Non Solum: Liturgical Hospitality

When I first came to Saint John’s and began working as the School of Theology·Seminary’s sacristan/liturgical coordinator, I was very skeptical of “hospitality ministers.” Sure, they handed out the worship aids and greeted people at the doors of the chapel, but why did that require a special minister? Could not people just pick up a worship aid from a table on their way in? Did people really need to be greeted at the door? Saint John’s talked a lot about the Benedictine value of hospitality, but was that Benedictine value really all that important?

After three years at Saint John’s, I have come to realize the importance of liturgical hospitality.

This was further confirmed for me today when I received Johan Van Parys’ responses for Pray Tell’s “Interviewing Liturgical Leaders” series. His responses will be posted next Tuesday. In one of his responses, he says: “We are absolutely committed to hospitality. No matter where people are at on their life’s journey we try our utmost best to make them feel welcome.”

A church is more than a building, it is a place where a community of people gather together to worship God. Liturgy is the manifestation of a community’s form of worship and adoration. We do not “do” liturgy by ourselves. Even when a priest or lay person prays the Office alone in their room, they are praying with the rest of the Church. Our prayer life and liturgies are always communal.

One of the central components of community is hospitality. Hospitality does not mean that anything goes. Rather, it is an openness to the other and a willingness to enter into relationship with them by welcoming them as a friend. Hospitality as a central component of community becomes a cornerstone of a community’s liturgical life. This is why liturgical hospitality should be carefully cultivated and hospitality ministers expertly trained.

How does your community foster liturgical hospitality? How does your community train hospitality ministers?

Please comment below.

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6 comments

  1. During Advent/Christmas 2012, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati launched an evangelization initiative that included a strong hospitality component (as well as the distribution of copies of Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly to all who attended Christmas Masses). In our parishes we actually had hospitality workshops with volunteers from all ministries–from servers to Eucharistic ministers–about how being more welcoming is EVERYONE’S responsibility. Each group then huddled about specific ways in which its individual ministry could be more welcoming. The ideas were then compiled and included as a bulletin insert, to keep everyone on track. Our choir is in a cage (literally!) adjacent to the sanctuary. Because we always stop practicing about half an hour before Mass begins, choir members have the opportunity to escape the cage and do a little extra welcoming at the entrances, adjacent to the “official greeters.” The transition to an intentionally welcoming community has not been without its hitches, as when my 84-year-old mother visited and no one spoke to her, which just made me plain mad. We actually put a “hospitality” blurb in the bulletin every week–whether a quotation from scripture or another source–to keep the issue in the forefront of people’s minds.

  2. When I was working on my RCIA certification, one of our first assignments was to approach our parish as a visitor or potential new Catholic and see what it was like. Since we couldn’t really do that in our own parishes we were to recruit a non-Catholic friend or relative to attend and report back to us.

    I was hugely surprised at some of the things that my non-Catholic friend mentioned as striking to her.

    The church doors were open when she arrived. She felt like that was an invitation to come in without a closed door blocking the way. (Probably much easier in California in the Fall than in other places and seasons.)

    People were stationed at the door to greet her and welcome her. As a non-Catholic she was a little hesitant to come in (even though she was doing it at my request) so again, this made her feel like it was OK to be there.

    When she reached a pew some total strangers said “Good morning.” As she said, “They didn’t know me. I had never been there before.”

    And while she has no desire to become Catholic, she said she felt like if the time ever came that this was a direction she wanted to go, she could approach this parish and they would welcome her.

    Ironically, she said the time she felt most like an outsider was at the sign of peace. “Everyone seemed to know each other and greeted each other as friends. I was clearly shaking hands with strangers.”

  3. We have been putting an emphasis on hospitality for more than 30 years. We have greeters at the doors and throughout the church , including the pastor, the deacon and the cantor (usually me). Actually, the entire assembly ( at most masses) is welcoming.
    Other aspects of hospitality are;
    Making sure everyone has access to worship aids and/ or hymnals – a hymn board and hymn announcements for those who may not be able to see.
    A few large print missalettes for the hard of hearing.
    A rehearsal before mass to assist all ( even new folk) in participating.
    Pastor and deacon greet folks at the end of mass.

  4. Three years ago, the St. Louis Archdiocese ran a media campaign (TV, radio, print) in conjunction with Catholics Come Home. My parish tied into that campaign with indoor and outdoor signage, announcements, bulletin and website articles, renewed training for ushers and greeters, etc. We made a big push and have continued that effort since. While many people seemed happy with the idea, we didn’t have a flood of new parishioners or increased Mass attendance as hoped.

    Yet just recently, I asked one of our newer church members what brought him to the parish. He said that he and his family were looking for a church to join when they saw our signage Catholics Come Home / Welcome Home. Upon seeing our outdoor banner they decided to come to Mass and then to join our parish, and today they are among our most active liturgical ministers and co-chair of our hospitality ministry.

  5. Pope Francis speaking on the new evangelization in October 2013 I believe …
    1 witness through mercy
    2 welcome with warmth
    3 catechesis

    #2speaks directly to what you are saying. The people at the door should be somewhat adept at knowing a guest when they see one.

  6. It is impossible to sneak into my parish – even if you are late. Someone is still by the door, smiling, handing you any book or worship aid you may need, and then quietly indicating where seats are available and when a good time to sit may be.

    Our hospitality ministers are often families serving together, so the person doing this is as likely to be seven or eight years old as they are to be fifty or eighty.

    Additionally though, our hospitality ministers are trained in a manner that reminds me of flight attendants. They know all the emergency procedures of the parish. They know who the parish nurses are if someone falls ill or even falls. They know where the land line phone is to dial 911 in an emergency (using a cell phone in our little country parish delays response by at least 10 minutes). The adults are also all trained in using the emergency defibrillator that we have.

    We had a person take a fairly serious spill in the Easter season, and mass was able to continue relatively uninterrupted and the person was well attended to because of our well trained hospitality ministers.

    They smile when they pass the collection baskets. They smile when they hand out bulletins at the end of Mass. None of them yell at my five-year-old for wanting his own bulletin, as has happened when we’ve visited other churches.

    There needs to be something warm and outgoing in hospitality ministers by their nature, but the parish needs to encourage them to be their natural warm and hospitable self. You want to feel that the people at the door are happy to be there when you arrive. Otherwise, why would you yourself want to come in?

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