Thursday, March 18, 2010

"All Are Welcome" if we bother to notice.

Thanks, once again, to Paul Campbell at People for Others for providing blog fodder. This morning he posted a review of In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church. Gina Welch, the author of that book, having embedded herself in a Baptist megachurch, was oh-so-surprised to discover "a movingly ample capacity for selflessness and generosity" among those church folk.

Paul's questions: "Would she have come to a similar conclusion if she had attended and become involved with a huge Catholic parish for more than a year? What conclusions might she have drawn about Catholics from worshiping with them? Any thoughts on this?"

First, please murmur after me:
Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison
There, now I feel better.

Not to swipe at the church with too broad a brush, but had Welch attended a huge Catholic parish for a year, it's doubtful she would have been noticed, let alone welcomed. We may be singing "All Are Welcome" with soppy gusto, but that's about it in far too many parishes

Somewhere along the way "evangelization" and "evangelism" became icky words among Catholics. Evangelization seems to have become a holy-owned subsidiary of the, uh, evangelical churches. And when, pray tell, did the schism between radical hospitality and evangelization happen?

My best worst guess is that Welch would have spent a year being herded into a pew and up to Communion by a dour (because that's what piety looks like, right?) usher. Had she bothered to attend the monthly "social" after Mass, she would have spent it standing in a corner clutching a cup of bad coffee and a store-bought donut.

At some point during that year, she would have been subjected to the Bishop's appeal video in all its bad-production-values glory. She would have been invited to a "ministry fair" offering her opportunities to serve without revealing how that service might be anchored in faith, let alone the Gospel.

If she drove to church, she would have had the experience of being nearly run over in the parking lot during the post-Mass stampede to get kids to soccer practice and their parents out to the malls. Okay, so maybe she'd get to play Bingo...but with no one her own age. I suspect she would have ended her year wondering: who are these people and where is God?

But because "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life," I hope she would have encountered faith nevertheless ─ perhaps in light streaming through stained glass windows or candles flickering in the quiet dark; while gazing at images of Christ crucified and risen indeed.


  1. This post is searing Meredith - and not surprisingly.

    I spent many anonymous years in various parishes because, for good or ill, I wanted it that way. However, I pity the poor person who wants to find community in many churches where openings for the new are just not there.

    Your remark about a cup of bad coffee and a store bought doughnut brings it all home.

    We really have to learn from this. I work at a remarkable parish that does welcome pretty well and worship at one that is getting better at it. Neither is dour, but I realize that we are perhaps exceptions and not rules?

    Peace to you my sister. We are due for a catch up.

  2. Thanks, Fran. We are having quite the Lent, eh?

  3. stchingnI think many Catholic churches fail to welcome well. After more than five years, the closing, renaming, and merger of two parishes into one - which were merged by melding the smaller into the larger - does not seem to me to have worked very well. I will never forget, maybe three years back, a member of the larger saying they didn't want us (from the smaller) anyway!


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