It is usually pleasing to receive an invitation to a special event. It could be a party, or a wedding or the opening night of new show. Whatever the event, it is nice to know that someone has been thinking of you and wants to include you in their celebration. In some way, the person who has invited you feels they have a connection with you. In some little way, you belong to them and they belong to you. That connection, that belonging, can sometimes be forgotten, even when people are close to each other. It often seems to be the case that family or friends who live nearby are perhaps invited less or receive fewer visits than those who live a long way away. It’s not intentional, it’s just an oversight, perhaps a certain amount of ‘taking for granted’; those we treasure most are sometimes the people we consider less often, because they are always there.
And when people are missed off the list, when we seem to have been forgotten, it can be disappointing, causing loneliness, a sense of not belonging. Sometimes, we long to be invited; and others too, especially at Christmas. As the shops make preparations, so too for parishes. You may know people in the parish, who due to family commitments, or pressures of work, or a loss of interest have not been active in their faith for some time. They may be members of your own family whom you long to see more often at Church; or students returning from college. How can they be made to feel welcome this coming Christmas? Many people make an effort to come to church at Christmas. How might we invite them so they feel a belonging that makes them want to come to church more often and explore anew their faith?
Welcoming is key. Are the signs for the church bright and cheerful? Does the entrance encourage visitors to step across the threshold, to be greeted by ‘welcomers’ with a smile? Welcoming could be a task for those preparing for confirmation, or may be those preparing for first Holy Communion with their families. Encouraging regular parishioners to watch out for new faces and to give a friendly greeting will as important as a special welcome to visitors from the priest. A greeting and a smile will go a long way to making a stranger, and even the regular parishioner, have a sense of belonging.
It is a good time of year to plan other events that reach out to the community, to welcome new people, to offer a new sense of belonging. An Advent or Carol Service with seasonal refreshments may be the start of a range of events that involves all the parishioners. Activities and liturgies for children who will respond with excitement and involve their parents and carers, helping to refresh their spirits and make them feel more at home in the parish.
And for yourself, a time to take stock and renew your belonging with Christ through prayer and meditation, perhaps taking time through Advent and beyond to explore the Scriptures, so to be, as Pope Francis says, ‘Be constantly nourished by the Word of God’. Try visiting www.wordonthego.org a resource for busy Catholics.
Deacon Adrian Cullen