The best thing I heard recently was something from one of our RCIA candidates. Let me give you some context first. At one of the St. Joan of Arc Masses, I mentioned the not-so-pleasant fact that six people would leave the Church for every one person who becomes Catholic this year in the United States. I knew that one of the people who would become Catholic this year at St. Joan of Arc was Samantha and that she was in the pews that morning.
Samantha and her husband Jake are new to the parish and the Westgate neighborhood. They were married at St. Joan of Arc in May last year. While they attend Mass regularly, they’re definitely outsiders. While I was giving the sermon, they knew I was talking about her, so Jake started ribbing her teasingly. A long-time St. Joan of Arc parishioner noticed this interaction between the couple. After Mass, they introduced themselves to Samantha and Jake and chatted for a bit. Samantha and Jake said it felt great to be welcomed in this way and that they started to feel more at home at St. Joan of Arc.
This is the essence of hospitality. In the New Testament, the Greek word “philoxenia,” translated “hospitality,” literally means “love of strangers.” A simple gesture of welcome from one of us can also be a powerful experience of love for those who feel like strangers. It is not only a Gospel mandate, but it is also the most effective way to help outsiders feel like they belong.
I’ve heard many stories from long-time parishioners at St. Joan of Arc that they first felt this was their parish when Fr. Emmett Meyer or Fr. Dan Soltys went out of his way to greet, welcome, and invite them to make St. Joan of Arc their home. While Fr. Frank and I are start-ing to notice who the regulars are and who the strangers are, and we do our best to greet folks after Mass, we are probably still too new and spread too thin between the two parishes to be nearly as effective as you in the pews. Plus, we are not nearly as charming as Fr. Dan and Fr. Emmett.
I believe the most effective way to help outsiders feel welcome is through a culture of hospitality not from the priests but the pews. If there’s a stranger near you in the pews, do more than just greet them at the beginning of Mass. Introduce yourselves at the end of Mass. Learn a bit of their story. If they’re new to the parish, make them feel welcome and let them know you’re glad they are here. Pray for them throughout the week.
We hope to launch our first hospitality ministry at a 5:30 pm Mass at St. Joan of Arc in the coming weeks. TJ Simpson, our Director of Evangelization, will take the lead on this. The first training date for this endeavor will be Sunday, February 13th, at 9:00 am at SJA in the school’s teachers’ lounge. If you are interested, plan to attend even if you are a St. Thomas More parishioner. If you have questions, contact TJ at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-556-1456, ext. 203
Fr. Jeff Lorig, Pastor