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Making the stranger welcome at your church

Are you prepared to welcome the stranger asks Rebecca Bretherton, who gives some ideas on how to go about doing it.

Last summer a young student attended weekday Mass before her A Level exam. She parked in the car park at a church near the examination centre. A parishioner approached and told her she could not park there. Parking was only allowed for people attending Mass.

She is a confident Catholic and gently explained that she wanted to worship that morning. Despite her confidence, she felt she was an unwelcome outsider. Could a similar encounter happen in your parish?  

The man in the car park was not ready to welcome a stranger in need. He had not considered that a young woman might want to join the comfortable weekday congregation of local people.

Catholics regularly say that their parish is very friendly. Sometimes what they mean is that they meet their friends at church. It is easy for all of us to slip into comfortable fellowship with those we know. As someone who visits other parishes, I have often been ignored by the whole congregation: sometimes, I’m afraid to say, in East Anglia. 

We know we should welcome others. Jesus tells us to do so in the Gospel: He says, “I was a stranger and you made me welcome”(Matthew 25). 

It is not always so easy to do so. We put off trying to welcome people until we are not so busy. We leave it for the Parish Welcoming Team.

The uncomfortable truth is that now is the time to start. At Ash Wednesday Mass, St Paul told us: Now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation! (2 Corinthians 5) Every encounter you have may help someone to find Jesus Christ and give Him the opportunity to change their life. 

How can we become people who are ready to welcome others? As with all skills the answer is: with determined practice. Even experts need to keep practising to improve their skills.

Challenge yourself each Sunday this month to practice your skills:

1) Greet someone you don’t know on the way into Mass. A smile and hello is enough if you are shy.

2) After Mass: introduce yourself to one person you don’t know at Mass;

3) Speak to someone you haven’t spoken to for a while;

4) Move to a different seat in church or change your after-Mass routine slightly to allow an opportunity to speak to someone else:

5) Give a welcome card to someone who is to be baptised this Easter.

Pictured above are some of those recently welcomed to the Catholic Church at the Rite of Election at St John’s Cathedral in Norwich.