A ministry for every member of the parishThe stewardship theme for 201-14 in the Diocese of Lubbock is “The Stewardship of Hospitality.” The following article is reprinted with permission by the author, Karen Rood, director of the worship office for the Diocese of Lexington and liturgy columnist for Cross Roads, newspaper of the Lexington diocese.
The summer months are here, and ministers sometimes take a “vacation” attitude. For a Catholic, being out of town on Sunday means that we will visit someone else’s parish for Holy Mass, and we likely will also have a fair number of people visiting our parish for Sunday Mass. Summer, then, should be a time when we increase our focus on hospitality.
Hospitality is manifested in an open and welcoming spirit, a willingness to drop what we are doing and receive the other person when they need us. We are reminded of Abraham’s hospitality to the three strangers (Gen 18:1-10). In welcoming the strangers, he was welcoming God. Christ gave us the exquisite example of hospitality at the Last Supper when he got down and washed the disciples’ feet (Jn 13:3-17). And he commanded us, who would claim to be his followers, to do likewise. If we really took this command seriously, we should be tripping over each other, as we approach the strangers in our churches to make them feel welcomed.
An explanation of hospitality (or lack thereof) can best be described by my own personal experiences.
I attended the funeral in another diocese of a friend’s grandmother. As with most families, there were many who have not been active in their faith, and perhaps had not been to Mass for a while, and there were many non-Catholics present. When we arrived, everyone just stood around, not knowing where to go. I entered the church to find the pastor standing in the sanctuary looking at his watch. The lectors, personal friends of the family, had no idea what to do, and there was no one there from the parish to help them, so I showed them how they where to bow before entering the sanctuary, and made sure the lectionary was there and marked. Then I personally invited people to take their seats while the family prepared to enter with the casket. Since none of the pews were marked off, many sat in the first rows, and no one bothered to inform them these pews needed to be for the family. Before I could do so, the pastor began the funeral. Thus when the family entered with the casket, there was a scrambling for seating.
The cantor was blessed with a nice voice, and she made sure we all heard it by projecting loudly during every hymn and sung response, and adapted most of the music to her personal style. The acclamations for the Eucharistic Prayer: the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation and the Great Amen, were from a setting that was written by someone at the parish. Now I am sure that the parish learned this setting and probably sang it well, but with so many of us present who were not parishioners the setting was almost impossible for us to sing, even with the cards in the pews and my being a musician and able to read music! The pastor did not greet the family or seem to offer any empathy for their loss at any time during the Mass. He did offer a brief, hospitable explanation of why the non-Catholics should not receive Holy Communion, and invited them to come forward with their arms crossed for a blessing. The funeral Mass ended, and I felt a great loss at what could have been an opportunity to bring some of those who have fallen away back to the church, and an invitation to others to join.
In another example, I was invited to a parish in our diocese for the first time as a guest catechist for the RCIA, which took place after Mass. As I entered the church, there was no one to welcome me. I smiled at a couple of families who were visiting together, but no one smiled back at me—they just stared, then went back to their conversation. I sat in a pew by myself, only to be given a glare when another family approached moments later—I guess I was sitting in their regular pew. It was obvious I was a stranger, and I felt very alone, since no one joined me in that pew, even though the Mass was fairly well-attended. Needless to say, people were curt to me during the sign of peace.
My last example is from one of our parishes I believe has mastered the art of hospitality. Their narthex is crammed full of people visiting before Mass—the church nave is full of people in prayer before Mass. When I enter they greet me with a smile, and some introduce themselves to me, welcoming me, shaking my hand, or giving me a light hug. During Mass they are very clear in their instructions and very inviting in their music—they sing and pray with gusto, and one cannot help but join in. They make sure all know to come to any reception after Mass, and there are many people to help with the food and drink, offering a friendly smile with gracious warmth. It is truly a pleasure to go there, and they make you feel like a member of their family.
My point is this: hospitality ministry is for every person in the parish who is at a particular Mass. Never assume that everyone knows how you handle the collection, or how you go to Communion, or where the songbooks are. Always be willing to make contact with someone, and notice and help when they seem to not know what to do. Know that a smile goes a long way—even the shyest of people can manage a smile! The celebration of the Eucharist unites us as the Body of Christ, but for a visitor, the individual members of the Body can go a long way in making that unity a tangible reality. This summer, don’t take a break. Instead, work harder to become the inviting hospitable community you are meant to be!
For resources to help your parish bring the stewardship of hospitality into each and every ministry, please contact or in the Office of Stewardship & Development, 806-792-3943.