Thursday, 26 June 2008

On welcoming visitors...

The Pastoral Letter from the bishops asked us to 'ensure that our parish communities are genuinely welcoming and respectful'.

This could, I admit be interpreted in a number of ways, as commenters have pointed out.

But rather than thinking the worst, I want to suggest that we might start by considering the possible mote in our own eye, and focus on our own TLM communities.

Attending a TLM for the first time can be hard

I think we have to bear in mind where visitors are coming from.

I would like to suggest that for many people, attending a TLM for the first time (or the first time in many, many years) can be as alien an experience as venturing into a synagogue or a mosque would be for you or I.

They come not sure whether or not we are actually worshipping the same God, or are really part of the same Church.

They don't really know what is going on (if they try following it in the book, especially at a sung mass, they quickly get lost).

They certainly don't know when to sit or stand, when to respond or when to be silent, and find that disconcerting (we live in an age where conformity to the norm is greatly treasured!). It is even more disconcerting for those who have memories of the mass from many years back which turn out to be a lot vaguer than they expected!

They may have been told that all traddies are weirdos.

They come once and are never seen again...

Now some are pretty much instantly converted (I was).

But more often it takes a few times to get it.

Trouble is, in my observation, most visitors only come once and are never seen again.

And even for the converted (and I speak from experience here, particularly from experiences visiting other towns), visiting a TLM can feel fairly uncomfortable when no one makes much of an effort to welcome you.

My theory is that we too have been somewhat affected by the 'privatisation' of religion - and this is partly the reason Catholics don't like to sing. We come to Mass focused on our own preparation to assist at mass, which is good. But not if it means we are so preoccupied that we forget the communal dimensions of the celebration altogether.

So what can we do to help newcomers feel more welcome?

I don't think there are any easy answers, but here are some ideas I've been thinking about for a while. Some of these are things I've seen done with some success, but rarely happen consistently (and I'm as guilty on that count as anyone). Some reflect some suggestions on Rorate Caeli. Others are the fruit of discussion with those I've managed to drag along to the TLM, reflection and experience!

Suggestions for being more welcoming


1. Look happy and smile

We should be sharing our joy at the great gift of the Traditional Mass that we've been given. Instead we often look depressed, dominated perhaps by a Jansenist horror at man's depravity as witnessed by either our own problems or the excesses in the Church.

Put all that aside, smile, introduce yourself, and say hello to newcomers (and regulars!) before and after Mass.

2. Station someone at the door to make sure newcomers have books etc.

I think having welcomers at the door is a good idea. I know some TLMs do this, but others don't. And if you are a visitor, even if you are not a total newbie to the TLM, working out just where the bulletins, sheets for the day etc are hiding out can be hard.

Also, if you can identify newcomers when they come in, you can make sure they have a missalette, perhaps explain a little, and ideally, make sure someone sits next to them to help them find their place in the book.

3. Have a 'welcome to our community' leaflet at the ready.

Something that explains why Latin is used. The conditions for receiving communion. That communion is given kneeling. That many women choose to wear headcoverings in the light of tradition, but that it is not compulsory. And welcomes newcomers to other community activities.

A link to a communty website (with resources on understanding the mass?) might also be nice.

4. Encourage your priest to stay at the door and say hello to people as they leave, rather than disappearing into the sacristy.

Some do this, some don't. But I think it is important to have the pastor of the community visible and available to answer questions the newcomer might have, welcome their visit, etc.

5. Make sure community members are available to talk to newcomers after the Mass.

Traddies like to make long thanksgivings. That's praiseworthy.

But in the meantime, before anyone else gets up, the newcomer has done a runner, not invited to morning coffee or whatever, or having a chance to meet and talk about what they have just experienced.

I'd recommend some consideration of St Benedict's admonitions to worship Christ in the guest (he took it pretty literally, with the monks prostrating themselves to the visitor), and keeping one's prayers 'short and pure' if necessary in the interests of the practice of charity.

6. If you do have a social event after mass, make sure no one stands alone, ignored.

7. Don't tell people off for doing (what you consider to be) the wrong thing.

We've all seen it. The visitor who clearly remembers the dialogue mass (or just assumes responses are said aloud) - let them do the responses! They will work it out if they come back a few times and are the only person talking.

Don't glare at those who attempt to sing (even if very out of tune or whatever).

And don't harass the woman who doesn't wear a veil. She has eyes and can see that others are wearing one. Leave it to her to ask why.

7. Consider running an information session or two to explain the Mass and its spirituality.

This could be a good way of getting people in too!


Any other ideas?

1 comment:

Stephen said...

This is a great post. this is where the traditionalist communities have an excellent chance to outdo the liberals down the road.