“Welcome to our Church.”

I’ve been uneasy for some time with the idea of greeters. I’m not unfriendly, and not opposed to friendliness among Christians. But to be met at the door of a church by someone designated to do this seems somewhat artificial.

This last Sunday, while being greeted by a very nice, very friendly woman, I realized that my hesitation has a deeper root. It’s a matter of ownership. I belong to my parish. I belong at my parish. 

Unlike a party in a private home, the Mass is not hosted in the same way. Unlike the Downton Abbey hostess, who is the only one with the right to ask guests to please be seated, this very nice lady with the name badge does not belong to the parish in a stronger sense than I.


33 Replies to ““Welcome to our Church.””

  1. I hate being greeted. Hate it. It's a distraction from blessing myself with holy water and going down on one knee to pay my respects to the host (in both senses) in the tabernacle whose unworthy guest I am.

    Mass is a social gathering entirely unlike any other. The conventions are rightly different.

    And priests…please don't be at the door of the church either when I arrive or leave. You are ministers of the Eucharist, not the Person whom we come to encounter.

  2. The door greeter is an attempt to create the sense of community (something more sacramental churches could learn from their evangelical counterparts). The problem is that it is typically "forced" – there is a certain artificiality and it somewhat "kills" the sense of encountering the sacred.

    The Orthodox have a better system, in so far there is a lot of activity in the vestibule at most any divine liturgy and it is not considered too taboo to hang out there at various points. It creates an "organic" setting for establishing community, as opposed to assigned greeters.

  3. I agree. I don't need to be welcomed into "my own" house. As the author said, the lady with the name badge doesn't belong to the parish in a stronger way than she does.

  4. I would disagree that the Mass is a social gathering. Yes, there are many people who gather in the same space for (hopefully) the same purpose: to worship God and to receive the Eucharist. It is not a social gathering, as that implies a different purpose to our gathering: to see and interact with EACH OTHER. I would definitely agree that greeters distract from the awesomeness and power of entering sacred space. There is nothing more awe-inspiring than entering a church; seeing all of the beauty and grandeur erected in His name, and realizing that you have just crossed a boundary into the supernatural. You can't cross that line with the same realization if there is someone in your face saying "Good morning, and welcome to our church!" Unfortunately, not all churches give this impression, especially those with modern architecture, as they have been designed for simplicity, not grandeur, and many would argue that by design, they are not sacred.

  5. I agree that it is a pain to be "greeted" at one's own church. But sometimes (often we hope) there are new people who hope for a friendly reception and may need a little help with the music sheet, etc. Greeters should not be intrusive or too talkative. I find that after Mass, when most of us go to coffee hour, that it is helpful to keep an eye out for new people and invite them to come for coffee. And, at coffee hour, it is important not to let the event devolve into cliques where some people are left out altogether. It is a matter of being aware of other people and being ready to be hospitable.

  6. I used to *be* a greeter. Hated it, for all the same reasons. Related question: is it OK for the priest to welcome visiting clergy/visiting laity/everyone at the beginning of Mass? I vote "no".

    Inasmuch as the "social gathering" analogy holds at all, our host is Almighty God and none other. "Love bade me welcome …"

  7. Wow, that is it? I am Minister of the Eucharist and nothing more? What happened to Pastor and Shepherd? How do I know my flock when they only make themselves available for an hour on Sunday? Many people walk by without speaking and I am fine with that, but I will still be there to watch for and welcome the prodigal son when he returns.

  8. Dear Kathleen,
    I have spent the last six years restoring a parish that was only concerned about what was minimal and expedient. When I arrived there were barely enough people to warrant turning on the lights. That is not the case today:the Parish has grown by 450%; there is a vibrant and appropriate music program; the liturgy is celebrated with the reverence; and the people "own" the parish.

    How did it start?No small part of our renaissance was the presence of the greeter, read the pastor and the parochial vicar, standing at every Mass greeting people, handing out hymnals and worship programs, learning peoples' names, and recognizing people who were new or visiting. There were no internees social interactions, simply, "Welcome to Saint Catherine's". There were those who in a city of anonymity wanted to remain anonymous, and for the most part they did. Many of those who tried to run by eventually came and asked, "Father, can I talk with you?" Story after story of people who felt alienated from the Church, in a bad marriage, struggling with life, encountered the love of God in Jesus Christ through the beauty of the Liturgy and desired to be reconciled with God and the Church.

    Greeting can be good…

  9. Fr. Jordan – thank you for saying what I was trying to say. Forum moderator – please don’t delete posts from those who disagree with you or the authors of your articles – like I said in my previous post, which you so helpfully deleted, you are all massively over thinking this. And frankly, articles like this, and the echo chamber replies that appear in comment threads, are what are making this forum, despite its good intentions, less and less relevant to me. How can we turn something as simple as a hello and welcome into a negative and expect anybody to listen to us regarding our views on music? If you don’t want to be greeted at the door to your parish, put your head down, avoid making eye contact with the greeter, and walk right past them into church. The end. And if you think God and Jesus don’t approve for some reason of a greeter greeting people and making them welcome in church, maybe you should pick up the Bible, read the Gospels, and to get to know the Jesus of the Gospels, because I cannot understand how the Jesus of the Gospels would not be at the door of His church welcoming all who come to be with Him…Holy Cow, many of you are very, very confused …

  10. This article and the comments it has generated, other than the thoughtful and grounded post by Fr. Kelly, are the last straw for me with regards to CMAA, this website and all people and work associated with it. I am embarrassed to have listed this organization as one to which I belong on my resume and will no longer do so. I am chagrined that I ever supported it with membership fees and am glad, frankly, that I never wasted time or money on a trip to a Colloquium. We musicians have got to get a grip and both elevate the level of our discourse above triviality, and ground what we say and how we say it in the life and teachings of Jesus. Otherwise we come across as conceited and condescending musicians who are so lofty we (fill in the blank quote from Amadeus…if you don't know the quote from Amadeus, maybe you should watch it and then you'll know what I mean.) Until I see that the content on this website reflects a higher level of professionalism and a commitment to both musical excellence and Christian ethics, you will be about as relevant to me as a bunch of Donald Trump supporters. Get it together folks. We can do better than this…

  11. [Dear QQQ, I never delete comments due to mere disagreement, but I deleted your previous comment for good reason. It was a one-line disparaging remark accompanied by no reasons for your opinion. Our readers deserve better comments than that. And please use your real e-mail address instead of a fake one like “q@gmail.com”. Many internet sites ban comments from “anonymous cowards” altogether, so expect anonymous comments to be held to higher standards than others. Best wishes. –admin]

  12. Fr. Kelly, you bring up at least two excellent points.

    First, when there is something that actually needs to be handed out, it is wonderful when people hand them out, instead of simply expecting people to find their own materials and pick them up off a rack. Finding the worship aid for the day among all of the other bookracks and notices in the average vestibule can be seriously daunting.

    Secondly, priests are natural greeters. They ordinarily DO remember names. They will be speaking to the people for the next hour, and the pre-Mass greeting makes this relational rather than anonymous. The priest will will be there for people in their reconciliation with God, and in their dying hours.

    Establishing a truly pastoral relationship is entirely different from scheduling a friendly person to have a greeting ministry.

    My experience last Sunday was one of walking into a church that I attend daily, and being welcomed–as if I were a stranger.

  13. The parishes where I've felt most at home were those that made the best use of the coffee hall. Thanks, Susan, for making this excellent point.

  14. John Q,

    What exactly prompts your rage? That Kathy finds something awry with the notion of an assigned greeter? If so, address it.


    You are spot on about the coffee hour. For those of us who are a bit shy in large groups the personal invitation is always welcome. Though it is the post-Mass gathering where relationships with fellow worshippers are formed, I've found it interesting that at the EF community where I've attended Sunday Mass for almost two years no one has ever engaged me in conversation. (Granted it's a two-way street.)

  15. Kathy, if you're there every day, then surely the "nice lady with the name badge" would be greeting you like an old friend who she sees very regularly, not like a stranger to the place. Or are there parishoners like this nice lady with the name-badge who you've not taken time to get to know yet?

    Do you realise that not everyone who walks in is like you? And in fact, most won't be like you at all. There will be some visitors, some who cannot stay for coffee-hour and whose only contact human with the People of God will be with the nice lady with the name badge. Some whose lives have fallen apart this week, and need the care of the community.

    I've done my time in inner city churches where there are no greeters and no sense of fellowship with the other souls gathered to worship God. I've never experienced them as places where lives are transformed in Jesus name.

  16. It's a cultural thing. Andere Länder, andere Sitten. To us reserved Brits, Americans go over the top regarding bonhomie to strangers. Handing out newsletters and hymnals is one thing; effusive greetings strike a false note. There is a mini-market near where I live and there are rarely more than two people standing in line for the checkout; yet the girl always says 'thank you for waiting' and rounds off the transaction with 'have a nice day.' I essayed the riposte that the only alternative to waiting would be to walk out without paying, but she was unperturbed. The idea of an inflated 'ministry of hospitality' strikes us as absurd.

    In his legendary speech to the Oxford Union in 1958, Gerard Hoffnung gave examples of hilariously misleading advice to foreign tourists. One was: 'On entering a railway compartment, don't forget to shake hands with the other passengers'. The 'sign of peace' or 'holy handshake' is problematic since shaking hands is not nearly as common in England as it is in continental Europe, and there are certain conventions surrounding it; for example a gentleman never proffers his hand to a lady. Nor is 'peace be with you' a greeting associated with it.

    Since most people tend to arrive for Mass at the last minute, the priest can hardly act as a greeter at the door, and return to the sacristy to vest and prepare himself without delaying the start of mass by ten minutes or so; in which case people will simply delay their arrival by ten minutes. Should he vest for Mass and then act as greeter he displays a lamentable lack of liturgical sensibility (sadly all too prevalent these days). Likewise he priest who dashes for the door as soon as he leaves the altar to glad-hand the congregation as they leave, still in his Mass vestments.

  17. Mary,

    As I understand it, greeters are considered a solution to one of the problems of huge suburban churches, like mine. They are meant to solve the problem of anonymity. But they don't. They reinforce the fact that there is no possible way that anyone could meet every one of the 10,000 + people who attend my parish's six weekend Masses and/or the two weekday Masses every day.

    In other words, this intended solution is counterproductive.

    A much better solution would be an ongoing campaign to include in the sermon from time to time a reminder to be welcoming and kind to strangers.

    Also to strengthen the coffee hour efforts.

    Also to bring more and more people into adult ed classes, parish schools, service outreach, etc.


  18. I must say that I'm somewhat astonished at the anger expressed in response to my post. I've looked it over several times in case my language or tone might have come across as sarcastic, and I don't see that (but would welcome have that pointed out).

    It seems to me to be of vital importance that we take time to think well about how the Church spends its time, money, and effort, carefully considering the actual effects of our programming. Too often we can be simply idealistic, rather than realistic and concrete.

    A case in point: service hours. Theoretically, young people who learn early enough to share their time and talent will continue to do so as they grow, right? Turns out this isn't necessarily true. I heard about the results of a psychology study that found quite conclusively that when middle schoolers are required to volunteer, this "turns them off" from future volunteering. For high schoolers, the reverse is true. It's not clear why–although one possibility might be that high schoolers might be more able to travel to more interesting volunteer opportunities.

    Here is a report that goes into some of the complexities of the larger service-hours questions: http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document….

    As a Church, we have a million things to carefully think about. So I would just encourage everyone to take a deep breath when someone (like me in this instance) thinks "outside the box" in terms of Church practice, particularly when recounting a personal experience.

  19. My apologies for any bruised egos or hurt feelings. I am exasperated, frustrated and a little bit angry with this organization…enraged is little to strong a word. I care as much as any of you for the vast treasure of sacred music in our church. This organization, however, does nothing to promote this treasure when it essentially boils things down to we are right because…and they are wrong because…For instance, I could care less about whether a greeter is at the door to my church and whether it is more right or less right to have them. What I care about is sacred music and how to build the culture in our church in which we sing it and listen to it and have our faith enriched by doing both. Endless arguments and discussions about this thing and that thing devolve into polemics. It seems to me that this organization and website have become far more about polemics than about the promulgation and promotion of sacred music. If this did not affect me then you would not be hearing from me. The problem is, polemics poisons the soil upon which musicians build relationships with priests and I am a musician and I work for priests so I am asking you…please stop poisoning the soil. Focus on music. Focus on how to teach it. Focus on how people learn it. Focus on how to build and sustain congregational and choral singing. Focus on how to build and sustain trust with clergy. Stop focusing on other things such as the merits of greeters. And if you want to keep focusing on greeters, by all means, do so. As for me, I have work to do. And my work has nothing to do with the merits of greeters. My work has to do with music. So I'm out until the focus of this organization, website and forum are on music and I wish you all the best in your efforts.

  20. I prefer to remain anonymous but my email is not fake and I am not either. Thank you for letting my voice be heard.

  21. The Chant Cafe is not as narrowly defined as you seem to think. This is a page for discussing both music and liturgy.

    Similarly, at the annual CMAA Colloquium, there are multiple emphases. The beauty of the music (choral and solo pieces as well as congregational song) calls forth a beautiful ceremonial–and beautiful appointments, and beautiful vestments. These liturgical aspects are treated in an integral way.

    It's too bad that you aren't willing to be involved in an organization that has a larger focus than your own, but that is your decision to make. I certainly wish you all the best.

  22. Music and liturgy are inseparable. Perhaps that is why western classical music is the highest form of art ever produced by man. The purely practical impulse to derive a system of notation for Gregorian chant made it all possible. John Q seems to suggest that good music can compensate for bad liturgical practice. It can't; all it does is to throw the bad liturgical practice into sharper relief. Conversely, good liturgical practice can be vitiated by bad music (and I don't simply mean music badly performed).

    I am fortunate in that I am not tied to a particular parish so any tendency towards congregationalism is avoided. My experience is that traditionally-minded Catholics are quite happy to socialize after Mass over coffee/wine/biscuits but not before Mass and certainly not during Mass. In the old days, of course, the men would send their wives inside and stand outside the door chatting and smoking until they were sure the Mass was under way; a habit which priests would often criticize from the pulpit, to no avail.

  23. I don't think our paths have crossed, JQM, as I've been to a number of colloquia, but your whole opinion of CMAA would be better informed had you invested time and expense in attending at least one. The colloquium experience is a horse of a different color than CMAA's fori. Indeed, your reaction to Kathy's reasoned opinion (to which I don't subscribe) is a harsh reply. I am perhaps the least qualified contributor to the Café since its inception, and I don't support every aspect of any particular group-think one might find within CMAA membership, but to blanket-indict the whole of the Café enterprise hardly reflects "open-mindedness" on your part. I say this not to disassociate myself from other contributors, but to remind us that sometimes we're aggregate, and other times congregant. Please don't paint with such broad strokes if you choose to visit this blog, I pray.

  24. Sorry to post another (refutation) response, JQM, but if one scrolls down the current pages on this blog, the last two articles of mine provided an in-depth review of one of the finest OF Mass settings to come down the pike in a long time, THE MASS OF ST. PHILIP NERI, by Paul Jernberg. I have received in my email and at FB many thanks for promoting this worthy setting for consideration. It's quality lies in its noble simplicity and adaptability to virtually any parish resource level. Can you without looking, tell us how many replies to those two articles were posted?
    (Insert theme from "Jeopardy.")
    Zero. Which doesn't in the least bother me. But to ignore years of similar posts by myself, Kathy and others as inconsequential to musical endeavors is simply incorrect. Look at the amount of combox traffic your comment has elicited and ask yourself, how has that helped advance your concerns? So, you yourself were motivated to comment your frustrations about this subject, but I don't recall hearing anything from you under this current alias (as I don't think you are "John Quinn" who used to post here as he wouldn't join CMAA) in posts that do advance sacred music specifically. But I sympathize with your concern that other topics seem out of the ouvre for a "sacred music" blog. But your analysis of the whole of the blog content is erroneous. Seriously. http://www.chantcafe.com/2015/06/did-jesus-draw-lhttp://www.chantcafe.com/2015/04/liturgy-and-sacrhttp://www.chantcafe.com/2015/03/the-omega-effecthttp://www.chantcafe.com/2015/02/the-intent-of-suhttp://www.chantcafe.com/2015/01/random-thoughts-

  25. All – My anger is aimed at those who responded to this article, not at the author. Read some of the initial comments.
    "And priests…please don't be at the door of the church either when I arrive or leave…"
    "I don't need to be welcomed into "my own" house…"
    "…and it somewhat "kills" the sense of encountering the sacred…"
    Think about what these posts are saying. That somehow it is our place as professional church musicians to tell a priest what he should be doing as pastor of his flock. That somehow the church is "our" house, not God's house. And that being welcomed by a greeter in whom we should see Jesus "kills" the sense of encountering the sacred…What are you saying? Do you not see how these kind of things can poison the soil for those us working to be professional Catholic musicians? As for the author of the post in its original form, I did not find it offensive or sarcastic in anyway, I just found it exasperatingly off topic. This is the Church MUSIC Association of America. I know liturgy and music are inseparably intertwined at Mass, but if a topic does not have to do at its core with how we as musicians can make music better and more relevant in our work with priests, choirs and congregations, then it belongs in another forum. CMAA would be better off if all the posts were more like the very insightful post on the St. Philp Neri Mass. As for Colloquiums – I have never been to one. But talking to those who have has given me the sense that CMAA, though filled with people who have good intentions and are doing good work, has somewhat drifted into an ivory tower realm where choir members are speaking to other choir members, so to speak, and essentially agreeing with one another that there is a right way to do things, and every one else is doing it wrong. It might be time to build an organization in which the pianos can lie down with the organs, the propers with the four hymn sandwhiches, the guitars with gregorian chant, etc. Again – apologies to all for my strident tone. I used uncharitable language. It won't happen again.

  26. No hard feelings–but let's let it drop, shall we?

    I hope you do attend a Colloquium one of these summers! God bless you.

  27. Greeters are merely a symptom of a disease in which important things external to the Mass are lacking elsewhere in the parish and thus are crammed into Mass time whether it is conducive to proper worship of God or not. Mass as kitchen sink as it were. Much of it is due to lack of genuine community. So when Catholics never see each other outside of Mass except maybe at football games (assuming Catholics can afford the heavy tuition of a Catholic school), we sadly see the last 15 minutes of Mass turned into a Town Hall meeting as birthdays, marriage anniversaries, etc. are applauded (I've even seen a cake with lit candles rolled down the aisle), or a layperson doing some kind of missionary work gives a schpeel which always seems to include illicit and windy sermonizing.

    So while I have resigned that we will have greeters, I think most people instinctively detect something is amiss and that it is a tawdry solution to a greater problem.

  28. This blog attracts a readership of interested lay people and clergy, many of whom are not CMAA members, and they're welcome to participate.

    So it would be a mistake to assume that reader comments here represent the opinion of CMAA members, let alone the Association.

  29. If you ain't catholic and you get love bombed at a mormon or Seventh Day Adventist Church, you'll stick around for the free stuff, then after 2 weeks if they start nagging you for money or to be heavily involved, you will leave – and think all churches are like this.

    If you ain't catholic and you are ignored as you enter a catholic church, you see all the hocus pocus magic tricks performed by le priest and think 'geewizz the BBC and Richard Dawkins are right'

    If you ain't Catholic and the little old lady greets you by the door, hands you a newsletter and hymn book, you sit through the hocus pocus magic tricks whilst reading the newsletter. There's all this community involved in a church, it turns out.

    You return with the promise of free Jam or a film night. Then maybe after a few weeks someone asks 'are you a catholic?' Or you reveal your lack of baptism yourself. You feel compelled to join the cult you're taking from.

    Then you attend the catechesis, learn of the beauty (truth) of the church. You realize that there was no hocus pocus, no cult, that God is the greatest, and that's an understatement. All of this community was for nothing when we consider God.

    You are baptized and confirmed after due process.

    A year later you attend church as normal. You see the old lady at the door greeting people. You think 'God, she's annoying. What's the point in her? I'm catholic. God and the sacrifice of the mass is enough for me'

    And you write a blog about how redundant and distracting she is. 😉

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