by someone, particularly if you head to the basement social hall afterwards for a bit of a nosh up.

Most of the time people that I see at the Mass welcome the contact. It seems to be a different person/s each week. It is not perfect but it helps.

The Mass or
Eucharist is a community act in itself. It is also the command of the Lord to be God's people. "Whenever two are moret of you..........."  Thee is no option. A Community act it is.

We are one as God's people. The spiriual bond and unity is more important than family ties. It is the command of the Lord. We must let the Lord wash our feet so we can do the same for each other..

When I was a girl  -- in the South -- we were taught hat ladies didn't shake hands unless the other person extended theirs.  If the other person did, then it would be extremely rude *not* to shake the extended hand.  So for old women here I think that offering to shake hands is against our inclinations, but when the person next to you offers a hand it would be extremely rude not to shake it.   

Also, please let me remind you that if an old person sits with crossed arms and won't look at you, assume that the person has bad arthritis, and don't extend your hand.  I find it almost impossible to refuse to shake an extended hand and sometimes at Mass I end with a crushed one.

Ann --- will you return an offered hug?

Jim McC. --

Depends on whether or not the person looks like a bone-crusher.

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