Are We a Welcoming Parish? Are We a Welcoming Parish?

I’ve been thinking about how easy we make it (or don’t) for people who want to be a part of our Church and for those who are current parishioners. A few recent posts started me thinking (RCIA: Rolling Out the Red Carpet and Are Our Parish Doors Truly Open?) and a few experiences at work and in my parish about this question.

I have worked in a few different educational institutions and Catholic parishes.  My immediate supervisors had different approaches as to how they could be approached if I needed to talk.  Most were a mix of open and closed doors. The most difficult boss had a closed door, “only with an appointment, if very necessary,” policy.

Take a moment to read Pope Francis’ homily from May 25, 2013, “Open the Door to Faith.” The Pope is reminding us that parish employees have a particular obligation to welcome people and help them when they come to a parish.  All parish employees (including clergy!) should reflect on that very brief homily.

Just a few weeks ago, I went to a meeting with the other religious education directors in the diocese.  The presentation was quite interesting and even included time for small group discussions.  In almost all of these discussions the responses somehow came back around to this (paraphrasing here): “Parents really need to do what we tell them to do and do a better job.”

I wanted to remind the group of that saying to remember that when you point your finger at someone, there are three pointing back at you. Instead I reminded them that we have to lead people from where they are, not where we think they should be at this time.  I also wanted to pass out that homily!

“Jesus is indignant when he sees these things,” said the Pope, because those who suffer are “his faithful people, the people that he loves so much.”  These things refer to people being turned away from the parish because someone makes it so difficult for them to get married or have their baby baptized.

I also see people in my position taking a hard stance in regard to sacrament preparation that it is troublesome for the most devoted family.  Confirmation is probably the most burdensome in terms of preparation.  We routinely ask more from those being confirmed than couples entering into marriage.

Somehow we must strike a balance between sincere and through preparation and again, as Pope Francis said, being “controllers of the faith.”  When we welcome all people it gets messy.

Show me a religious education program that has only second graders receiving First Communion and ninth graders for Confirmation (in our diocese) and my first thought is, “Wow, no one out of sequence means either it is a very small community with little movement or if you don’t fit in, they don’t accept you.”  What a horrible thought, not to be accepted because your parent(s) left the faith for whatever reason and now wants to come back but you’re told, “Sorry, we can’t help because your child is not where she is supposed to be” or “Let me put your fifth grader in the second grade class to prepare.”

When I think of Jesus feeding the five thousand I think it was messy and tiring and hard work.  It is the same working with parishioners.  It can be messy and tiring and hard work.  Anytime you work with people it is not easy.

But what better way to spend your time than working for Jesus?  We must always remember that we are working to help lead people to him.  We are not the gatekeepers or sacrament police.  I pray that we all learn to welcome and serve all who pass through our doors.

Copyright © 2013 Deanna Bartalini