All Are Welcome

This week starts the last round of four “tips” covering Fellowship, Revenue Management, Evangelization and Stewardship.  After that, the 26 posts in this series will repeat (with some minor adjustments, of course).

Why will they repeat?  The same reason that our readings for Sunday Mass repeat every three years.  The same reason that our readings for daily Mass repeat every two years.  With repetition, we are at a different place in life, and may be affected differently by the reading.  With repetition we may not “get” the message until we’ve heard it over and over again.  Marketing professionals know this to be a fact.  Teachers do too.  They must present a difficult lesson several times and in different ways so that all learners can grasp and eventually master the concept.

The message doesn’t change; the message changes us.

And next week is a great time to restart the cycle since Fall is a season of change and thanksgiving!  Let us remember that our God is a God of “surprise and delight,” and even in the darkest times, we know through faith that the best is yet to come.  For whatever comes our way, as Scripture reminds us, “In all things, give thanks” (1 Thess 5:16-18).

This week’s entry speaks to Fellowship, and the necessity of welcoming those who are invited to worship and celebrate with other members of our faith.  The key words in that statement are “welcoming,” “invited,” and “celebrate.”

We sing, “All Are Welcome.”  Signs proclaim “All are welcome” near the church’s doors.  There is a place for everyone around the table.  The priest welcomes everyone in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  “All” is a very important word, especially in today’s culture.  If “all are welcome,” then we must welcome those who are sinners, and who are not “like” us, but are called to worship and praise!  Jesus welcomed the sinner, rather than judge or exclude them.  The Pharisees were the masters of exclusion; Jesus is simply, “The Master,” and the Pharisees didn’t like their world being upset.

Sound familiar?

We are all called to worship.  While there are many attempts to reconcile the actions of the secular world with the Church (the people of God), all are welcome to worship, as we are all sinners because we are all human.  However, when individuals are employed by the Church, individuals are called to be living examples of the faith we espouse.  We can certainly stray from that path, but Jesus’ reminds us that when our sins are forgiven, we are to “go and sin no more.”

Interestingly, there are currently efforts underway to bring more “communication” to the Church, since evangelization is indeed communication.  Several years ago, even prior to the start of the pandemic, a Diocese let go 13 people who headed up certain ministries for the Diocese, and, at the same time, hired 5 communication specialists.  The realization was that the the people need to be reached with the message…and that message wasn’t communicated from someone sitting at a desk in an office continuing to do things the way they had always been done.  Jesus always encourages us to move outside our comfort zone, since our comfort should come from Him – and not with the complacency that comes from doing things the way we’ve always done them.

As for coming to worship our God, there are those parishioners who get to Mass a half-hour early to get a seat, then “place” themselves at the end of pew.  When others begin to arrive, they seem annoyed when the family of 6 asks if they can be seated together as a family in the empty space in the middle of the pew.  One of three things happens:

1) The family receives a glaring stare as the disgruntled end-of-the-pew dwellers are forced to move to the center, grudgingly allowing the family to share the space.  Perhaps it was because the children may fuss.  Perhaps it was because one child is an infant, and another is a restless toddler.  Perhaps it was simply because the end-of-the-pew dwellers were asked to move, and do something they weren’t used to doing.

2) The end-of-the-pew dwellers stand up to allow the family egress to the space, then return to their privileged post of pew endcap.

3) The end-of-the-pew dwellers simply move their knees to the side, causing the children, mom and dad and the kids to climb over their “neighbors.”

I wonder if the end-of-the-pew dwellers wonder why the family of 6 didn’t get there earlier, since if they did, then they wouldn’t be inconvenienced.  Until you try to get 3 or more kids ready for Sunday morning Mass, don’t question it.  When a family of 6 chooses to come to Mass rather than participate in the community soccer league, that’s a reason to celebrate!

Besides, if all are invited to worship, then all should be welcomed – not at the door by a greeter, but at the pew by those who are there.  It sends a mixed message to have someone at the door welcome a family, but then 30 seconds later, someone offers them dagger-eyes for arriving after the people at the end of the pew did.  And, unfortunately, “dagger-eyes” still exist today – watch what happens when you continue to wear a mask to Mass and the majority of the people around you don’t don them.  With distancing requirements still in effect in some churches, those who come in looking for a seat and who can’t find one are usually relegated to the Narthex, or to the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament resides.

Back in the day, my dad was an usher.  Ushers would take people to their seats, and tell people to make room for the folks coming in.  Today, the ministry of usher seems to have been replaced by the ministry of greeter.  While greeter is nice, even WalMart does that…and we’re called to be counter-cultural.

Recall the parable of the workers in the vineyard.  Did the workers who arrived late receive the same reward as those who started the day on time?  Yes.  Why?  Because God sees not as we see.  How would you feel if you were invited to a friend’s house, and when you arrived, the door was opened and you were greeted with an excited “Hello!”  Then, as you moved to the table to greet others that are there and perhaps snag a chair, you’re glared at by the guests that have already arrived, as if you are intruding on their space, or there were people blocking the door that you had to wade through to get to a seat?  What if this happened week after week?  Would you be excited to come to that person’s house again?  Would you even return, or make excuses about not being able to visit…especially if it was just for an hour?

Now think about all those people who don’t come to worship anymore, except, perhaps, on a special occasion.  Are you welcoming them?  If “all are welcome,” then we need practice what we sing.

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