Non solum: Ministry of Hospitality and the Opening of Doors


A regular Pray Tell reader writes:

Our pastoral leadership team has been reflecting on ways in which our parish church could become radical and magnanimous in our exercise of hospitality.  We recently became aware of an elderly couple who know longer come to Mass at our church because they have difficulty opening the massive oak doors at the entrance of church (built about six years ago). We are fully ADA compliant, but while those with mobility challenges are accustomed to finding the automated door opening control, ordinary parishioners who are simply too weak to open the doors easily my rightly be deterred.

As an experiment, I recently began standing out on the portico before Mass, opening the front door for each approaching worshippers. Without exception, this simple gesture has elicited warm greetings to me by those entering the church. Hospitality became a two-way exchange, markedly different in quality from efforts to make I contact with a verbal greeting in the narthex.

I would love it of our usual Ministers of Hospitality (families who serve as greeters and a well-ensconced crew of well-dressed male ushers) would take this on as part of our regular practice, but concerns have already been raised about well-groom ushers standing outside in the summer heat. I can understand that concern, because I would certainly need a shower before coming inside for Mass! I’m not sure what the alternative would be…youth in shorts and tank tops?

What do your Ministers of Hospitality do to welcome church members and guests?  Has your parish discovered the opportunities of human encounter during the act of opening a door?


  1. Twenty years ago, I spent Sunday mornings welcoming families as they arrived for religious education. Over seven years, I got to know names, celebrated family milestones, and saw our faith community grow. These days, I often find myself at the entrance to our church, holding the door open. Many of those same families come through the doors and we remember when the kids were small. Over and over again, members of the parish comment on how welcomed they have felt.

    It’s a small thing, one of hundreds of small things people do every day. Go with your instinct.

  2. Absolutely open the doors … even better, prop them open permanently then you are free to greet with both hands and not be “the doorman.”

    My previous church had massive springs on its heavy interior doors. These made it impossible for people with walkers, even canes to safely enter the sanctuary without running the risk of getting knocked over. It always amazed me to see the number of parishioners who insisted the doors not be propped open, even after several seniors were injured.

    My current church has one door that cannot be opened since it blocks the door to the washroom. Bringing in a wheelchair is a very tight, challenging affair.

    It behooves all churches to do everything possible to be as barrier-free as can be accomplished. We sweat, worry and fret about access to our money-making-parish-hall but leave the sanctuary obstructed.

    So by all means have someone at the door. Opening the door may well be the first step to opening the heart.

    Before the service you will most likely find me at the door … even outside helping people from their cars when needed.

    One final thought in another direction … have you ever considered what would happen if an emergency evacuation of the sanctuary was required? What would happen if a fire or other problem occurred in the front door area? Who (if anyone) is trained to go to the doors and take charge in those situations?

  3. The pattern of how people arrive at worship will shape how ushers (or others) welcome folks with these heavy doors in the heat of summer. Without more information, I’d assume that most folks arrive within the 10 minutes prior to worship, with others arriving irregularly before that.

    If you can figure out when the “pre-worship rush” takes place, it might be possible to alternate ushers outside in the heat prior to that, and then be more consistently open (propped open or otherwise) for the last-minute arrivals.

    I’m assuming that these heavy oak doors have no windows, but it would be helpful to know if they open into a relatively contained narthex where A/C issues would not be a big problem, or a large space where running the A/C with open doors would be a significant issue.

  4. Our pastor greets everyone outside: rain or wind or snow, assisted by one regular doorman. 30 minutes before Mass.

    Parishioners love it. The pastor meets visitors. Learns parish news. Win win for everyone.

    Plus a priest in his chasuble is the best free advertising in a busy downtown community.

  5. Please leave a side-entrance to the church open (if one exists). Do not place greeters at this door. I do not want to be greeted. I want to enter the church alone and in silent reflection to attend Mass.

    I am aware that greeters do not intend harm. I am not angry at greeters. But for certain persons, such as those who have social differences, being immediately confronted with a person with a million-buck smile and who thrusts a hymnal into your hand is intimidating. I understand that most people are extroverted, or at least can present a facade of extroversion. I can’t, and I don’t want to force myself into extroversion when I step into the church. Please let me dwell in my thoughts.

    For what it’s worth, traditionalists never use greeters. Their churches do not have an attendance crisis. An effusive extroversion is unnecessary for worship.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo:
      “Please let me dwell in my thoughts.” A community’s celebration of the Eucharist is by nature a communal event, joining with the people around you for worship. The Mass is not a private event, just you and Jesus. Adoration, devotions, lectio divina and personal prayer lend themselves more toward private reflection.

  6. And one more point: I am an American, but I come from a cultural background where displays of emotions are for the home. Outside the home, the only interpersonal contact is brief handshakes, muted greetings, and frequent use of titles. Emotions are not for public display. “Call me Fr. John!” one often hears. I will still call him “Father”.

    Why do progressives talk of “cultural sensitivity”, and then tell me that I have to put on a facade of gregariousness? Why not respect my cultural sensibilities? Or, must I act like a clowny fawning fool because this is what is expected in American culture? Why would anyone expect automatically that any person, including myself, will latch onto extroversion?

    1. Jordan Zarembo : Why not respect my cultural sensibilities? Or, must I act like a clowny fawning fool because this is what is expected in American culture?

      It might have been unintended, but “clowny fawing fool”, though it has a ring to it, is rather harsh toward those you characterize as ‘extroverted’, Jordan. I’m not into excessive greeting myself – quite the opposite, and the notion of greeters is quite foreign to the Church in my native area – but I don’t think the ministrations of the more enthusiastic in the US (or elsewhere) deserve to be labelled as such.

      1. @Joshua Vas:

        You are right, Joshua. That statement was unnecessary. I must remember that some persons are noticeably demonstrative. Even if that frightens me a bit, I must recognize that most act with good faith. I must trust that most people are sincere, especially at church.

  7. I am happy to be greeted when we come to mass, and I wouldn’t mind if someone held the door open for me (especially when I am carrying music binders for our choir). But we have another problem related to the opening of doors. Namely, people will prop ALL of the doors open at the start and end of mass (both inner vestibule and outer doors). In the summer and winter, that means that all of the cooled/heated air rushes outside.

    I agree that we should be welcoming and open, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to waste the parishioners’ contributions by heating or cooling the out of doors. I have asked the parish if they can discourage people from propping open the inner vestibule doors (which were put there to keep the conditioned air inside) but my requests seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

  8. Agree that doors shouldn’t be propped open, compromising heating or cooling of the church. And I agree that there many folks for whom an overly-extroverted greeting is no act of hospitality at all.

    That’s where the gentle act of opening a door…without thrusting a hand forward, or even saying a word…acknowledges presence and invites (but not forces) communication can be a very special way of extending hospitality (Gk. “hospes”…”healing love.”)

    It is that gentle kind of hospitality that opens the way to individually and collectively experiencing the hospitality of God in Christ Jesus. The same goes for preparing the transitional and sacred spaces well in advance of the arrival of even the earliest worshiper. I think of a silent retreat at the St. John’s Abbey. Whenever I went to the old guesthouse dining room a meal was set out for me. I never saw my host, but I received not only the hospitality of a kind monk or guesthouse employee, but of a loving God.

    For a little contrast – and wit to go along with worship and wisdom:

  9. While there are some people who like our friend Jordan arrive at church with their hearts and minds set like flint upon the crucifix and the altar of sacrifice and thus have no need to be welcomed, the ordinary mortals include visitors and newcomers who really appreciate warm gestures of hospitality. Our greeters are not in any way over exuberant, but our visitors and newcomers tell us that they really felt welcome in our church. Needing and experiencing hospitality is in no way inconsistent with offering the Mass with reverence and devotion the last time I looked.

  10. I am a frequent visitor at your Sunday Mass, as my son and family are parishioners. Your greeters are kind and always with a welcoming spirit. It seems some expect them to be mind readers of the various moods of those entering church. If you wish to not be greeted with a smile, handshake, and expression of welcome, then just keep your head down and ignore. I personally find the welcoming spirit that became norm after Vatican II more in keeping with the disciple love that Jesus teaches. Also placing ushers and or greeters at opened doors for a brief time before mass is hardly going to melt people in sun or cold. Neither will it deprive the narthex with lack of air and heat.

  11. I have a goal for our parish’s hospitality ministry that a person should be able to walk from their car to the pew without touching a door handle. Before Mass up until the start of the first reading we prop open the interior doors of church, and we try to have greeters at all entrances to open the outside doors as each person arrives. The act of someone opening a door for you and saying, “Good morning!” sets a tone of welcome and hospitality.

    We try to train our greeters and ushers to be able to answer questions without being overly pushy. Their presence at the doors, with a name tag, does occasionally invite questions about where to find the restroom, when the children’s liturgy takes place, how to join the parish, etc.

  12. well from what I’ve heard when you get to the pearly gates St Peter is there to welcome you. Don’t think you can sneak in the side door unnoticed. And when you get inside the liturgy is more participative than contemplative. Cf. the book of Revelation aka the Apocalypse.

    1. @Bruce Janiga:

      Your statement seems to say that contemplation is not participation, or that they are somehow at odds with one another. I and many others, including our Cardinal Sarah, would disagree with that notion.

    2. @Bruce Janiga:

      Consider the hymn for the dismissal of the deceased, in paradisum.

      The theme of the in paradisum is not an immediately realized welcome, as if the eschaton is certainly now for the person who has passed away. Rather, the verbs are optative, or a sure but not certain hope that the deceased will see the heavenly Jerusalem. No person has ever seen Lazarus reclining at the side of Abraham, but we can visualize this hope within the faint metaphors we have fashioned for ourselves.

      The Mass is the feast of the Lamb. There is a time to participate verbally, and also a time to imperfectly but earnestly contemplate this Sacrifice which is the entry of the creator into his creation. What transpires at Mass is beyond the feeble contemplation of the human mind. Still, if one does not contemplate the Mass, and instead views Mass almost entirely as communal exercise at the cost of personal contemplation, he or she is then no more than an automaton speaking responses.

  13. my point is that if Revelation anticipates the Post-parousia heavenly liturgy then you will need to prepare for the fact that the saints and angels ACTIVELY participate. I did not intend to rule out contemplation. But you cannot exclude active participation. Your comments seem to reflect a desire for a one on one relationship with God in heaven. But we also envision a communal aspect. To deny or denigrate that aspect is a disservice to our faith tradition.
    Jesus taught us to pray Our Father within the context of a community, not MY Father.

    1. @Bruce Janiga:I don’t know if you’ve followed Jordan’s comments over the years here, but his comment is not coming from a place of denial of a community context for worship. Not everyone engages with communal worship in the same way. We need to be less ham-fisted in behaving as if they do.

  14. +1 for Jordan.

    The concepts of “welcome” & “hospitality” are very individuated experiences. I have to second what Karl Liam Saur says about Jordan’s comment.

    I have walked into monastic chapels with no “greeter”, “usher” or “minister of hospitality” & felt perfectly welcome. I have also walked into churches where I was hailed as if a long lost stranger – when I have been Roman Catholic for four decades &, even if I have never been in that particular church, I am anything but a stranger & do not relish being welcomed into what is, in fact, what I consider my home away from home whilst in a strange place. Other places though, when done discreetly, the greeting has been a warm & cordial experience.

    At the end of the day, individuals process experiences in very different ways & that requires sensitivity for both the greeter & the greetee.

    There are people who relish or at least graciously receive being greeted & talked with. There are people who prefer slipping into a worship space unobserved & unobtrusively.

    I will never forget my first experience in a predominantly Hispanic parish. People greeted me with embraces! Except my cultural background was British; in my day, such greeting was reserved to family or the closest of friends. What was well intentioned on their part was off-putting to me in the extreme & akin to assaulting me – or so I felt. They could not understand why I became so rigid & defensive & I was shocked at being hugged by strangers. I came to understand their way & method of welcome. On my end, it would have been more meaningful & cordial, for me, to receive a nice handshake at arm’s length & a greeting of “How do you do?” But, as they said, such an attitude for them would be so cold, formal & aloof as to be insulting.

    It takes sensitivity to realize that what is appreciated by one personality/culture may be off-putting to another personality/culture. Neither is “wrong”. I was in their space – yet still me.

    One size truly does not fit all.

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