I want to renew and continue the conversation we began about belonging in this column space from the beginning of this year. There has been lots of feedback about it — it seems to have struck a deep cord with people. In a previous column I wrote, “The creation of that good soil church begins when each one here begins a conversation with, ‘Hello, my name is….’ and continues each week as the conversation grows, bearing fruit, when someone suggests, ‘You know what we should do?’ Then in the doing, faith grows, purpose becomes clearer, prayer comes more naturally, forgiveness more easily.” Since then, it seems to me, that people are a bit more engaging with people around them, there are some new “pew communities” forming, and people are beginning to ask about the welfare of folks when they are missing from Mass. All signs of the beginning of a deeper belonging.
It is not just our parishioners who are affected. There have been two people whose stories were similar. They had been away from church for many years and just decided to come one Sunday in the midst of our conversations about belonging. They remarked they were welcomed, people inquired about them at a personal level, and they were made to feel as though they belonged — the very thing they had always been seeking. They have been here every Sunday since.
Many visitors have asked if they could take a card back to their churches, “This is just the thing we need. I would love it if our parish was as welcoming as yours.” One pastor from Michigan called to asked more about what we were doing, and where we are headed with all this. That is a good question. One or two people wondered if the focus on belonging was simply a prelude to the Annual Pastoral Campaign. It was not. It is a theme that is part of an ongoing dialogue about what we will be as people, parishioners, and a parish. Where are we headed? The answer is really given in the prologue of the Belonging Card in the pews.
Belonging. It’s more than a word, an idea, or a feeling — it’s a sense of knowing that you are part of something greater, part of God’s plan, and called to act in the world. Belonging is understanding the value you as an individual bring to the larger community and using the gifts that God has given you to build up the Body of Christ… How will you belong?
Where are we headed? To continue to help people, families, households, and the community as a whole to be able to answer that simple question: “How will you belong?” The answer is a combination of engaging in the life of the parish, living your faith through daily prayer and action, and finding a oneness with the Lord and with each other — and more.
And so we will continue the conversation. Next week, I want to share some thoughts about how a sense and spirituality of hospitality nurtures and deepens the experience of belonging. In the meantime, please take into prayer and reflection the question, “How will you belong?”