Hope without belonging. Is that even possible? One of the most challenging situations I have found myself in over the years is when I am “invited” into an organization that ostensibly is a faith-filled one. Still, I find myself being subtly, or not so subtly rejected. Sometimes this can happen during the approach to a new parish and can be as simple as how the pastor welcomes you, which seats you are directed to by an usher, or if the greeters are smiling and welcoming. Those of us who are responsible for being that welcoming face of the Church feel this more than most. I often tell my colleagues in the retreat center that those serving the food are just as important as those leading a retreat conference or delivering a homily. We are all that face of Jesus. This does not, of course, limit itself to those of us who identify as “working in the Church” for we are ALL working in the Church. At home, at work, in the playground, in the lunchroom. You get the idea.
So often, when we seek out a new or different location, we find ourselves, perhaps inadvertently, looking for hope. Somewhere, where the voice of God will become more present to us, more pronounced. Sometimes, we are often looking for God to shout out loud to us, to change the direction of our spiritual lives. So what happens when we show up at this new place of hope and find ourselves not belonging there?
Years ago, our family had moved to a new location once again. (We were not a military family, but my kids perhaps felt that way in their early years because of the number of moves). We landed in a small New England town and immediately brought the kids to the local parish to sign them up for catechism and preparation for their First Communion. (A very Catholic thing!). This situation was an opportunity for a new family to be welcomed into the Catholic spiritual center for the town. After a very hurried meeting with the pastor following Sunday morning Eucharist, the priest said we had missed the sign-up date for this year’s program and would have to wait a year before the next program started. “No exceptions” was the message, and perhaps the priest was having a bad hair day, but he left an impression on my wife and the kids. You are not welcome here, at least not till next year.
Our response was to call another parish, not as local, but the story was different. The Deacon and the priests there were the epitome of welcoming, helped us get the kids up to speed, provided materials, and within no time at all, my wife became a Catechist at this parish. A parish which she later converted through their RCIA program.
So what does this tell us? Sometimes, those places that should be places of hope are not so much. The relationship between belonging and hope is inextirpable; just as scripture and tradition are bonded in the Church, so are these two. If we find ourselves not binding or belonging at a location or community, there may be a reason for it. And the reason may not be us “not fitting in” but rather a message that the location is not where we are called. At times, rejection can be a gift. It brings us to discernment, although sometimes not a conclusion that we may not want to hear. That we are supposed to be elsewhere.
Now, this may not be the case at all times. Often we find ourselves not welcome somewhere at first, then, over time, we integrate into the environment or tolerate it. At a recent presentation on Spirituality in the Workplace, I found the number one requirement (of 12) from a survey of 5.5 million workers was the need to feel they belonged. So it is little surprise that the receipt of hope and belonging are so connected.
Reflect on those moments in your life where you have felt this challenge. What did you do? Are you still there in some unbelonging spiritual places? What is God saying to you about where you should be?