The loneliness of the long haul parishioner

Forgive me for publishing yet another post about my life. If you really dislike this habit of mine, you can always vote me off this blog, either passively or actively.

I am the human being I know best. That’s not to say that I am a solipsist. I find I am surrounded by zillions of others who are just like me. And, I love, hate and am indifferent to them as much as I do those things to myself. Is this something that anyone else can attest to?

Quick Dad! Go! Go! Go!

I find myself compelled to go to Mass every Sunday, and on Holy Days of Obligation. There, I am surrounded by many whom I recognise, but do not actually know. They have gradually got used to seeing me too, I suppose. The problem, is that we remain strangers, week after week, because they and I return to our own little worlds, once Mass finishes. Scuttle away, we all do. I’m one of the worst culprits.

One Sunday I ventured out of my shell and laid on a parish barbecue for after the 11am Mass. Unfortunately that day, of all days, several visiting squads of Maltese schoolboy footballers turned up to Mass, then the barbecue, and scoffed the blooming lot. Few of the actual parishioners got fed at all. Somehow, it was all my fault.

"Barbecue" is now a dirty word amongst our flock.

After that misadventure, I have returned to scuttling.

Our new PP, who is in fact rather old and battle hardened, has launched a series of initiatives towards the men and women of the parish, aimed at encouraging group activity for the good of the parish: presbytery gardening/hard labour for the men, UCM and flowers/cleaning for the women. He has already successfully tamed the local cutleys, and sandallistas. He still has much work to do, as the parish has been left untended for some years, following a gruesome run-in between a previous incumbent and some pushy parishioners. The parish is well known as the Tartarus of the diocese, a veritable penal colony for the Bishop’s unloved.

Dear Theophilus, have you any parishioner tales, you would like to share?


About Brother Burrito

A sinner who hopes in God's Mercy, and who cannot stop smiling since realizing that Christ IS the Way , the Truth and the Life. Alleluia!
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23 Responses to The loneliness of the long haul parishioner

  1. Gertrude says:

    Your stories about your life are lovely, and reflect the dilemmas we all have in one shape or another. Thanks be to God I am not called upon to make life or death decisions – I would be totally inept – but I can pray for those who do especially as these decisions are likely to affect most of us in our lifetime. As for Parishes – I am sure many will find your experience familiar and this is sad. Whilst I am fortunate in that my parish church is part of a religious order, and as such have three Masses on a Sunday to choose from, a daily Mass and Divine Office throughout the day, most parishes in my Diocese have had to amalgamate or have a succession of different priests turning up once a week on a Sunday.

    That you have a regular PP is a blessing and it sounds as if he’s trying hard. There have been no vocations to the Sacred Priesthood in Wales (secular) this year, and this is worrying. But – gardening for the men and cleaning and flowers for the ladies – help!!
    What about starting a SVP Group – or get the young people to start Legion of Mary, perhaps have an OAP meeting one afternoon a week – the elderly are often lonely, and grew up pre V2 . You youngsters could ferry them to and fro and get to know their families in a way that your PP might not have the time.
    We all lead busy lives, and I realise the demands of your work are great, but even if you all are the ‘Bishop’s unloved – I rather feel Our Blessed Lord sees things differently.


  2. Brother Burrito says:

    I have laid it on a bit thick, for comic effect. Part of my problem is that prior to moving into this parish, I was always moving around the country every 6-18 months as part of the job. I never had time before to settle in and get to know people very well. Also, the parish infrastructure is crumbling badly with nowhere nice for groups to meet, etc. I like your idea for the OAP’s: Too many I have seen bereaved and yes, terribly lonely. Thank you Gertrude.


  3. Mundabor says:

    I do not see the problem. Let me explain why.

    One of the things which should separate us from our heretic brethren is that we go to Mass because of Christ, and they do because of the group. That so many people come sunday in and sunday out and then go away actually shows that they were not there to have a sense of community. In times like this, it is consoling to see that this mentality is still alive.

    I do not think that these “community” things should be overrated; at least not to the point that one thinks he should feel in some way obliged have a barbecue for people he doesn’t know. Be sure that they have their friends and their lives as you have yours and if they don’t, well they should do something about it rather than wait for your invitation to a barbecue.

    What you find a problem, I actually find beautiful. It shows that the priority lies in Christ.



  4. Mundabor says:


    at the oratory, the Oratorians themselves organise “refreshments” around once a month for after Mass. This is a good middle way between a barbecue and nothing and perhaps useful for those who want to have a chat and put a personality on the usual face in the pew.

    Perhaps you could suggest to your “battle-hardened” priest if he would like to organise something of the sort.



  5. shieldsheafson says:

    I can fall out of bed and thanks to the Mother Prioress into her mass at the Carmelite Monastery a couple of hundred yards away – albeit pretty early. At weekends the nuns have an extra 15 minutes lie-in! Perfect.

    After Mass, every day, again thanks to MP, we have a ‘breakfasters’ meeting in the dining room reserved for the nuns’ visitors.

    Why not ask the PP if you may start one?


  6. Brother Burrito says:

    You are of course right, Mundabor.

    Love for God first, empowers you to then love your neighbours (and your enemies).


  7. Mundabor says:

    is it necessary to have this “answer” function with the indentation? Who introduced it? Personally I think it creates the same problem noticed on the other channel.


  8. Mundabor says:

    “There have been no vocations to the Sacred Priesthood in Wales (secular) this year”

    You might have a chance now that ++ Peter Smith goes away? (I should put an emoticon here, but on reflection I don’t think I should).



  9. Brother Burrito says:


    Sounds fab. I shall see what Father makes of the idea.


  10. Brother Burrito says:


    Sorry that was me fiddling with settings. It’s off again.


  11. Mimi says:

    Sadly, my parish is in the process of splitting into two camps: the supporters of the parish priest, who wants to rip out our lovely marble altar rails and ‘remodel’ our sanctuary; and the rest of us, who like our church just the way it is, thank you!


  12. Mundabor says:

    isn’t is astonishing that more than 45 years after the end of V II there should still be around priests bent on continuing the work of desacralisation of the Sixties?

    May I ask how old this priest is and whether in your parts he’d be considered rather an exception or representative of the generality of the local priests?



  13. Mimi says:

    Mundabor, yes, it is indeed unbelievable, and unutterably depressing!

    Our PP would be in his late forties — probably one of the younger priests of the diocese! — and very much a man of VII. I don’t think he’s exceptional. Our church is probably the last in the locality to retain its original altar rails and sanctuary. We won’t give them up without a fight.


  14. Benedict Carter says:

    I mentioned on another thread a long conversation four years ago with a Polish priest in the Catholic Cathredral in Moscow.

    Immediately following, he took me through the gloomy unrestored passages under the Cathredral, pointed me at a door, said “Go to Holy communion now and may God bless you. There’s an English priest in there saying Mass and he will care for you”.

    He was right.

    I opened the door and leapt back in utter shock: I think it was actually a physical movement backwards. There, looking at me, were about 200 black faces. And me – virtually the only white man, shaven-headed (I’m an ex-rugby player for goodness sake, I look like a scarred bandit thug) and evidently recently in tears.

    What can I say? The great Father M. of the Marists (charism: healing and reconciliation), an Anglo-Irish priest with fluency in about six languages, and the African Catholics of Moscow – diplomats, students.

    Father M. took an aggressive, highly emotional and wrecked human being and made something of him, through friendship and patience. We Skype each other two or three times each week now even though I have been away from Moscow from more than a year. I still am friends with those blessed people in the Congregation, good, intelligent, suffering people.

    Why suffering? Because a number of them are killed each year by Russian nationalist thugs. I and others have helped Father M. bury one or two of them.

    The President of the Parish Council (the parish buildings consisted of that space in the crypt) was a truly wonderful gentleman, the Ambassador to Russia from Burundi.

    Father M. has presented papers at the Vatican on migration, on which subject he is something of an expert. He is one of the two or three priests I have known who are also the two or three finest people I have met (bar parents). At one point he had 15 or more African homeless (in Moscow!) living in his one-bedroomed apartment. He organised them, cared for them, fed them, gave them hope, provided a place to sleep, helped some of them get home.

    He is a humble man so I should stop right now.

    (All this reminds me: I will now write an article about a very special holy Russian woman I met through Father M., a lady who is without doubt with God now).

    I said before how kind Our Lord has been to me. I really, really don’t deserve it. Not only did He rescue me from Satan (I believe that fact with all my heart), He gave my soul into the care of the one priest who was Heaven-sent for my recovery.

    Please remember in your prayers Father M. and the parishioners of Our Lady of Good Hope, Moscow.


  15. Brother Burrito says:


    I love these stories. Vicarious pleasure, I suppose.


  16. kathleen says:

    I agree with Mundabor – the one we go to meet at Mass is Our Blessed Lord, and it should not be important whether or not there are get-togethers with the other parishioners afterwards. In fact it can often be quite a distraction! Ours is a particularly friendly active parish, and I’m grateful for that, so long as one can keep this activity in its proper time and place.
    Quite often when I’m praying in preparation for Holy Mass, I’m suddenly tapped on the shoulder and a smiling face whispers something like, “Hi Kath, how are you? Don’t dash away after Mass; must tell you about so and so…. “, and suchlike. Then you should see the Sunday Mass in our parish at the ‘sign of peace’ with all that effusive hand-shaking!! It’s like a party! All well meaning, kind, lovely people, but sometimes I find that this keen desire to be communicative can make it very difficult to empty oneself of external noise so that Christ can enter in.
    As there is no EF Mass in out parish, not even a Latin Mass, just occasionally, when the opportunity arises, I go further afield to attend one. What a joy that is!


  17. joyfulpapist says:

    Mundabor, while I fully agree that the Mass is no place for ‘fellowshipping’, I think you go too far in the other direction.

    Yes, during the sacred mysteries of the Holy Eucharist, we join the Church universal at the foot of the Throne. This is no place for idle chatter; we are in the presence of God, there to assist at the great sacrifice. Like Kathleen, I find gossip before Mass, or – worse – during, totally inappropriate. And distracting.

    But no problem if people come and go away and don’t have anything to do with one another? Go and ask your mother if that is the sign of a Catholic parish.

    Jesus himself gave us the sign by which our communities would be known. ‘That you love one another.’ Not ‘that you pray side by side then rush off home to your safe little circle of friends’.

    I don’t mean the false sense of community, one layer deep, that Catholic-lite tries for force. Nothing is lonelier than a Catholic-lite parish where everyone smiles and nobody cares.

    I’ve heard several times about people who stopped coming to Mass because of illness or even death – and no one from the parish turned up to enquire, or showed the least interest.

    I’ve heard of people who’ve been in a new parish for months and no one has even said ‘hello’.

    I’ve heard repeatedly of people who have felt driven away by the sheer care-less-ness of the modern Catholic parish. And worse, when there is a cheerful little inner circle, making it clear to everyone else that they are the in-crowd and the others are outsiders.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

    But no excuse for going to the other extreme.

    Loving those we worship with isn’t optional. ‘By this shall all men know you are my disciples’, our Master said. By this. By our love for one another. Not by our fidelity, or our knowledge, or our joy, or any of the other gifts that the Holy Spirit brings. But by our love. And you cannot provide that sign if you don’t even know the names of the people you worship with.

    The answer is clear. You need to either worship with your friends, or get to know those with whom you worship.

    And, given what I said above, this clearly has to happen outside of the Mass itself.

    So Brother Burrito, good on you for trying. We’ve done the same at our church – rained out both times, and the first time there was another event on that people rushed off for, but we shoved the barbeque under an overhang and carried on regardless. It was a good try, and it’s probably time for another one.

    The other thing we tried has worked better. We talked for ages about doing something to get people to stop and talk after Mass. Then one of our parishioners got sick of the gabfest and started turning up early to set up cups and heat the zip for after-Mass drinks. He did it every Sunday for several months; at first only four or five people stopped. But he persisted. Then other people volunteered to help, and before long we had a roster. Now, around half the congregation stops in the parish centre (a converted garage) for a chat.

    And if someone is ill, or bereaved, or made redundant, or celebrating a new child or grandchild, we know. And we can find out how to help.


  18. Benedict Carter says:

    When I was small the “Great Silence” started as we all got out of the minibus (there were a lot of us!) and it lasted until a few minutes after Mass, when mum and dad had completed their after-Mass thanksgiving prayers (nowadays there’s just a giant rush for the exit when the priest is still on the Sanctuary, for goodness sake, isn’t there?).

    But nothing was said until we were all outside. Then lots of chat, etc.

    I am in very much favour of the parishioners having the chance to socialise. How many non-Catholics could be drawn into the Faith through meeting Catholics on a normal basis? How many lonely people (there are very many) need such an opportunity to talk with other human beings?

    It’s vital, in fact. A Church in my view should have a room or a space somewhere attached for exactly this after Mass and it should be encouraged.


  19. kathleen says:

    That’s a truly beautiful post! I must climb down from my seemingly stiff post above and say how I do agree with you, that a parish should be where love of neighbour shines through…. but well after Holy Mass, or at any other time, and not whilst one is in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

    That cold unfriendliness you speak of would fortunately never happen in our parish. There are too many caring parishioners on the alert for newcomers, lonely souls, or those in need. In the same way, when a joyful occasion occurs, everyone celebrates together. We are very blessed. Even the “difficult” people are charitably dealt with! On some big feast days we have buffet dinners for one and all in our parish halls when nearly everyone brings a home-made dish with them to share…… (unlike my visions of poor BB stoking the BBQ coals alone, while the young Maltese footballers scoff all the sausages – oh dear!)

    It was thanks to this watchfulness of the congregation that I met the wonderful holy woman who changed the course of my life – perhaps you read my post on another thread “On being rescued” about this? Knowledge of Church teaching, getting the Catholic message out, is also very important, and this mustn’t be overlooked in our desire to spread love.


  20. Mundabor says:

    “All well meaning, kind, lovely people, but sometimes I find that this keen desire to be communicative can make it very difficult to empty oneself of external noise so that Christ can enter in”.

    You have said it well.
    I am fully persuaded that, particularly in these digraceful times, to stress the community element means to neglect the Sacrifice element.

    I see it everywhere. the “modern” priest waiting for you at the door after Mass as if he was a vicar (I am, in fact, tempted to say “beautiful sermon, Vicar” but that would not be nice, which is nowadays’ abomination, so I avoid it). He tries to make of the Mass a prty, and of the meeting with Christ a meeting of the community. This is wrong and I mean massively wrong.



  21. Mundabor says:

    Joyful Papist,
    you are bringing my words to the wrong conclusions, because you have given them the wrong meaning.

    If you read my messages, you’ll notice that I have even suggested to have “after mass refreshments” for those who may want to participate. There is no duty to ignore each other.

    On the other hand, we must keep two things firmly in mind:

    1) we are there for Christ, not for the “community”. The community is there the other 23 hours of the day, without fail. Everyone of us lives in the middle of a community. It is not that he only sees other people at Mass.

    2) You shouldn’t feel more obliged to become friends with the people in the pews more than you should feel obliged to make friends with the people at the butcher’s; but this does not mean that you are not friendly, not open to friendship etc.
    You go at the butcher’s to get meat, and you go at mass to receive Christ.
    But if you treat the butcher’s as a meeting point it does not distract you from the meat. if you make of Mass the place where you meet friends, it does.

    3) Every time I go to a liberal church (sometimes, alas, I must) I see the same things: groups of all people obviously acqainted and “ingrained” in a “group”. You get the clear idea that to them the event is the meeting, Eucharist is an accessory. When I am at the Oratory I see many people coming prayerfully, prayerfully attending mass an dprayerfully going away. They have got it right. I am sure they are rather friendly people in their private lives, they just don’t expect to be my friends because we go to the same church. Kudos to them.
    Of course it will depend from many factors, not least the size of the community. In a big urban church you’ll notice that you don’t know anyone of the people in the pews. In a small village of community you’ll notice that there is no one whom you don’t know already.
    In the first case the idea that one “needs” to become friends with a mass of unknown people is rather artificial; in the second the friendships are obvious, but they do not come from going to the same church, but from living in the same community.



  22. Mundabor says:

    “And you cannot provide that sign if you don’t even know the names of the people you worship with. ”

    you can’t be seriously meaning that the Church has got it wrong and you got it right, I hope. What you describe is the reality in every big Church that has ever existed and that will ever exist. Noone ever asks to know the names of the people you worship with. It would be extremely bad if they would as this would, again, turn the attention on the community. It is a mass, not a meeting of a self-awareness group.



  23. Benedict Carter says:


    You are entirely correct in your 22:30 and 22:46. Thanks for the clarifications. As to the last one, I guess that jp’s parish is perhapsa small one. Therefore those egregrious New Zealanders probably all know each other anyway.


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