When I first returned to the Catholic Church for the first time in many years, there was something missing.
Unfortunately belonging was something I did not experience when I returned as a young adult.
Scared, outcast, lost, lonely, intimidated and unwelcomed- are words I would use to describe my experience.
I had gone through the catholic school system, but I had never attended church outside of the school environment. When I chose to return to my faith, during a time of hardship in my life, I knew the church as a place where I would find comfort.
However, that first time I returned was incredibly intimidating, no one welcomed me, and I did not remember what to do during the celebration of mass. Although I had found comfort from God, I felt lost, lonely and disconnected.
Luckily for me my brother Curtis was on this journey with me. I imagine if I was by myself, being the shy person I was, I can imagine I would have been nervous coming back. This one experience could have been enough to turn me away due my sense of intimidation.
I find it hard to look back on that first experience. The person I am now, is completely different to who I was then. And this is due to the sense of belonging I have found within the church community.
It was a simple experience of being welcomed and feeling connected that changed my whole sense of belonging. When I became a participant in the Pastoral Placement Program, I found myself surrounded by other young Catholic adults who were strong in their faith and welcomed me with open arms.
Myself and two other participants became a welcoming team upon returning to church after the Covid lockdown. We found ourselves creating a hopeful and connected community. I believe having the three of us on the door, welcoming the community to mass, greeting them with smiles, and taking the time to ask how they are, helped create a community of joy, hope and service. The opportunity to interact with the community, led me to feel connected and valued as an important member.
This sense of belonging opened so many opportunities for me to grow as a person of faith. It opened the door to ministry within the community and opportunities to share my gifts with the wider diocese. I am now an active member of my parish where my voice is heard on the parish pastoral council. Within my parish I have helped grow a vibrant young adult group, connecting the whole community through formation, socialisation and outreach.
It has been a journey and a process, but I would not be where I am, or who I am today without the sense of belonging I found as a member of the catholic church. I now proudly call the church my home and the community my family.
My hope is for all to experience this sense of belonging.
As a church, I believe we have the answers if we come together as a community who generously uses their gifts to warmly welcome and outreach to all, especially those in the minority.
As we break open the foundation of Identity and Community, I encourage you all to reflect upon how one experience of belonging can create change within our church.