Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What has church done for me lately?

Along our route from the house to our parish church, a billboard was recently put up for one of the regions large bible churches. It shows a bunch of kids (probably ages 7-10) watching raptly as several loudly costumed people perform a skit, with a cross in the background. The tagline is "When was the last time your kids dragged you to church?"

A couple things stuck me about this. First is the basic awkwardness of touting a church's resemblance to entertainment as it's big selling point. It seems like the basic message there is "Your kids hate church and like entertainment, but we make church so entertaining, that they'll like it in spite of themselves." Now, if sitting in a church building for an hour or two each week were somehow an end unto itself, this might be just fine. Maybe from a certain point of view it is. But if (as I would) you think that it is what happens at church that is important to experience, than ditching that in favor of something more "kid friendly" seems off base. Not only are you not training children to appreciate the liturgy that in theory is their reason for being there -- but you're training them to appreciate something else instead.

Now, I think a certain amount of this may have to do with the differences between an American Protestant way of looking at religion and its place in one's life vs. a more Catholic view. The other day at work I was listening in as a couple of guys who are very active in their (bible church style Protestant) churches were comparing notes. One said, "We're pretty satisfied with the church we found. They've got a good men's and women's bible study, good kids program, good preaching and fellowship. The big problem is with the teen program. We have our daughter go to First Baptist instead because our church doesn't even have a full time youth minister."

And I'm sitting there thinking: Sheesh, I like our parish because the liturgies are according to GIRM, the choir at the mass we go to is pretty good, and our pastor and assistant pastor don't go in for loopy theology or liturgy. It wouldn't even occur to me to look for nearly the number of specialization of ministries that my Protestant friends seem to consider essential in a church. Sure, it'd be nice if our parish had a good bible study or lecture series, but that'd be strictly gravy. I don't think I'm totally out of the norm in that to me, extra-liturgical groups at church are things like St. Vincent de Paul drives, parish grounds cleanup day, and occasional projects/snacks/beer with the Knights of Columbus.

I'm not clear in my mind where there differences come from, or if there's a right answer to them. Another area of difference I notice every so often is that noun pressed into service as a verb as well: fellowship, to fellowship, and even fellowshipping. I once read a "secret worshipper report" by a Protestant visiting a Catholic church where the author complained: "There was no one to greet me as I entered. After the service, no one welcomed me as a stranger visiting for the first time and I was not invited to any sort of coffee and fellowship hour."

My first thought was: With at least five masses every weekend and 2500 families in the parish, I recognize at best 10-20% of the people who usually attend at the same times as we do, much less the people who always go at other times. I'd have no way of knowing if someone was a stranger. And I don't think I've ever gone to the parish coffee hour.

My second thought was: It would kind of creep me out and annoy me if I attended mass at another parish or in another city and someone immediately came up to me and said, "I see you're new here. Welcome to the parish. Let me take you under my wing..." I may not quite be one of the "don't offer me the sign of peace" kind of people, but I do still very much consider the mass to be communal time in private with God. We're there for the liturgy, so being overwhelmed with all sorts of community seems more a distraction than a benefit.

Every so often I read someone talking about how much better a job Evangelicals do of providing "extras" to their congregants, and how Catholics are starving for this stuff. I don't know if I've simply found ways to appreciate that lack because that's how things are, or if there's actually a different set of priorities which we rightly should have as Catholics. But there's clearly something very different going on.


1990bluejay said...

Great post. In my experience most parishes don't have much in the way of greeting other than ushers saying welcome, good morning or such; not surprising given the number of masses some parishes have and the lack of people to serve as ushers or greeters.

I have had the experience of being spotted as a visitor or newcomer to a parish - very creepy - I felt like I was being smothered in a disingenuous hospitality. In fact, one parish in my area calls upon visitors or new parishioners to stand up immediately before the celebrant processes to "welcome them" with a round of applause. Far to odd - haven't been back there except for a wedding.

I think part of this difference is the nature of the faith and its practice/manifestation - more private and dignified as an expression of will, not seeking "fellowship" with the other congregants and thereby making religious observance ancillary to socialization and turning church into a networking location.

PB said...

There is a start up parish in our area, so new they still have mass in the high school gym. We decided to check it out and were overly welcomed, not because we were new, they do that for everyone entering, most people were greeted by name. But then in simple small talk with the greeter, it was discovered that we were first time visitors and we were asked to sign the “welcome book”. We got our thanks for visiting note complete with a mass schedule magnet by Tuesday. We haven’t been back since but not because of this, we just happened to find a parish we liked better the next weekend and haven’t gone elsewhere since.

Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

We were greeted as newcomers BY THE PASTOR when we first attended our parish. At that time there were no EMEs and all the priests would distribute Communion and then line up outside after Mass and greet the assembly. The pastor warmly welcomed us, asked if he could help us register as parishioners, and really made us feel at home.
We stayed.

Kiwi Nomad said...

I have friends who left the Catholic Church many years ago because they wanted to be more heavily involved in their faith. They found opportunities for this in a more evangelical church and are still heavily involved there. Their whole lives revolve around family and church.

I went to a few churches in France last year where they had greeters, and as a stranger I quite liked the welcome. With my accent, it was pretty obvious I was actually a visitor! In one very touristy town in the Loire, they even worked out which (major) language you spoke if you were a foreigner, and gave you the readings in your own language.

Literacy-chic said...

I have had quite a bit of experience with Protestant churches, even having worked one summer at a Protestant camp & vacation spot where I was severely underpaid and lived in cinder-block lodgings & took cold showers for the glory of God. Fun stuff. In my experience, the Protestant over-emphasis (to my mind) on the fellowship "stuff" has to do with making church a refuge from the sinfulness of the rest of the world--particularly for children and teens. It's like building gyms in the inner-city--if we keep them busy with "other" stuff--God-type stuff--there will be less time for the corrupting influences of the world to do their thing. It might be the consequence of not having a Sacrament of Confession--once you're "Saved," you're "Saved," and the church of your choice had better do their bit to keep you "Saved." Of course, this applies to adults, too. As Catholics, we are encouraged to carry our faith into the world--not just to thrust it on others occasionally, but to really live it. We also have that sacramental view of reality going on. So instead of seeing everything as potentially corrupting, we should, at any rate, look for what is good in creation, and carry it in our lives and bring it to Mass with us, while finding what is beautiful and True in our C/church and carrying it with us into every aspect of our lives--not just into our efforts to bring someone to God. As a 15-year-old at Camp-of-the-Woods in Speculator, New York, I was asked again and again, by teens and adults alike, "Gee, isn't it hard to be Christian in New Orleans?" to which I replied, "No more so than anywhere else!" That question kind of epitomizes the mind set I'm describing--the "let's sequester ourselves" because the world is evil. And spend every waking moment in Bible study, etc. with others who self-identify as Christian. It can be a hypocritical impulse, especially if one claims that the world was created by a beneficent and loving God. Of course, I write as only a convert can. Sorry about that! ;)

Fred said...

I think you'd appreciate this video:

Me Church


Foxfier said...

Thank goodness, someone else who gets a bit creeped out by the over focus on the people instead of the Mass!

I love the coffee hour, but generally the only time welcoming works is if folks really want to know you-- there was one guy in Pensacola, about 60s-70s...I went to Church no matter what while I was there, and always the same time, just because I knew that he'd be upset if I didn't. He made me feel welcomed, without distracting from the REAL purpose of Church.

Rick Lugari said...

I just wuv the idea of an official greeter, it's so Walmartish! I'm feeling all warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it. Almost inspired to attend Mass at my neighborhood parish to spread the wuv during the priestly greeting, the Our Father, the Sign of Peace, and the audience appreciation ovation for the numerous and varied liturgical players.

Kiwi Nomad said...

That video made me laugh: thanks deep furrows.