I’m an usher at my church. Official title: Minister of Hospitality. Honoring that commitment, I attempt to be hospitable. I try to greet each person with a smile and a “hello” or “good morning”. As an usher our duties are pretty simple, which is why I qualify for the job:
- Greet people.
- Assist in finding seating.
- Keep an eye out for those with special needs.
- Be friendly and welcoming.
- Try not to judge others (this is my own personally assigned duty and my biggest struggle).
Let me explain.
I believe most folks come to Mass with a open heart and an open mind. Of course, I realize that many also arrive with a heavy heart. Some people can barely put one foot in front of the other due to overwhelming grief or illness. Others also likely come due to some sense of obligation and perhaps with little thought of why we gather as community. Some enter our church angry with God, the Church, or our clergy. Others are carrying in the hearts any number of social, spiritual, emotional or economic ills. I too, sometimes fall into any and all of those categories.
I remind myself each Sunday of the words of the hymn “All Are Welcome”. And I try…
I try to greet each worshipper. I try to extend a hand of friendship and fellowship. I try to make people feel welcomed and loved. I often fail. Recently I was slightly bemused by the number of people who walk past me as if I don’t exist. They don’t acknowledge my greeting. Some barely glance in my direction. Some appear to go out of their way to avoid making eye contact. I have felt at those times like the “Invisible Man”. On Sundays when I am feeling particularly feisty, I try harder. I push myself in front of the disobliging and force them to look at me or at least nod some recognition of my existence. I realize now that that is a bigger failure.
Perhaps some poor souls are finding comfort in their anonymity. Perhaps their pain or anger is so great that they want to feel invisible. That way no one can touch them, hurt them or rebuke them in any way. In my blindness and self-importance, I was failing to offer them the space that they might so desperately need; the sanctuary, if you will. If they find comfort in entering this sacred space and becoming invisible, then who am I to invade that privacy. I can smile and I can nod and I can leave them alone to find their God.
I’m a slow learner but I have finally realized after many failures that “all are welcome in this place” means ALL, not just the ones who smile back at me.