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As Anni Harry seeks a new community of faith, she ponders how we can help build community within our own parishes.

Every couple years my family moves for the needs of the military. We’ve been blessed to have gotten to live in almost every pocket of the country and get to know the practice of what I consider “geographical Catholicism” in many areas of the country. We have also been blessed to have found friends and a community to call our “church home” at every duty station.

Often, this community is found on the military installations. However, our last home, we found that community at the church where I worked.

As a true introvert, I used to think that community is something I didn’t need, desire, or want. Rather, the concept of community harbored the same feelings that peer projects did in grade school—feelings of wishing the floor would swallow me whole and allow me to just complete my project and retreat into the latest book I was using as an escape from the world around me. Even as I logically knew the mental health benefits, and increased life expectancy among those who have a network of friends and community, I still proudly championed my introverted state of mind. But, I recently realized how beneficial community is, even to an introvert like myself.

Every move is a struggle, and I have known for years that I struggle not just with change, but also the adjustment to moves. Many military spouses actually struggle to adjust; a general rule of thumb is to give a new location a solid six month try, before seeking professional help with adjustment. Usually, within the first six months, things click and we start to feel part of the greater community. I have learned that, by about the six month mark, I can tell whether or not I will leave the location at the end of our two years with a solid group of friends, or ready to dust my feet off, eagerly looking forward to the new place we are heading.

This summer’s move is no exception. I’m struggling to adjust. I readily acknowledge I am still in my first six months, so am desperately trying to keep an open mind, and caution myself that it is not a good idea to judge a book by its cover of the first three months.




This past month, I sought solace as I always do, within the walls of church. At one point in time, I sat at Mass, and during the Prayers of the Faithful, the waterworks started. I typically don’t cry, especially in public, and as I sat in prayer for the second part of Mass—through the Consecration and Eucharist—I was sending up prayers of confusion and befuddlement. What was wrong with me? The next weekend, due to illness in the family, only one of my kiddos and I went to Mass, but the same thing happened. We walked in, greeted those at the door, made our way to our seats, and I spent most of the Mass in tears.

It was at that second Mass when I realized for what I was grieving.


I was grieving for the community, and frankly, all the many wonderful communities, I had left behind throughout the years, and the community I have not yet been afforded the opportunity to establish.

The third week, we tried a different church, and I sat in awe of how the community gathered made the heartbeat to the Mass. The second church we tried is much larger than our first church, and absolutely nobody knows us as a family—we’d only been there twice, spread out in a timespan of a month and a half. They wouldn’t notice that only two of the five have come to Mass on any given Sunday, and they don’t necessarily engage in small talk before Mass. While they offer doughnuts after that Mass, our family hasn’t yet partaken for several reasons. They don’t know “us” as part of their community, except to eagerly greet this family of five as we walk through the doors.

Yet their parish family gathered to worship, learn from Sacred Scripture, and be nourished by the Eucharist offered me the first glimpse of community that I am missing.

And, as a proverbial nomad, missing all the wonderful surrogate grandparents for my kiddos, the faith-filled women who comprised my social circle for almost the past decade, and the families that are optimistically trying to raise little saints and hope that the fire of faith is lit for our young ones, my heart was at home as a member of the community gathered at that Mass.

I have found throughout the years that finding community is exceptionally important when one’s family moves around. There is a breath of fresh air in a church that focuses on building community. It’s a breath that is breathed through the actions and encouragement of the priest and lay leadership and moves to the individual sitting in the pews. This breath moves, with openness to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit.




A welcoming, loving community starts with every single face in the pews, gathered together to join with others at the Eucharistic Banquet.

Creating this community in every parish requires introspection – not just within in each individual, but also with the families, and the leadership of the parish. It requires everyone to take a solid look at how we have embraced the poor and marginalized, the strangers, the people seeking solace from a sometimes-brutally tough world, and those who don’t feel as though they belong, but find themselves in our pews at a random weekend Mass.

St. Paul encourages us, 

Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. (Hebrews 13:2)

As I can attest, hospitality doesn’t necessarily mean large, extravagant displays of welcome, or even doughnuts after Mass (although those are a happy perk); rather, a friendly smile, a welcoming greeting, and a message of “we are so happy you and your family are here!” convey all the hospitality needed.

Hospitality requires us to dig deep, even those of us who are introverts, to remember the people around us in the pew, and inquire if a family of five shows up one week as a family of two, not because we are nosey, but because we notice that something has happened to that family size. We are challenged in a most loving manner to get to know the faces around us, so that if that family is missing a week or two, that there is concern, and genuine welcoming back when that family again enters in through our parish doors.


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Take a look at what change you would like to see in your parish, and how you can help be the change. #catholicmom


As the school year and faith formation years start across the country, I invite you, dear reader, to take a look at the ways your parish fosters community. I also challenge you, dear reader, to join me in taking a hard, honest look at the part you can play—as an individual—in building up your parish community. Take a look at what change you would like to see in your parish, and how you can help be the change.

It’s never too late to create the community you want to see in your parish.

But building the community you want to see does take time, effort, and consistency.

We build the community all for the glory of God.

Let God work through you to reach others in the pew at the weekend Mass.



Copyright 2022 AnnAliese Harry
Images: copyright 2015, 2019 Holy Cross Family Ministries, all rights reserved.