If you still feel like a stranger at your church, or you don't feel part of the community, put these ideas into practice -- you'll be glad you did!
As the cantor sings out the last note, I drop to my knees—putting the hymnal back in its place in one fluid motion. I say a quick prayer thanking God for the gift of this Mass, and for being able to receive Him in communion. Then I genuflect, and walk as quickly as possible back to my car, avoiding eye contact with my fellow parishioners, heading home to relax for the rest of the day. This was the routine I repeated so many times in my life … until I finally realized what I was missing.
Do you know how nice it is to know the names of the people you go to Mass with? To know about their lives? To enjoy their company? The people at your parish are your family in a special way; they share the same space, and the same activities in that space that you do. And worshiping God isn’t just a normal everyday activity; it’s the reason we exist. So, it is truly fulfilling when not only the familiarity of the liturgy and the church building give you the feeling of being home, but also when those in the pews around you exude that same “ah, I’m home” moment.
I wish that everyone could relate to that experience of feeling at home in their parish, but it is unfortunately not a given.
For example, I’ve experienced Catholic churches that feel like home immediately, and ones that don’t feel like home for quite a while. And every time I’ve moved and needed to find a new place to go to Mass, I don’t look forward to putting in the work of figuring out a new parish community. But, I have realized that the more effort and investment I put into the people in my parish, the better my life is.
Here are a few ideas for how to make your parish feel like home. Keep in mind that not all parishes are immediately welcoming or good at fostering connections. That doesn’t mean you should find a new church, it just means you have to do a little more work than you might otherwise.
Is there a group starting up to study a book of the Bible? Join it! Are there opportunities to volunteer to help out at a parish fundraiser? Volunteer!
Attend the same Mass as often as possible
This way you’ll meet more “regulars” who attend that Mass — and that will help you recognize others and be recognized yourself.
Go to events
If your parish is doing something, be it a potluck, a concert, a talk—go to it. Even if the event itself doesn’t interest you that much. This isn’t about the event per se, but about being part of a community and supporting your parish.
Smile at people
Eye contact and a smile go a long way. In the parking lot, at the sign of peace, after Mass, before Mass, at every point.
I know, I know, it is much easier when people come and seek us out, but bite the bullet and say “I’m new here, my name is X. What’s your name?” Do this with someone new every week. This might mean some awkward lingering in the narthex or outside. It might mean staying longer at an event to strike up a conversation. Be on the lookout for people who might be newer or more adrift than you. Because you know what it’s like to be in their shoes, make sure you introduce yourself to them, as well as connecting them with anyone else you meet.
Pray for your parish
And be very specific. Ask the intercession of your parish’s patron saint to pray for something like “Help me find community in this parish in the next few weeks/at such and such event/etc.”