The Middle of the Pew

It is always good to get positive feedback and encouragement. Every weekend, it is not uncommon for a visitor (friend of parishioner, cruise ship travelers, etc.) to make a point to mention “What a welcoming and friendly parish you have.”

Being a welcoming church is never a “one -and-done” endeavor. There are lots of things that go into creating a warm and inviting parish. The cover of our weekly bulletin has a welcome message. The 9 a.m. Sunday Mass has a nascent Greeters Ministry. Folks with name tags and blue ribbons identify them as greeters. They are the first voice of welcome the folks hear and they are often the ombudsman for questions and information. If this is a ministry you would like to become a part of, contact Pam Ferron in the parish office.

Our next welcome is with our Ushers. Most weekends there is time for a friendly wave or a chat, but some weekends the ushers are busy finding seats for folks. And by the way, we could use some new folks to become part of the ushers. We have a lead usher at every Mass, but we are increasingly needing to ask for volunteers at Masses to fill out the ranks. If this is a ministry you would like to become a part of, contact Jennifer Williams in the parish office.

Our next “line of welcome” happens in the pews. You might be thinking that happens at the beginning of Mass when the Lector invites everyone to stand and greet one another. True. But there is a prelude to that event. It is part of the “Catholic parishioner pew strategy.” I plan to have a little bit of fun describing the phenomena, but… just saying.

I was raised Catholic, so I know the deal. Consider this: if you have open seating on an airplane, don’t we take the aisle seat? As close to the front of the plane as possible? Same strategy applies in church. The best seats are at the end of the pew. I mean it makes it easy to excuse yourself, right? And if you get an end-of-the-pew seat near the back of the church, you optimize your getaway time. I mean, who wants to sit in the middle seat on an airplane? And who sits in the middle of a wide-open pew? And once you get the aisle seat on the airplane, keep your head down, don’t make eye contact with boarding passengers in the hope they will sit anywhere but the open seat next to you. But hey, flights are super full these days, so eventually you hear, “Excuse me, is that seat taken?” And your flight mate then proceeds to crawl over you as you unbuckle and try to step into the aisle.

A visitor or someone really new to the parish comes to a weekend Mass. They have been welcomed by the greeters and ushers, and now they need to find a seat. Next time you come early, watch how many times people must scoot by folks firmly entrenched at the ends of the pews. What alarms us about sitting in the center? The pew is just as hard, the view is much the same and we won’t suddenly hear everything in stereo if we sit on the aisle. Do we forget that we are at Mass because it is here the community gathers and we become the people of God, drawn to each other by the work of the Spirit?

Every weekend, new people arrive hungry for a community to call home. Is this parish for them? Is this pew for them? Can you imagine arriving at Mass and choosing to sit in the exact middle of a pew? If you sit there, you boldly state that you are expecting more people to join you. There is room on your right; there is room on your left. You sit in the middle because you are welcoming. You are ready to make that first offer to strangers, the offer of space, of community. Just saying…

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