“Are you ok?” I heard her voice through my car window. Of course, I couldn’t ignore the kind woman, tapping lightly on the window. I’d hoped they wouldn’t see me as they came out of church. I wondered, if they did see me, would they ignore me? Would they pretend to not see me crying, sobbing, wiping my tears, parked in the row across from them in the church lot?
“No, I’m not ok,” I thought to myself.
“Whatever it is,” she said, “You came to the right place. God is here to help you with whatever problem you’re going through.”
The Stranger Welcomed Me
I explained that I’d come to church to light a candle and to go to Adoration (I was needing help with a problem causing my heart to ache). I went on to say that as I’d pulled into our church lot, the perfect song came through on the radio, and I’d lost it. Big time. She assured me that Adoration would help. She shared that she’d brought her ailing sister to Adoration, too.
“The Lord will see you through. In his name we pray, Amen.”
My fellow parishioner, whom I didn’t recognize, held me in the parking lot and gave me a true, mess-your-hair-up kind of hug. Her kind act and comforting words calmed me down. As I wrote my prayers in the Book of Intentions, lit a candle in the sanctuary, prayed, and sat in the presence of Christ in the Adoration room, I felt better. I prayed for wisdom, strength, and healing, and felt so comforted. I felt at home in this space.
How to Connect with People at Your Parish
I think about how blessed I am to belong to my parish and to have had a stranger care for me. Later, I also noticed a dear friend coming to her car, and caught the wave of a tiny girl from our Sunday school program. I felt connected and important. I needed that.
Sometimes it’s hard to feel connected in a parish as large as mine. One thing that has really helped me get to know other members is attending some of the church events.
Some of my favorite events have been the women’s retreats. I’ll never forget the time we went off-site to the Sisters of St. Francis. I loved listening to the speakers share from the unique perspective of a woman, bring the Scriptures to life, and applying them to my journey. We also walked along a trail with the Stations of the Cross. It was peaceful to meditate, to sit on the benches placed by each station.
That’s when I met Mary Rose. She caught me at one of the stations and reminded me that lunch was being served soon (I still had several stations to go, but I definitely didn’t want to miss lunch!). I completed my walk through the stations, then joined a small group in the dining hall. It was wonderful to sit and talk with other women attending the retreat. Later, I’d recognize their faces at future Masses and say hello.
I’ve also enjoyed a Friday. night retreat at the local winery, as well as one on a Saturday at our church. My spirituality has always grown through the speaker’s presentations, time to reflect with other women, and spending some time alone in prayer, too.
It’s been harder for me to connect with other people at weekly Mass.
At my parish, a few times a year are designated as a “Nametag Sunday.” Although part of me cringes when I see the streamer leading me to make a name tag—worried that we’re going to be even later to Mass and it might be harder to find a seat—part of me also appreciates Father initiating introductions and interactions with the people sitting around us in the pews.
I remember meeting a gentleman named John that Sunday. I’d seen him at church before, but I hadn’t really spoken to him. When Father asked us to share our name and our favorite Bible story, we also went on to share more about ourselves. My favorite verse was the one where Jesus says, “Let the children come to me,” since I’m a teacher. I babbled on about how it had been a hard year so far, and John shared that he’d been struggling since his wife’s passing. We said we’d pray for each other, and I know it helped.
Now, I see John and visit with him almost every week. I feel like I have a new friend.
Getting involved in the ministries at church has been the best way to connect with others.
I enjoyed teaching Sunday school before my kids were born, and I later assisted with Children’s Liturgy of the Word. Even though I’ve worked with the kids, I’ve gotten to know some of their parents, too.
A few years later I checked the box by the music program on our yearly Time, Talent, and Treasure form, indicating that I might be able to help. I never expected a response, since I also noted that I’d just gotten my mom’s piano and was really out of practice.
That’s when I met Teri, who led the songs as I soon accompanied. I was so nervous about hitting the right notes during our first Sunday school music class. But the joy on their faces and their movements to “This Little Light of Mine” instantly lifted me. I soon realized it was more about Jesus filling the hearts of these young children than the correctness of my notes on the keyboard.
Room for Improvement
Even though our parish offers numerous ways to connect with other parishioners, I need to do a better job.
When I see a new face in the pew, I need to introduce myself. When I pass a family I’ve seen for years but don’t really know, I need to have the courage to say, “I know I should know your name by now. I’m Carla…” When our monthly “Divine Donuts” are served, I need to do a better job of mingling than talking with the same three guys I see every day and who live under my same roof!
I am shy, but I know that these small acts are worth it. I could meet new people and make others feel welcome, in turn. It can’t be that hard, and it means the world to feel connected, to feel loved.
I am blessed, and I hope I will be that stranger who stops and checks on someone. Instead of just passing by, I hope I will be there for someone who might need support in the future, too.
How do you connect with others at your parish? Do you struggle to reach out to the people you see every week?
The Stranger: How to Cultivate Community at Your Church #BISblog //Click to tweet
Carla Thomas is a wife, mom, and teacher of twenty-three years. She enjoys the sun, the lake, running, spending time with friends and family, and playing the piano for the Sunday school music program at Our Lady of the Presentation.