Eastern Hospitality

Sadly, no one took me up on my offer in my latest Sunday Scriptures post to try and guess what the common theme is. As the title to the post suggests, the common point between them was hospitality. As I’ve related before, this is something that I think the Church has been failing at for a long time. Some recent experiences of mine have shed further light on this particular problem.

Over the course of the last month I’ve visited several Eastern Rite Catholic churches in my area. My interest was primarily curiosity, as I wondered what their liturgies would be like. However, I quickly found something else there that was quite different from the Roman Catholic churches that I’ve visited over the years. And that was a sense of community and hospitality. I was made to feel welcome at both parishes. Never mind that I was a stranger that no one there had ever seen before. I was greeted, welcomed and encouraged to stay. In fact they encouraged me to attend again. And I have to admit, they were tempting offers.

I wonder what it is that made those parishes and their members so much more hospitable than than the Roman Rite churches I’ve attended. It isn’t size. While both were small (in membership and the size of the buildings), I’ve been to small RC parishes as well. No, its something else. My suspicion is that the sense of community in these churches is encouraged by the fact that they are set apart. Their differences from other faith traditions encourage them to look within, and to support one another. In addition, these churches have a sense of tradition and history that binds their membership together. They feel part of something different, something special. That is no longer present in most RC parishes (save perhaps Latin Mass ones). Whatever the reason, I found it all terribly fascinating. There are some important lessons to be learned from these churches. Only I don’t expect anyone to care to learn them, much less pass them on.

Advertisements

12 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Churchianity, The Church, Tradition

12 responses to “Eastern Hospitality

  1. The RC is a billion people. The eastern rite churches are about 10 million–which is a rounding error for a billion. Many of them are essentially Catholics with one foot in the door of Orthodoxy. Being a tiny subset like that I think has something to do with it.

  2. Perhaps Scott. But I encountered a few there who used to be RC, and switched Rites- often because they both preferred the liturgy and the community.

    In fact, I talked with some folks there about how the liturgy ties into the sense of community, and found a considerable amount of agreement on that.

  3. mdavid

    Scott’s right (I’ve been members of both). The reason the Latin’s are so cold is that they are transient and universal. Latin’s can and do jump from parish to parish. They have different ethnics, from Mexicans to Pacific Islanders to Poles to Germans to Irish…and they all disagree, culturally.

    Eastern parishes know they have nowhere to go, that they are lucky to have a parish and know they must invest time, money, and talent to keep it going. Each person counts. It’s what I miss most about Eastern Catholic churches. The real problem is it is all the disgruntled Latin’s who attend to escape their own bishops :-). And as you settle into it, you will probably find it has its own set of problems. I did.

    What really kills Latin hospitality? Rarely is anything asked of members. Few feel like they are part of things. How does one be hospitable to others when you feel like you don’t really run things or belong yourself?

  4. Elspeth

    I would assume the smaller the community the tighter the knit. I don’t know any EC, but there are plenty of RCC in our area.

  5. @ Elspeth, mdavid

    I think that mdavid is on the right track. It isn’t so much the size but the notion that each person counts. I’ve been to small RC churches before, and in fact attend one now, and they don’t have that. As madvid suggests, everyone is sort of… fungible… there. So very sad. I think most Protestants are far better at this, and it doesn’t have to be this way.

  6. What I’ve found of Latin Rite is they’re amazingly hard to get anything going with. A Latin mass can draw people from so far away that they feel simply attending Sunday mass is more than enough sacrifice and participation in community. For some, this may be true, but it pervades. As someone that explicitly tried to get more people involved just in the parish, and then in the diocese, to see no response in either…

    People are what they are. And the person that makes sacrifices for your sake is rare. Find what you need in God, and trust the rest to follow. As Mdavid said, you’ll find faults in both communities. You’ll never find fault with God, so draw closer to him however you can, not being led astray by novelties, nor empty traditon, nor ease nor comfort. Find what works, and you will find the people to support it, where ever that may be

  7. Novaseeker

    As someone who grew up RC, was EC for a few years and has been EO for ~15 years, my own perspective is that there are a few things going on when this sort of thing is experienced.
    One actually does relate to size, but not necessarily in intuitive ways. That is, the size issue isn’t just the size of the local parish, but the size of these churches, as a whole, outside their home territories. They’re small. So, there aren’t that many parishes around (certainly not compared to, say, the Latin Church). That has a few impacts. One is that on the local parish level, everyone instantly recognizes a newcomer/visitor — you stand out like a sore thumb in a way. This does not always beget a friendly response, but it can, and in many cases it does. Another impact of the size issue is that it’s often a bit of a burden to be there — people travel long distances, generally, there is only one liturgy on Sunday, and people who attend regularly tend to be of the more committed variety. These tend to be disproprotionately the type of people who would be welcoming to a newcomer or visitor than the more “rank and file” type of person you may more commonly find in a typical suburban Latin parish. The Latin parish, of course, has such people as well, but they are there amidst a rather larger group of rank and file. There’s less rank and file in the Eastern parishes in general just because it’s more of a burden in general to be a regular attendee. So I think when comparing a typical Eastern parish to a typical Latin one, it’s kind of a case of apples and oranges. The vast differences in size and number lead to other differences in experience, which can lead to different mindsets.
    Of course, the TLM communities are also small and can be burden to attend (distance, timing, etc.) as compared with the suburban RCC down the street with seven Masses. I’m not quite sure why they would be less welcoming or friendly — I have not personally spent a great deal of time among them, apart from visiting a handful of times over the years.
    I’ll also say that not all Eastern parishes are equally welcoming. I’ve been to ones — both on the Catholic and on the Orthodox side — which are more welcoming and which are less so. It varies — the parish communities can be quite different. I think in general this kind of diversity in atmosphere and attitude is one reason why in the Eastern communities there is a greater emphasis on finding a parish that fits (much less emphasis is placed on geography, since parishes are few and far between in many cases) and much less of a fungibility mindset than is often the case when it comes to Latin parishes.

  8. Novaseeker

    Scott’s right (I’ve been members of both). The reason the Latin’s are so cold is that they are transient and universal. Latin’s can and do jump from parish to parish. They have different ethnics, from Mexicans to Pacific Islanders to Poles to Germans to Irish…and they all disagree, culturally.

    Yes, this is true. People do “jump” parishes in the East, too, but it’s much less frequent. For the most part that has to do with not many choices, so the tendency is to find the one that fits best and stay there. Another is that there often isn’t much of a convenience factor in terms of one parish having a more convenient time for liturgy or something similar — it doesn’t vary that much. Another issue is that it isn’t “officially supported”, in the sense that it is expected that you become a member of one parish community and have a regular confessor there. Jumping around, unless one travels a lot professionally on the weekends or something like that, is kind of frowned upon. On the Orthodox side, if you just “show up” at a parish on a Sunday, it’s considered a bit rude to approach the chalice without having informed the priest ahead of time that you were coming, because it leads to a conversation at the chalice which, among other things, slows down the process of communion for everyone else, and can be a bit uncomfortable. So, yes, there isn’t as much of this in the Eastern Churches — Catholic or Orthodox.

    Eastern parishes know they have nowhere to go, that they are lucky to have a parish and know they must invest time, money, and talent to keep it going. Each person counts. It’s what I miss most about Eastern Catholic churches. The real problem is it is all the disgruntled Latin’s who attend to escape their own bishops :-). And as you settle into it, you will probably find it has its own set of problems. I did.

    Yes, I was one of those myself. It’s a problem in the more Orthodox-minded Eastern Catholic parishes in particular — a kind of alienation from the Latin church that is often paradoxically missing in Orthodox parishes themselves. Of course, converts to Orthodoxy have their own baggage and sets of issues as well (mostly coming from the Protestant side, although some from the Catholic side, as well), but it’s different from the situation where you have the “RC refugees” in the Eastern Catholic parishes.

    What really kills Latin hospitality? Rarely is anything asked of members. Few feel like they are part of things. How does one be hospitable to others when you feel like you don’t really run things or belong yourself?

    I think it really has to do with size and mindset that results from the size. Most of the Latin parishes I have seen have some kind of coffee thing after at least some of the Masses, and the people doing that are the hospitable ones, but most of the people at the Mass simply go to their cars and leave after Mass. I think that’s because of the size — the parishes are generally so big, that there really isn’t that much of a sense of community for the people who are there, beyond a “core group” who is “into that”. In Eastern parishes, coffee hour is kind of mandatory, and if you regularly skip it, it’s considered pretty rude to the community and to the priest as well. But that’s itself because the communities are so small, such that there can be that kind of familiarity and accountability — it’s not really possible in the context of the size of the average Latin suburban parish, I think.

  9. It probably is the notion that each person counts. I attend a church as far from Orthodox as is possible, and we routinely have people say what a loving place it is. We also have an ethos that runs strongly to church service – okay, you’re not qualified to be a deacon. We also need someone to greet, weed the lawn, clean, do security, work in our library, etc etc etc etc. And we’ll get you on it as soon as you express interest.

  10. I think there would be less parish hopping among Latin rite Catholics if there was more uniformity in the way the faith is taught and celebrated from parish to parish. I’d estimate maybe 15% of the parishes in my diocese, tops, celebrate the Mass more in line with what the Church envisions. Otherwise, Catholics who are paying attention can tell you which is the liberal parish, the crazy progressive parish, the gay friendly parish, the conservative one, the “reform of the reform” one, the Traditionalist one, etc. I like the idea of the geographic territory system. I like the idea of each parish being the spiritual center of the surrounding neighborhoods and a means for local Catholics to get to know each other after Mass and whatnot. In practice, I understand completely why Latin rite Catholics shop around for a parish that suits them. I drive 35 minutes to attend the TLM every Sunday. Some families drive 2-3 hours.

  11. mdavid

    herth, We also have an ethos that runs strongly to church service
    This is the key, especially for men. Don’t ask anything, they won’t play.

    I attend a church as far from Orthodox as is possible
    The problem with this type of church is that it is here today, gone tomorrow. Doctrine morphs to personality, generation to generation, and in the end, they always breakup or whither.

    It almost seems like people must chose between doctrine and friendliness, the Cross or community. Liberal RC churches are more friendly a well, but they have the same implosion problem, the kids don’t stay and in the end they end up with a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for doctrine. I’m dying to see a Latin rite mass that is friendly and outgoing.

    Another problem with RC or EO for communities is the large families. It’s very hard for parents of large families to do much volunteering or welcoming. Most parents are merely surviving.

  12. James and the Giant Peach

    There is a downside(or is it a plus?) to having super small communities. The community also by and large makes your life decisions for you. Your job, where you should live, who you should marry.

    It requires an amazing amount of trust or shall we say faith heh. You could have a pastor who is a complete imbecile guiding you into a pit.

    There is a reason why most eastern orthodox congregations are usually all of one ethnicity. Similar to how American protestant churches are statistically one of the most segregated institutions in america. Out marrying is frowned upon, leaving the neighborhood is discouraged.

    If you want the close intimacy of a small group you must also subject yourself to that group. You are not an individual but another cell in the body of that congregation which is an organ in the larger body of christ.

    Hence why people leaving is looked down upon or seen as a drastic thing. In biology when individual cells rebel and replicate by themselves with no respect to the design of the system, we call that infliction cancer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s