Make room in the pew and help others figure out how to belong
Carpooling parents, I salute you. Your job is harder than it looks.
Last week my friend Theresa asked me to pick up her daughter, Sydney, from kindergarten.
“It’s kind of confusing though,” Theresa began. Confusing? How confusing could it be to retrieve a child from school? I half listened to her instructions while I clicked through my email.
A few minutes before school dismissed, I followed a bus right into the parking lot. Another bus was behind me. School buses mean children, so I was obviously on the right track. Only instead of picking up children, the buses parked, leaving me stuck. Pulling into the only accessible parking space, reserved for the PTO president, I walked into the office and asked where I could find the kindergarten pick up line.
“Oh, you’ll need to walk to the other side of the building!” They exclaimed. “Those buses won’t be moving for 45 minutes.”
I sheepishly trekked through the hallways and found the line where cars, not buses, had assembled to pick up children. An orderly line of parents had formed behind a sign that said, “do not cross this line.”
All the kindergartners stared as I approached the line from the forbidden side and tried to slip, nonchalantly, into the queue of parents. Sydney looked especially critical as she walked towards me. Why was her mom’s friend so clueless?
“I didn’t do this right, Sydney,” I began. “My car is stuck and we can’t leave for … a while.”
She continued to stare, incredulous that an adult could be so helpless. “Want to watch Doc McStuffins on my phone while we wait?” She nodded eagerly, my reputation saved.
Picking up Sydney was a completely new experience. Theresa had tried to prepare me but I still failed dismally. It was a humbling reminder that sometimes, we just don’t know what to do.
Kindergarten carpool lines might as well be the surface of Mars to me. I did not know my way around and felt like everyone was watching me mess up.
Ironically, this is often how I hear people describe the place I feel most at home — church.
I’m quick to invite people to come to Stations of the Cross, a Bible study or Mass. However, I often forget that many of the things Catholics do, say and pray can feel pretty foreign. I’ll never forget a teen that came to youth group for the first time a few years ago. Hoarding the Oreos from the snack table and cracking inappropriate jokes, he was getting on my last nerve. Exasperated, I finally admonished him, “that is NOT how we act in a Church group”. Shrinking under my criticism, he quietly said, “I’m sorry, I’m still figuring out how I’m supposed to be here.”
In ‘Misericordiae Vultus’, the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, Pope Francis extolled us to answer the call to mercy and “bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters” (#10).
I’ll never forget that teen’s reaction — and that so many people who walk into church feel just like he did. I can guarantee that you will eventually sit next to someone at Mass who feels completely out of place and unsure if they belong. Someone who has no clue what to do and — at the risk of mixing my metaphors — has parked in the PTO president’s space, or is sitting in “your” pew, kneeling and sitting at the wrong times or mixing up responses.
This Year of Mercy is a tremendous opportunity for us to smile and be patient. Welcoming. Accommodating. A chance to bear each other’s weaknesses and struggles. A chance to scoot over and make room in the pew. Let’s resolve to help others “figure out how to be here” because the Catholic Church is truly where we all belong.