Recently I was at the early morning roll calls at one of the police precincts in Louisville to train the officers on how to use LouieConnect.
(For those that aren’t aware of what I’m up to now, I will post more info soon, as I’m only now able to begin writing about the life changes I’m experiencing)
It was still pretty early, and while there were a few other site visits I would do on the way in to the office, I suddenly got the urge to go to a morning Mass.
Being a Methodist, I can’t receive Communion in a Roman Catholic Church, but I find participating in the liturgy very worshipful. So a few quick taps on the ol’ Google machine showed me that a nearby parish had a morning mass in their rectory.
I pulled up to a brick church building that had clearly seen better days, as had most of the neighborhood. A young white guy in a dress shirt and slacks getting out of a newer model car earned some curious looks from neighbors having their first smoke of the morning out on their porches. I walked up to the front door of a small, similarly shabby brick house next to the church, but before I could knock, I heard, “you need to come up the ramp side, honey!”
An old African-American woman with bright blonde hair was shuffling up the ramp to the side door on her walker. She introduced herself as “Miss Ellie” (not her real name), and told me she had been part of this parish for her entire eighty five years on this earth.
Miss Ellie ushered me into a parlor whose furnishings had clearly not changed since the 1950s, and we were joined by a half dozen African-American women of the same generation, all of whom came up and hugged me without reservation, saying, “we’re glad you’re here, Matt.”
The priest, a white guy not that much older than me, with a booming newscaster voice, sat us down around the old dining room table and led us through a simple eucharistic service that was solemn, but not stuffy. You could feel that everyone was there to really experience the worship, not just go through the motions.
When the elements were shared, I politely declined out of respect for their tradition, but no one batted an eye, nor did they ask more questions after it was over. Each of them simply said, “thank you for being here, Matt, you are welcome any time.”
In my many years of congregational ministry I regularly had to watch out for two very bad reactions when first time visitors showed up. One would range from indifference to contempt- “how dare you invade our family chapel?!” The other would be over-eager members who thought that new, young people (especially if they had children) would help resurrect their dying congregation. Neither of these is a good way to welcome people into a congregation.
I didn’t get either of those reactions that morning. The older African-American women didn’t ask a ton of questions, not because they didn’t care, but to allow me the space just to be present. When I didn’t receive the elements, no one tried to whisk me away to the confession booth or wave a crucifix at the Protestant who snuck into their midst.
Those lovely older ladies and their priest knew I needed to be there with them that morning, and that was enough for them. And it was precisely their simple, welcoming, loving presence that made that half hour nourishing for me. Together, we were church for one another, no questions asked.