In June, for most school is out and for many the time for vacations begins.
When we travel, the search for a Divine Liturgy should be included in our travel
plans. I rarely get the chance just to appear at a church without people knowing
who I am. But once in a while there is a weekend when I have to look up the
closest Catholic Church and attend there.
I have experienced a range of receptions. There is a moment of suspense when
you walk into a church where no one knows your name or who you are. Some
churches’ greeting is that you do not belong here. Other churches do not even
realize that you are a stranger and pay no attention to you. And others have
greeters who invite you into the celebration and to the refreshments after the
How do you greet strangers when they pop up in your church? Do you or
someone else wait and watch for new visitors as the father waited for the return
of the prodigal son? The stranger may be just passing through to another town
on the weekend. However, the summer is the time when individuals or families
move. So the stranger may be someone looking for a new spiritual home. The
most unlikely persons can turn out be the strongest members of your church.
Some of our parishes are growing and others are not. During the recent Pittsburgh
Clergy conference, the priests and deacons were asked to share their plans
for attracting new members. There is advertising through signs, publications,
media, and the Internet. However, the parishes that were growing had a clear
plan for the moment that a stranger walks into the church for the first time.
They had signs welcoming new people. They had ushers or a designated greeter
watching the door to invite everyone into the church. To the newcomers, they
explained where to sit next to someone to show them how to use the books,
when to stand or sit, and if or how to receive communion. From the priests and
deacons to little children, they created a place of welcome and hospitality. They
explained the icons and the history of their church. They were able to tell others
how their church had changed their lives.
No church can survive without attracting new members. The Byzantine Catholic
Church is no exception. Our world has a growing number of unbaptized and of
non-practicing believers. We need to follow the Apostle Paul who reached out
to those who had not heard the story of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Some were opposed to Paul and his message, but many more felt the power of
the message of the Resurrection and Gift of the Holy Spirit.
Your project for your summer travels is first to plan your trip to a place where
there is a church. When you attend the Divine Liturgy or a Mass, watch and
learn what they do right and what does not attract you to come back. Each
church community is different and the same approach will not work in every
parish. However, even if one person in your parish invites new people to the
parish, it is a start. From your example, others will learn how to invite those
searching for a spiritual home.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend William C. Skurla, D.D.
Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh
Apostolic Administrator of Parma