"What are you doing here?" were the first words heard upon
entering the Lenten mission. Regretfully, it was followed with:
"Do you belong here?" There were no official greeters, no commissioned
ministers of hospitality, or even designated ushers.
One can be assured these phrases were not said to be
inhospitable, nor would the parishioners have believed they
missed an opportunity to evangelize. Nevertheless, hospitality
and evangelization are twins, brother and sister, under the roof
of the house of God, a household of abundance, a home full of
grace where one finds God's love and mercy offered with reckless
abandon. Nothing is unforgivable; no one is excluded.
These visitors encountered the face of Jesus, warts and
all. This was the body of Christ who had raised their voices but
not their hearts when they sang "All are Welcome." It was the
same body that couldn't grasp the concept that God's love
knows no bounds and it was the identical body that remained
confused when Lent and joy were used in the same sentence.
The words offered by Jesus in Matthew 10:40 ("Anyone
who welcomes you, welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes
me, welcomes the one who sent me") are more of a challenge
than an inspiration.
There is no coincidence that hospital and hospitality
come from the same Latin root. Perhaps, Jesus understood this
when in Matthew 9:12 he said, "It is not those who are healthy
who need a physician, but those who are sick." What better time
than Lent to visit where one is baptized and claimed for Christ.
As Paul shared with the Corinthians, "If one member suffers,
all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all
the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ's body, and
individually members of it" (1 Corinthians 12:26 - 27). And
individual members of the parish are wonderful; it is the parish
body that needs help. Selected persons are pillars of spirituality,
but the whole body is suffering from the fear factor. Persons in
the pew act like a cadaver of concern rather than the living
body of Christ. Quit blaming, stop talking, refuse to accuse.
One cannot wait to exercise the baptismal call to evangelize.
Each person is an essential part of a healthy and wholesome
body of Christ.
You can't wait for the First Sunday of Lent, be there, welcoming
all, on Ash Wednesday. Swarm the parking lot, flock to
the streets, hover at the entrances. Leave no one untouched. Let
every hand be shaken and every heart massaged. Share the
excitement of what takes place at the table of love and the altar
of sacrifice. Here is a story of incredible, unceasing love.
When it's dark, bring flashlights, rent searchlights, build
fires, burn denatured alcohol. Hold your head high. Lift up the
cross. No one is a stranger. It's a family reunion, and our heart
goes out to the prodigals as well as those who are here Sunday
after Sunday. They, too, need to be evangelized.
If you live in a part of the country where February 21
could be chilly and temperatures reach below zero, bundle
up - hats, scarves, and mittens (purple would be liturgically
correct) are encouraged, and boots are essential. Do not let
yourselves be held hostage within the walls of the church. Get
outside, with hand warmers if necessary, because it's important
to shake hands, pat people on the back and exude joy.
Hospitality is more of an attitude than a particular action.
Believe that warm hands and warm hearts can melt any scowl,
dissolve a disgruntled attitude, and soften hearts of stone.
If it's raining, greet people with umbrellas and walk with
them to church, reminding them that you want them to stay
dry until the sprinkling rite in church. If someone is dropping
people off, either under the portico or outside in the rain, go to
the car. In addition to helping the passengers out of the car and
keeping them dry, ask the drivers if they too need an umbrella,
hand them one, and indicate where they can return it once they
are out of the rain.
Almost everyone has extra umbrellas at home. Encourage
parishioners, in January, to drop them off so they can be used
for anyone, but especially visitors, who didn't come prepared
for a rainy day. Golf umbrellas are the best size. After Mass, give
the driver an umbrella to get to the car. And when returning to
pick up the passengers, you can be there to gather the umbrella
that was used. A quick hand off, since you will be helping people
get in the car while holding an umbrella.
Bring the smells and sounds of worship outside. Burn
pots of incense throughout the parking lot. When people get
out of their cars, let it smell like church. Better yet, act like a
high-class parking lot valet and open their car door, welcoming
them to St. Julian the Hospitaller Church, the parish with the
finest service in the area; here you don't have to knock for the
doors to be opened. Broadcast Gregorian chant with an outside
sound system; let them walk to the rhythm of the monks.
Be the first to wish everyone the joy of the Lenten season.
Don't chastise someone with an opening remark about how
long it's been since you've seen them; rather, indicate how good
it is to see them.
Good ushers will introduce visitors to matriarchs and
patriarchs of the parish who can tell guests a little bit about
who they are, thereby making them feel welcome and a part of
the parish family. And if it doesn't happen, then I always do it
myself by tapping the person on the shoulder and say, "I'm just
visiting. Could you tell me something about your parish and
what about it makes you feel the most proud?" By the time
Mass starts, I always feel better connected and a bit prouder to
Create a cadre of greeters, all shapes, sizes, ages, and
vocations to serve at the same Mass for the seven weeks of Lent.
Have a contest to see who can learn the most names in seven
weeks. Each greeter is assigned a partner but they don't find
out who it is until the final tally. Remember that "one" in God's
eyes is never singular. We are one Church, one faith, one body
We are all ambassadors for Christ. Like Jesus, we meet
individuals and remind them that we have the same Father who
has loved us before we were in our mother's womb, and that
our names are on the palm of his hand. You can add flesh to
these words by inviting individual members of your parish not
only to welcome everyone before Mass begins but to also share
with one another why they are a member of St. Julian the
Hospitaller's parish. You can limit them to two minutes.
When I experience this, I am treated to the personal witness
of individuals who love God and couldn't help but extol
their gratitude for God's blessings and the faith of the people
with whom they worshipped and prayed. Conclude with
"Wherever you are on your faith journey, we welcome you to
Their testimony set the table for a banquet of love, one to
which I had not only been invited but had been welcomed. I
felt at home. I was part of the family. I could hear the words of
Jesus made flesh: "You are my friends" (John 15:14). The
Incarnation is real.
© 2013 Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications,
3949 South Racine Ave, Chicago IL 60609
has held a variety of positions at diocesan and
university levels. He is a part-time national sales consultant with
Benziger, a division of Macmillan/McGraw-Hill. He may be contacted