Many different circumstances can lead to the need to leave the parish that was your spiritual home—moving, parishes closing or merging, a change in schedule that makes it impossible to attend Mass or Religious Ed, or whatever your need is. Regardless of how it happens, having to leave your parish family can be profoundly painful. Often, it takes a lot of adjustment to make your new parish your home. It takes sincere effort to not compare every little aspect of the new place to your old one: the priest isn’t as friendly or as good a homilist, the music isn’t as good, they don’t have __________ ministry/group, my Church was prettier…believe me I’ve heard, or even said it all! If you have recently changed parishes—or even changed a long time ago and are having trouble getting comfortable—please consider the following ideas on how to make a successful transition.
5. Say “Hi” to the people around you at Mass
It’s not necessarily appropriate to have a full-blown conversation in Church before Mass starts, but people are creatures of habit—and chances are—you are going to find that you, and the people around you are in the same spot each week. Make an effort to acknowledge the people around you; with a nod, a smile, a quick wave. You’d be surprised how a little gesture like that can go to making a connection in the pew. And, it could lead to conversation after Mass!
4. Get involved
Belonging to a parish means that you have a claim on them, and they have a claim on you. Just like you have spiritual and relational needs, your parish has need of you! It’s not enough to scrutinize what they do or don’t have to offer—you have a lot to offer, too! Maybe the choir isn’t great, and you are aware of it because you can sing…bring your beautiful voice to their assistance! Maybe they don’t have the ministry that nourished you most in your old parish…ask if you can help get it started—if it nourished you, it might be great for other people, too! A major part of parish life is community—religion is not meant to stay between you and God—it’s meant to reach out to the people of God. So, get involved and become part of the action of the Holy Spirit!
3. Stop comparing
In my years of experience as a pastoral minister, I’ve met loads of people who came to the Church absolutely convinced that what their parish had/was could never be matched, duplicated, or compared to. And yet, they spend loads of energy comparing. This sort of activity serves no purpose but to embitter and prevent any closure from the loss of the previous parish or moving on to embrace the good of the new parish. Stop comparing. Give the new parish an opportunity to express Christ to you.
2. Give it a chance/listen
After you stop comparing, you can open your eyes and ears to what the parish actually has to offer. Maybe they aren’t as dynamic, or outwardly friendly, or professional, or good at preaching, or youthful as your own parish—but they are certainly not without any charm, usefulness or value. Observe what is done well and appreciate it. Observe what is offered and become a part of it.
1. Remember that Jesus Is Present in the Eucharist—and that’s why you’re there
Ultimately, whatever a parish does or doesn’t have to offer, it has the Eucharist. And, while the other things—good music, preaching, ministries, friendly people, community outreach—are important, they can always change. The Eucharist is the source and summit of who we are and what we do; and it’s why we’re there. If you’ve been going to Mass for a particular priest, or type of music, or a ministry of the Church—I’m not saying these things aren’t important; they meet us where we are and nourish us on a level that can’t be quantified, but they are not the most important things—then our vision of Church is out of focus. Wherever the Eucharist is Present, all other good things are possible—it’s where they all flow from. St. Augustine told us to “become what we eat.” Be nourished by the Eucharist first, and then be Eucharist to the parish that could be your new spiritual home.