A parishioner was telling me a story about her son. It goes like this: he moves to a different part of the country for college and stays there to take a job there after graduation. Shortly after moving there he begins looking for a parish to attend Mass and get involved. That in itself could be the story, remarkable as it is these days (except the young man in question grew up at Nativity and was in our high school small groups program, so it’s not that remarkable).
Anyway, on and off for eight years (eight years!) he tries to find a church where he feels welcome and fed. Church after church, year after year. His experience ran from the merely boring and bad to the down right offensive. Finally, he found one parish that he thought perhaps he could bear (even though it was on the other side of town). However, his frequent attempts to join were ignored, or resisted. Finally, on yet one more such try the parish secretary tells him out right,
“You know, you don’t belong here.”
She was righter than she knew, though what she was referring to was the fact that the young man didn’t actually live in the canonical boundaries of the parish.
“You know, you don’t belong here.” Wow.
He doesn’t belong in his Father’s house?
He doesn’t belong in the assembly of fellow believers? Really?
Anyway, even that is not yet the end of the story. One Sunday night, in phone conversation with his mother, he sheepishly acknowledges that he didn’t go to Catholic church that Sunday, he tried something else instead. A new church he’d heard about. It was completely different: he was warmly welcomed on the parking lot, enthusiastically greeted at the door. When he noted he was new, a host became his guide and stayed with him through the whole experience. He saw lots of people his own age, everyone was warm and loving. The music was over the top good, and he really got a lot out of the message. After the service he enjoyed easy conversation and fellowship. Sure he missed communion, but all things considered, he felt fed. He felt like he belonged.
And the next Sunday he went back.