Do you ever feel invisible at church? Have you ever gone to a church event and felt lonely? Do you watch people chatting around the room as your kids attack the donut table, and crave some kind of personal connection?
I’ve felt this way, especially after moving to a new home or church. Not knowing how my kids will respond in new social situations, I’m always on “high alert,” and it’s hard to relax. It doesn’t help that I am a lot like my father, and often feel anxious about breaking into new groups — rather surprising, given how much practice I’ve had at it over the years. But there you have it.
I’ve complained to God about this more than once, how Catholic parishes are so different from the church I grew up in, a country church of about 200 families where everyone knew everyone else by name and birthday. They were generous and welcoming to a fault. The year I went to Senegal, West Africa on a year-long mission trip, my church family raised the entire amount I needed–almost $12,000–in just a couple of weeks. These were not wealthy people — but they welcomed us as family.
When I became Catholic, the very things I most loved about the Church — her rituals, her formality, her mystery — also made it difficult to experience that same sense of family with my brothers and sisters in the pew. A name in the bulletin was the only clue that someone had a medical need. If someone lost a job or had a financial emergency, there were food pantries and St. Vincent de Paul shops … but apart from Elizabeth Ministries setting up meals for new moms, I had no idea who needed cookies.
Women’s group. Choir. Youth Group. Couple’s “date night.” Donuts after Mass. People were nice enough — at least one person always told us they were glad we came. But I was still longing for that sense of belonging, and never quite finding it.
Right after Easter, I decided I would start going to daily Mass until I left for Costa Rica, to volunteer at St. Bryce Mission. At Queen of Peace, morning Mass is at 8:15, preceded by morning prayer — a chance to learn how to pray the red book! Score! I could drop off my kids at school and go down the street to church, and get in a few minutes at Adoration before morning prayer and Mass. The same twenty people or so were there every day … my friend Kelly showed me how to use the Book of Christian Prayer.
Soon I was a regular, getting smiles and nods — and the connections began to come. Yesterday the president of the Jubilee women’s group came up to say they had decided to donate the missionary offering to me this year, to help St. Bryce Mission. And today between prayer and Mass, a man came up to introduce himself and tell me how much I reminded him of his sister. “She’s a beautiful woman, and so are you!”
As he turned to find his way back to his own pew, I sat and thought about what I’d just experienced. I realized that my approach of trying to get friends, of wanting to receive rather than to give, had been part of the problem. And I discovered that giving, in prayer and presence, is a wonderful way to belong in God’s family.