In Silicon Valley, there are so many opportunities to attend Mass that it’s very easy to drift from Mass to Mass and yet never feel a sense of belonging to the particular group with whom you are worshiping. This is a large metropolitan area. What can you do to forge a sense of belonging? It will take a little effort, but it’s well worth it.
Just like any other community, such as a neighborhood or work environment, relationships with people don’t just happen. Here are a few tips for Catholics wanting to feel more “at home” in their parish community – especially for those who’ve just moved to the South Bay.
- Find your best fit. Initially, you may do some “parish shopping” to find a community that feels most comfortable to you and your own spirituality. Here we have Mass and community in many languages, for instance. Seek out where you will be able to thrive and give. It’s ideal if you don’t have to travel far but no matter what, put some intentionality into finding the match and then decide to become an active member of that parish, attending Mass and functions there frequently.
- Be a regular. Try to go to the same Mass each week, make a point of meeting people (and write their names down if you want to). When you begin to call people by name, it will do a lot to increase both your and their sense of belonging! (Many Catholics in our diocese only go to Mass once a month. To feel that sense of being a part of the community, I encourage you to go weekly. In our hectic lives it is a struggle sometimes but well worth it on many levels, for many reasons.)
- Don’t pray & run. Ever notice how many people are present when Mass begins, at the homily, and after communion? Some folks run in after it starts and run out before it’s over. That’s a poor idea for many reasons, but one of them is that it makes a sense of belonging hard to achieve. Arrive a little early, say hello to a few people. Linger after, especially if there are refreshments which are there to encourage community building. Friendships take time – to feel that sense of belonging, you will need to slow down a little and meet people and cultivate friendships.
- Volunteer, join a group, get involved. If you can volunteer, you will meet people quickly. Not much time? Become a greeter. You may only need to be at the church 15 minutes before and after Mass, so this is easy if you are alone especially. Most parishes want someone at every door to welcome people to Mass. In some places, these are the ushers – and I have found that in a few parishes these are almost exclusively men. But give it a try. You will start to recognize others and be recognized by them too. And that is the beginning.If you have kids or a somewhat reluctant spouse or friend in tow who don’t really want to go to Mass early, consider some sort of involvement outside of Mass times. Many parishes have a wide variety of groups for spiritual growth, for ministry to others or just helping out at the parish grounds. My grandmother was a member of the altar society at her parish in Santa Cruz as my grandfather had over 100 rose bushes (a retirement hobby) and they could be put to very good use at the church. There are classes too, some of which are occasional and others which may run for a few weeks. I have seen many “mom & me” groups at churches too. Find at least one group, class, committee etc. and dive in!
One of the best ways to feel loved is to be loving. So too with parish communities – spiritual leaders are sometimes drafted, but more often step up, on their own, to do a job that needs doing. Want to feel welcome? Find a role where you can provide that to others. You’ll be surprised at how fast you will feel as though you belong.
Have a great parish where you felt really welcomed? Or a success story of making newcomers feel at home fast? I’d love to hear the stories here!