Assumptions about worship may alienate newcomers
Of course we’re welcoming communities. We sing songs everybody knows, we make it as easy as possible for people to participate. It’s a mystery to us why people don’t come to church and, if they do, why they don’t participate more in mass.
She seems to have enjoyed it, and has asked several discerning questions
about the liturgy and faith generally. And she has also shown me exactly
where I am an unknowing fish living in water.
One day I made mention of the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father. I had noticed
she was not saying it along with the community during the consecration.
I asked if that was because she didn’t agree with the ideas in
the prayer or because she didn’t know it, reinforcing that both
were answers I would respect. Turns out she didn’t know the prayer — not
the words, not the context, not the meaning.
You could have drop kicked me. I was totally cognizant and respectful of the fact that my friends and colleagues of other faith traditions and cultures would not know the words, but she, well, she was “one of us!” From a shared background. Part of some “Christian majority” that really isn’t an accurate reflection of Canada anymore, one that somehow absorbs the Our Father along with their corn flakes regardless of whether they attend church and so I can just “assume” they will all know the Lord’s Prayer.
Hmmm. I wonder if the rest of the people coming through
our doors, whether they come from a Christian/nominally Christian/non-observant/non-theist
home all necessarily know the Lord’s Prayer. We put up overheads
to make it possible for people to participate to the extent they feel
comfortable. But not the Lord’s Prayer. Why would we need to do
that? Everyone knows it, or maybe not . . .
Perhaps we should consider including it on our overheads
as well. Newcomers may not recite it, but at least they will be able
to follow along with that most common and communal of Christian prayers
and, in so doing, be better able to see if it speaks to them as individuals
as well. It’s
not hard, and if we truly want to be welcoming, perhaps we should avoid
even this level of assumption about our visitors.
She also mentioned that she had attended a mass while back
home recently. She sat with others of her generation who were as unaware
of the structure and meaning of the liturgy as she had been only a few
months ago. She told me she enjoyed and appreciated being able to help
them to understand what was going on and to support them in participating — noting
the “sign of peace” in particular. Again, such a simple thing — turn
to your neighbour and say “peace be with you.” But if you’ve
never done it before, how would you know what to do or what to say? At
my parish the priest has recently begun saying a few words of explanation
before the sign of peace, encouraging people to act with intentionality
in sharing Christ’s peace, and encouraging us to carry the spirit
of the act home with us, to live and feel in our daily lives in the week
She also noted that “they sang some of the same songs — or
they had the same words but different music . . .” The same songs?
I thought for a moment and then realized, of course, she was talking
about the parts of the mass. It made me think about “lapsed” Catholics
who might be revisiting us. I remember how difficult and disconcerting
it was to learn the new responses in the General Instruction on the Roman
Missal (GIRM) just last year. And I attend church regularly. Imagine
how someone who has been away for a few or many years might feel.
While a welcome at the door of the church is important and necessary, welcoming people goes beyond that first contact, those first words. If we are to be “fishers of people” and not unaware fish, we must live our welcome in tangible ways, supporting newcomers and returnees alike, trying as much as possible to put ourselves in their shoes instead of making assumptions. Our traditions may have been around for more than 2,000 years, but if one thing is clear from the Gospels, where Jesus repeats the same lessons, he did not count on any disciples or apostles to catch on straight away after the first time. He met them where they were and supported them with love. As we look to live our lives as Christ did, we would do well to copy him in this regard as well.
A Saskatchewan soprano, Burton has sung praises to the Lord in Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and now at St. Joe’s in Ottawa, where she is a chorister and cantor at two masses.