The Importance of Hospitality


The column that I wrote in January about a wedding where the couple strolled down the aisle to the sound of an Elvis impersonator belting out one of the King's big hits has elicited a lot of response. A number of people have commented that, while strange thing do happen at weddings, I had obviously made up this particular scenario because it was just too ridiculous for words. I have happily sent off to these 'Doubting Thomases' photocopies of the newspaper report which I quoted almost word-for-word in my article, except for omitting the names of the couple and the parish for their own protection! Actually, I don't think I could have conjured up anything quite so bizarre from my own imagination!
Just before Christmas I wrote about the importance of extending hospitality towards others at Mass, especially visitors and new parishioners. This is part of a touching letter I received in response:
Several years ago I moved to Brisbane and began going to my local parish. No one reached out to me at the church as they didn't know me. People lead busy lives and don't have time to get involved. I made an effort to meet people, sitting in different seats and lingering for a cup of tea after Mass. I noticed that others of my age that I would like to have spoken to seemed to be part of an 'in group'. They would say 'hello' but never stop to chat. I used to wish that one of them would leave the group and show a human side and talk to me, even about the weather. It didn't happen.
I tried to make myself useful by offering to do things, but there were already capable and competitive people who organised everything and there didn't seem to be anywhere I could fit in and play a useful role.
Shortly after I arrived at the parish, my best friend died tragically. In my grief, I was grateful for the spiritual comfort of the Sunday eucharist. I found solace in the words of the psalms and Gospel readings, and in the hymns and prayers of the Mass. Often these would trigger tears, but no one at Mass ever came up to me to offer support or a reassuring word, and that is a sad state of affairs in a small parish community.
I believe that that there is a social culture in each church which is shaped by the priest and other significant parish members. If people were to do the constructive sort of things that you suggested in your article, this culture could change and become far more positive and inclusive.
I am now happily settled at another nearby church that I attend regularly. I feel involved in this parish as I have a small role to play, and I regard this as a privilege. Thank you for your article. I hope that your suggestions are taken on board by parishes so that other people don't have to suffer the same feelings of rejection that I experienced.
Could the writer of this letter have been describing your parish?


Elizabeth Harrington