Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Thursday, October 20, 2005

Do Catholics not 'Get' Community'? 

While I was at a convention in Tampa earlier this month, I ended up in a long table discussion with a pair of French Canadians, discussing, of all things, the growing number of Evangelical Protestants in the Ontario region. The Catholic parishes, sparsely populated as they already are, are being thinned even further by those who are drawn away to the neighboring Evangelical churches. They asked me, as a former Evangelical myself, to explain what the 'draw' was.

I responded without missing a beat. It has nothing to do with theology, moral conviction, etc. The answer is much more pedestrian: community. Evangelicals get it, Catholics don't. The observation has become so routine that it's hardly worth discussing.

In the Evangelical church I used to attend, you couldn't make it to an empty seat before the service without wading through nine handshakes, seven hugs, three shouts from across the room, and four invitations to lunch afterwards. A visitor, ironically, got not less attention, but about twice as much. Any visitor was invited to a side room after the service was over, for coffee, donuts and a personal introduction and conversation with the pastor. At another church I attended, visitors got a loaf of homemade bread baked fresh that morning, compliments of a group of mothers in the church. When visitors signed a card and dropped it in the plate during the service, they got a home visit from church members the next week, most likely with a hot apple pie. Most refreshing of all is the utter sincerity and generosity with which it was done. Is it a surprise that a huge chunk of our members consisted of former Catholics?

Many of these, I observed, would note that, during their thirty or forty years as a Catholic, they could not recall receiving even one warm introduction while visiting a new parish. It is almost ritualistic: shuffling quietly into a back pew, avoiding eye contact during mass, darting quickly out immediately after communion, and racing out of the parking lot like it's the Indy 500.

Not that Catholics haven't been trying. Many parishes, including our own, have experimented with a 'donut Sunday' at least once a month after mass. These end up being so awkward, contrived and ill-attended that the experiment fails as soon as it begins. Our young associate pastor has started evening meetings for young families, young women and young men, respectively, but these are only attractive for the handful of parishioners who fit the niche and can make the schedule (probably less than 2% of the parish). You could recite a litany of other attempts: invitations by the pastor for visitors to introduce themselves before the opening prayer, extended 'greet your neighbor' sessions during the opening rites, 'greeters' at the church doors (these make me think I'm in Wal-Mart), etc. These inevitably prove to be similarly awkward, contrived attempts to 'impose' community where it doesn't exist. Hence, they fail.

Is the sort of community I'm describing have something innately 'Protestantized' about it, which Catholics would be ill-advised to imitate? Or is it simply that Evangelicals 'get' community, and Catholics don't? If the latter, why?

# posted by Jamie : 10:00 AM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

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