We had lived on our farm for 29 years, and though we were a geographically large area, we were a pocket-sized parish in population. We strove for inclusiveness in the parish and wider district. We worked together and rallied through joyous and devastating times. We celebrated ecumenism with other faiths. But Mass participants were shrinking; creeping old age was taking its toll.
As a rural community, discussions often centred on the weather; in wet times everyone was happy, but in too frequent periods of drought out came the “Rain Prayer”. If any rain did fall, the main question before and after Mass was, “How much rain did you get?” Agriculture, cattle prices and the climate were constant topics.
Eventually farm work became too much and we made the distressing decision to sell and leave behind the myriad experiences shared with fellow parishioners. The wrench was tough; we were probably feeling vulnerable when we first attended Mass in our new parish.
It was a shock to move from knowing everyone in the church to being surrounded by strangers. We may be a universal Church, but each parish has its particular idiosyncrasies. There is a vastly diverse parish community to get to know and a different parish priest. There were new people to meet, new hymns to learn and the church was larger and more modern in its design and layout than our former 150-year-old church.
We are not a routinely outgoing couple; the thought of brazenly introducing ourselves to the ‘natives’ was a sensitive issue. In our old parish, gathering after Mass was important; many would often go to the local club to continue the conversation. Now almost everyone left the church, walked to the car and drove away. Winter probably didn’t help, but it’s warmed up now, so we’re thawing together!
After weeks of simply waving and smiling at each other, I finally steeled myself, went to some nearby pews and introduced myself. The parishioners were wonderful and I can add names to faces.
Now, on entering the church, I feel a warm friendly buzz with many greetings. I have learned it is a vibrant parish with plenty of active groups; the two elderly gentlemen who sit behind us have beautiful singing voices; the parish priest is friendly, encouraging and accessible.
Most people in a parish get to know each other and relax into a contented gathering. Do you live in a welcoming parish and appreciate new parishioners? Or have you been in the same parish for years and forgotten how difficult it can be for ‘new kids in the pew’?
Take time to accept and embrace new faces, learn their ministries and ask them to participate. We are now settling into our new parish and it’s feeling more like home. We’re still on the journey, but it’s less bumpy now.