Do Catholic churches lack a social aspect?

I've been used to churches serving two purposes, liturgical and social. I'm not suggesting that people should go to church first and foremost as a social activity (although I'm sure many do), but I have tended to feel that being part of a community is good for one's life as a Christian, and, indeed, that being part of a community is something that Christians are called to do.

As an Anglican I was mainly involved with Anglo-Catholic churches, where the norm seemed to be coffee and biscuits served after the main Sunday service, providing an opportunity to interact with one's fellow worshippers on more of a social level. One Anglo-Catholic church I was involved with I know now has more social activities such as a book group. I also had some involvement with evangelical churches, Anglican and otherwise, and found that took this to a whole other level, sometimes serving lunch after church, and encouraging everybody to join in with other church activities such as Bible study groups, house/cell groups, men's and women's groups, prayer breakfasts, and so on. For many of my evangelical friends most of their lives revolve around their church, especially if they have children who attend the church school (in the sense of a 'Christian school', not just the more standard CofE or RC school attached to the parish church). Although I'm not of their theological persuasion, I do admire the way that these churches look after their people, both in terms of building each other up in the faith (a phrase I hear a lot) and in terms of looking after each other in practical and emotional ways (anything from babysitting to providing housing).

So when I became a Catholic (more of that later on another thread I suspect!), it came as something of a shock and disappointment to discover that the parish church really functions purely as a place of worship. The routine seems to be that one attends one of the four Masses held on a Sunday, says hello to the priest on the way out, and that's it until the next Sunday or holy day of obligation. There are also regular times for confessions. Apart from that, unless one has a specific purpose, such as a child having first Holy Communion, preparing for a wedding, or planning a funeral, there's no reason to go near the church or to have anything to do with anybody from the church.

When I first joined the parish I introduced myself to the priest and he gave me a form to complete (name, date of birth, contact details, nothing more than that). I asked him how I could get involved in parish life, get to know people at the church, and so on, and he said the main thing was the daily parish Mass at 9.30 every morning, although he acknowledged that the only people who went to that were elderly people who didn't have to be out at work. He mentioned that there was a charismatic group that met mid-week, but he said it with a roll of the eyes and a chuckle and didn't even tell me who to contact to get involved. When he ascertained that I had an interest in classical music he did introduce me to a young Spanish woman of about my age who was a student at one of the main conservatoires in London, but she was very unfriendly and I never saw her at the church again anyway. I believe there's an occasional bingo game at the social club, but I'm sure that's aimed at the elderly members of the congregation.

Apart from some elderly people (mostly Irish I think), most of the congregation are young families from central Europe or Africa (and I've seen one Indian family), and I guess most of them send their children to the primary school attached to the church. I guess for them they aren't looking for much else from the church, as they have a family life and presumably have a community based around socialising with other people from their linguistic and ethnic groups.

Would people say that this is normal, and is it a uniquely Catholic thing? Really, the church functions almost solely as a place one goes to to hear Mass and to make one's confession and occasionally to go to a first Holy Communion, wedding, or funeral. One arrives a few minutes before Mass, and as soon as Mass is over the priest stands at the door at the back of the church and gives a generic greeting to everyone as they walk out. There is no expectation that one is supposed to know anybody else in the congregation or have any contact with them until the next time one may happen to see them at Mass. It is basically a facility for fulfilling one's sacramental and liturgical obligations. There is no community, people are almost literally anonymous, there is no attempt at friendship or fellowship, no sense of belonging, no spiritual, emotional, social, or practical support. It's like going to the bank or the doctor's surgery, although at those places they know my name and have some interest in my personal circumstances.


  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    Anecdote about Roman Catholics parishes has that usually, the people built the social club first to raise money for building the church. I wonder if this plays into current parish demographics to create the situation you describe.

    The Social Club which possibly functions a bit separately from the parish would have been the social domain for the original families founding the parish. In much of England, these were Irish immigrants. So culturally it is Irish. Their children did not follow in the faith but may still keep links with the social club.

    Then over the last decade, you get a significant immigration of Eastern European Roman Catholics. They go to the local parish church and are faithful in attendance but have little or no allegiance to the social club. They probably do not understand its former role in the parish.

    The result is that whereas once the social club provided the social part of the parish, there are now two different groups; the people who attend mass who are largely Eastern European and the second and third generation Irish who participate in the Social Club.

  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    I understand exactly what Tiber Swimmer is attempting to say. We should remember however that we go to church to worship God,to listen to His Word, to thank Him in the eucharist and to draw closer to Him in the sacraments.
    However we must also remember that we are part of God's family. Catholics,on the whole, are better than many of their fellow Christians at worshipping together as God's family but less good at post church social interaction.
    Fifty years ago, at least in Scotland,Catholics were generally shunned by others in society and had many specifically Catholic social organisations.Now that much of this antipathy has disappeared, Catholics are glad to socialise widely with their fellow citizens of other or no religious persuasions.
    Our vibrant Catholic parish has many active parishioners involved in daily Mass,visiting the sick and housebound, helping with charitable organisations like the St Vincent de Paul,but there is no such thing as a Book Club.There are two many parish events in a year,a picnic in summer and a celidh around St Andrew's day.There is coffee after Mass on Sundays but of the hundreds who attend Mass about 30 remain behind to chat.
    On the other hand most of the Massgoers have a good idea of who their fellow patrishioners are and will interact with them on many different levers outwith the church.
  • HedgehogHedgehog Shipmate
    I think it is fair to say that Catholic churches lack the social aspect that other denominations enjoy. It is unusual for there to be a post-service coffee & yummies. In my parish, we do that only following the All Souls Day mass (which is a special service for those who have lost a family member over the previous 12 months).

    Of course, there are the occasional fundraisers: bake sales, spaghetti dinners, beef-and-beer nights, etc. But, as I say, those are to raise money for other services.

    There are certain groups that perform functions (the choir; the environment committee; the money counters...) that gather more regularly and the members get rather sociable with each other, but again that is not so much a social thing as performing service for the church. And there are the more niche groups: Knights of Columbus; St. Vincent de Paul, the Rosary Sodality, etc. Still, those are service organizations first, and social organizations second.
  • Here the local Church of Scotland has been very reluctant to make after-service coffee a regular feature, and rarely organises social activities. That might be because in a small community there is an assumption that there are other ways to get to know folk, or it could just be it's something they never got into the habit of doing.
  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    Indeed again 50 years ago it was unknown ,in Scotland anyway,for any church to have post service socialising around the church.
    Occasionally I pass here in Edinburgh a Free Presbyterian church at the end of the Sunday evening service.There are quite a few people standing in their Sunday best out in the road talking,but there is obviously no post service coffee - certainly not on the Sabbath !
    (A 'Free Presbyterian' church is not the same as a church which belongs to the 'Free Church of Scotland').
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    My DIL is RC, and their church has a lot of activities which are a way of getting to know people. I don’t think they do coffee after mass as there isn’t really room. They do have a bar and social club, but that seeems to be for separate events.
    However my son and DIL socialise a lot outside church with other families whose children were confirmed or made their first communion together. I rather think there is nothing spiritual about it, unless we are talking of brandy, whiskey etc.
  • angloidangloid Shipmate
    When I began to attend regular Anglican worship as a teenager, I don't remember any post-service refreshments or socialising. This was a fairly old-fashioned village church. Meanwhile the Parish Communion movement was at its height and urban parishes in particular adopted the motto 'The Lord's people at the Lord's table on the Lord's day'. The ideal was for there to be one Eucharist followed by a 'parish breakfast'. In one working class London parish I experienced this in the form of Mother's Pride-and-marmalade sandwiches!

    I wonder if it was this, downgraded to cups of milky tea and weak instant coffee, that influenced the practice for many non-Catholic churches? Most of them, Anglican and other, would have one obvious 'main service' every Sunday.

    I think (Roman) Catholic churches until recently – and many of them still –would have many masses every Sunday and none which would be regarded as the 'main' service. That and the generally larger numbers would make the logistics difficult, combined with the sociological factors that others have noted.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    What does DIL stand for please?
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth Mystery Worship Editor
    angloid wrote: »
    Catholic churches until recently – and many of them still –would have many masses every Sunday and none which would be regarded as the 'main' service.
    But one of them would be the mass "pro populo" -- i.e., "for the people", and would usually be taken by the pastor as opposed to a curate or supply priest. That would be considered the main mass. In the parish of my youth it was the 10:00 mass (the full schedule was every hour on the hour from 6:00 to noon, with the 9:00 being the children's mass in the main church and a separate mass in the "lower church" downstairs for the parents).

    I don't remember socializing after mass, except for visiting out on the street in front of the church, which my father always did with his friends while my siblings and I stood by looking bored. There were, however, parish societies that regularly held breakfasts after their members attended mass together.
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    Sorry, Daughter- in- law.
  • Well, this has certainly elicited a lot of interesting comments, so thanks!

    Putting the Catholic Church in Britain into its social and historical context probably does go quite some way to explaining why things are the way that they are. The ideal in Catholicism is very much that the faith is supposed to be transmitted within families, and those families are the building blocks that make up the parish. Within the immigrant communities that make up the vast majority of a parish such as mine it always has been, and to a great extent still is, the case that being Catholic is the default position for the whole community, meaning that socialising with people at church as such isn't really necessary, as the people one sees at church are the people with whom and among whom one lives.

    I suppose I have the three disadvantages of being English, a convert, and single/childless. If I were Irish or Polish (or Lithuanian or Nigerian), or even an English cradle Catholic (which usually means being a recusant or having parents who converted), I would know these people anyway, because we would be related or would be part of the kind of social networks that often exist among immigrant communities. Also, if I had a wife and children (or parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.) that would be the focus of my life as a Catholic and I would not so much look to the parish church to be a community. Also, my children would presumably go to the church school and through that we'd get to know other families.

    I was thinking about evangelical churches and it occurred to me that the social composition of an evangelical church is often very different. I'm not talking about the traditional kind of evangelical churches (e.g. Baptist, Salvation Army, or the old-fashioned kind of Pentecostal), which are now presumably the minority of evangelical churches, and where it is common for membership of a particular denomination to run in families for many generations, but the new kind of evangelical church, e.g. HTB, St Helen's Bishopsgate, Vineyard, Ichthus, and anything called a community church. It occurs to me that the crucial difference with those churches is that they are first and foremost made up of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds, rather than multiple generations of families or particular ethnic, national, linguistic, or cultural groups. More or less by definition these people will be converts from outside Christianity or from very different (i.e. more mainline) Christians traditions. An important part of their strategy is the argument that Christianity is not a religion and that being Christian is counter-cultural. In some instances they seem almost to encourage people to distance themselves from family members who are not Christians or who are the wrong kind of Christians.

    This could not be further from Catholicism (especially in working-class parishes dominated by different waves of immigration), where most people are Catholic precisely because it is their culture that has been transmitted from generation to generation for perhaps a thousand years. For evangelical churches, on the other hand, it could be said to be their core mission to recruit and retain people who would otherwise be rootless. They are creating a community for new Christians who cannot share their faith with their families or communities.

    The interesting thing would be to compare my kind of Catholic parish (working-class and based on immigrant communities) with a very different kind of parish, such as Immaculate Conception Farm Street, where I guess that there are more recusants, more converts, and more immigrants from a much wider range of backgrounds than the more usual Irish, Polish, Nigerian, etc., and probably, because of where the parish is located, more people who are relatively transient and isolated, as opposed to multiple generations of families and couples with children who have become well established in the community.
  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    Tiber Swimmer - instead of concentrating on what you see as your disadvantages you should see it as an advantage that you have voluntarily chosen adherence to the Catholic Faith and that you probably have a more mature appreciation of Catholicism than your fellow parishioners.
    Be assured that the spiritual bonds amongst those who are regular Mass goers are much stronger than the bonds amongst those who have shared a cup of coffee and a bit of gossip.

    I appreciate the difficulties which you may feel in trying to fit in, but many parishes are always looking for people to announce the Word of God or to be ministers of the eucharist.
    Especially if you were to visit the sick and housebound as a minister of the eucharist you would begin to understand the depth of faith which many of those people have and the sense of loss at their inability to be present with the community at the celebration of Sunday Mass. Don't expect them, however, to have the same level of knowledge about the doctrines of Catholicism which you, yourself, may have and don't expect them to have the same knowledge of the intricacies of the liturgy which you may have.

    Probably in the Anglican church you felt that you knew what you were doing and could easily make connections and references which perhaps you feel you cannot do just now.
    'Catholics always know one another', people sometimes said to me, but it is not a peculiarity of Catholics - all sorts of groups know who other people are from the same community or with the same interests.
    Don't lose contact with those who are not directly like you in the barque of Peter but who are swimming with you in the same direction in the many smaller boats which surround the barque of Peter
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Tiber Swimmer, your diagnosis is interesting, but I'm not sure I totally agree with it.

    CofE churches in my childhood were much more as you describe RC ones. People came to church, perhaps chatted for a bit outside and then left. There wasn't any coffee. And in those days they were much more embedded in assumptions about how local community worked, or how an idealised version of it ought to work.

    However, whatever may have been the perceptions about why coffee was introduced in gathered congregations, I don't think that was usually the driving force in the CofE, where I suspect it was more to do with trying to strengthen feelings of community at a time when the overall sense of community was felt to be shrinking. It's relatively recently that ideas have begun to become at all prevalent that the church community and the local one might not be the same thing. Many CofE churches and clergy do still talk about 'building community' as part of the church's mission, meaning the secular community, not the local body of Christ. 60 years ago, there was much more the assumption that those in the local church who weren't in church, ought to be. So coffee etc would have been added to try to encourage them to come.
  • As someone who was involved for many years with one of the 'newer' evangelical groups you describe, Tiber Swimmer, I think your analysis is spot on.

    Fortunately, I was married and with kids when we left our restorationist 'new church'. Otherwise we could have ended up feeling very 'rootless' indeed, living many miles from where we grew up and with little contact with our wider and more extended families and having lost contact with many of our older friends.

    I agree that such churches provide a community for the rootless, but once people leave or move on from those communities they become rootless again. That happened to my twin brother. He is single and very wary now of churches of any kind and has never found a community or setting to which he feels he can now belong. It is very sad.

    When we moved to this area 11 years ago now, I made a special point of trying to cultivate relationships that were nothing to do with church. It's sort of fallen out that many of the people I know and mix with around here are involved with some form of church, but the basis on which I interact with them isn't always around that - it is more likely to be through local politics (I'm a town councillor), various arty and cultural activities or community events.

    I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I know so many people - particularly single people - who went through the 'new church' or charismatic evangelical thing only to end up out on a limb and unconnected from anything else when they came out the other side.

    I don't know much about social interaction among Catholics. I live in a small town and the Catholics here are very engaged ecumenically and also involved with social and civic life. It seems a friendly parish with a social element to it. I'm not sure whether or not that is typical for Catholics in small to medium sized towns.

    It does seem to me, though, that there are non-parish based societies and fraternities, sodalities that RCs can and do get involved with. It might be an idea checking some of these out.

  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate
    Tiber Swimmer, to add to what Forthview has suggested, you might see if there is a Newman Society in your parish or RCIA activities you might participate in. As a single convert in my 20s, I was afraid of being trampled underfoot in the rush of parishioners dashing out of the church after Mass on Sunday! What I did was to join a lay/secular Ignatian group for prayer and weekend retreats, so I could get to know people in the parish. There are often Rosary groups, secular Franciscan, Benedictine, Carmelite or Dominican prayer groups, Justice & Peace groups or parish organisations offering outreach and support to refugees.

    I also went to daily Mass early in the mornings, less crowded so people have time to chat afterwards.

    Good luck!
  • LeoLeo Shipmate
    Enoch wrote: »
    60 years ago, there was much more the assumption that those in the local church who weren't in church, ought to be. So coffee etc would have been added to try to encourage them to come.

    No - coffee was added when people started to come, fasting, to Parish Communion.
  • Gosh, what a lot of very interesting and rather extensive replies! Thank you.

    Enoch, I do not think that I disagree with you. I imagine that the Church of England 60 years ago performed much the same function in communities as the Catholic Church still does in the countries where most of my fellow parishioners come from, and that perhaps is carried over to parish life here. Interestingly, the parish priest is also African.

    What you describe is very much what a former tutor of mine at school used to describe about the Lancashire mill community in which he grew up. Apparently his family were the only family in the community who were not churchgoers, and he said that all his friends would see each other Monday-Friday at school and then on Sunday at church. In such a community it would indeed seem unnecessary for the church to make itself a community separate from the one in which its congregation lived. I think I have seen a tendency in more evangelical churches for congregations to define themselves as a community that is in fact set apart from the secular community, with an emphasis very much on being built up in faith rather than being built up as a community of people within and outside of the church.

    I have to say that as far as I am aware my parish does not appear to have much in the way of organisations. I know somebody in the neighbouring parish who tells me that they do have quite a lot going on there. I don't think my parish has an RCIA group. I had private instruction (not at this parish).

    To be honest (and this would lead to a separate thread!) I question whether I am really suited to the Catholic Church. I find myself torn between aspects of Anglicanism and aspects of Catholicism. For one thing, while it is unlikely at this stage in my life that I would get married anyway, I would be unable to do so and remain within the Catholic Church due to my having in the past expressed dissent from Humanae vitae, which does at least pose an intellectual dilemma, albeit one unlikely to have any practical impact on my life.
  • Perhaps the question is whether you are suited to this particular parish rather than to Catholicism per se. If you were in an RC parish which did have something of a more conducive social life would you still be asking yourself that question?

    If you were to return to Anglicanism - and parishes and churchmanships vary of course - would you be doing so for social reasons, theological ones or a combination of various factors?

    These aren't easy questions.

    I'm a member of The Society of St Alban & St Sergius and find that a useful forum to interact with Orthodox, Anglicans and RCs. I've attended 4 annual conferences and see one or two members in other contexts some years. The other week I was at an event at an Orthodox parish.

    Obviously, these people are not close friends as I don't see them regularly enough, but I find it a helpful ecumenical forum, useful for someone like me who is a bit of a misfit in some ways.

    I think it is possible, though, to put down roots in a particular setting, be it Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist or whatever else, whilst retaining conducive links and contacts elsewhere. It wouldn't necessarily be easy, but I think it is do-able.

    I suppose I'm in the fortunate position of being married - although my wife has incurable cancer, which is mercifully under control at the moment - and that as I'm in a small town with a smallish city close by, any of the available church options offer some form of social interaction.

    I have also made efforts to build links and relationships outside my current church context - through political and cultural activities and so on. I also go back along way with people where I previously lived and where my eldest has been in college, so I see them too from time to time.

    There are so many other factors as well as churchmanship and theology, social, cultural and so on. Wherever we are and wherever we end up we have to deal with whatever there is and with the cards we are dealt.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate
    It is a hard place to be, Tiber Swimmer, and I shall keep you in my prayers.

    When I converted in my early 20s, more than 30 years ago, I had read a great deal and attended what were then called 'convert classes'. I talked through my reservations and uncertainties with the local priest and a Dominican nun.

    Looking back, I was very young and had only a superficial understanding and acceptance of Church teachings or the importance of sacramental participation. In the years that followed my entering the Church, I slowly came to understand that I belonged, that is where I was meant to be despite difficulties and disagreements with certain practices or policies. While I participate in many ecumenical groups and read widely and appreciatively in other faiths, the Church is my home.
  • Our small town Roman Catholic church has no social time. Arrive for mass and hurry home when it is over is the model they follow.
  • the Pookahthe Pookah Shipmate
    I'm a Buddhist, so pardon me if I'm making a mistake, but it is possible for you find a nice Jesuit church or one run by Benedictines or even find a spiritual director with a monastery and develop relationships that way?
  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    And there is surely absolutely no problem about 'hurrying home' right after Mass.
    One has given to God the time that the Church asks us to give both for worshipping God, for listening to His Holy Word, for thanking Him in the celebration of the Eucharist and for building up the community of the People of God in our communal celebration of Holy Mass. We can leave church and 'go and announce the Gospel of the Lord' to our wider community afterwards.
  • OblatusOblatus Shipmate
    The post-Mass social hour ("coffee hour") was one of the big differentiators when I was exploring Lutheran and Episcopal churches before my reception into the Anglican Communion by the Episcopal Bishop of Michigan. Coffee hour was standard, even almost mandatory, in these churches, and there was no such thing in the Roman Catholic churches I had experienced. Later, there began a once-a-month Big Deal social time after every Mass (so a big production in most RC parishes I know, with four or more Masses of a weekend). I noticed these were often advertised as "coffee and rolls." Made me wonder what they meant by "rolls," as this could be a sweet or savory thing, and my odd palate needed to know. Probably good I became an Episcopalian, where I also discovered "sherry hour." Typically $2 donation per glass of sherry; $1 for coffee, all donations voluntary. Cakes or cookies/biscuits; no rolls that I can recall, whether savory or sweet.
  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    Extra ecclesiam nulla salus - outside of the Church there is no salvation - words or at least an idea originally attributed to St Cyprian of Carthage in the third century -many church communities have espoused this idea over the centuries. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, and at least since Vatican 2 the Catholic Church recognises the one, holy ,catholic and apostolic church as covering all the baptised (even those who might be deemed to have received the baptism of desire !) Thus as far as Tiber Swimmer is concerned it doesn't matter where he is on the spectrum (that is unless he is convinced that only the Catholic Church united in communion with the Roman Pontiff possesses the fullness of the Catholic faith !)
    'Go,therefore,baptise in the name of the father,son and holy spirit and teach all nations what I have commanded you.And I am with you always to the end of time.' These words of Christ form the basis of the teaching mission of the Church and the guarantee of the official doctrine of the Church as being free from error.
    Tiber Swimmer should ,however, not come to the conclusion that every word that comes from the mouth of a priest or a bishop or even the pope should be followed blindly. These words should be listened to with respect and the Church has to try to put forward what it believes to be true. The sexual act is a uniting of the two complementary forms of humanity (male and female) which produces new life. Christians should be aware of this and accept new life. However one has to distinguish between the ideal and the inevitable compromises which we have to make on occasions.' Humanae vitae' was an attempt by pope Paul VI to give expression to this ideal, but not every Catholic is able to live up to that ideal and most (but certainly not all) Catholic clergy would accept that

    'Humanae vitae' should not be a cause for Tiber Swimmer to abandon the Catholic Church,it would only be an excuse.

    Now that he has 'swum the Tiber' he is probably realising that the grass is not necessarily greener of the other side of the river and he may pine for the human contacts that he had on the side of the river where he was previously. To appreciate the side which he has voluntarily swum towards he must do his best to establish new contacts.I appreciate his faithfulness to his new parish ( which is in itself very noble) but the Church is wider than the individual parish. Take care of the spiritual side and the social side will take care of itself.
  • ThunderBunkThunderBunk Shipmate
    edited May 2018
    That last I know to be untrue. I'm the opposite of Tiber Swimmer in certain respects, in that I couldn't swim the Tiber, though my obstacles are those he has identified. The part of Anglican church life that I could most easily leave is the coffee hour; I find it excruciating. Indeed I'm not sure that, in England at least, it's at all easy to make genuine relationships in church at the moment. Most denominations are full of people so desperate to guess what the other person wants them to be that they are incapable of being freely themselves, without anxiety. This anxiety then rubs off on me and makes me run for the hills. I so wish churches and the people in them would stop trying to be welcoming, and just give in to the fact that they are themselves, and will always remain so, and let people meet them as they are.
  • LeoLeo Shipmate
    The part of Anglican church life that I could most easily leave is the coffee hour; I find it excruciating.

    Same here - I leave before it starts, usually.
  • The term 'coffee hour' is one I haven't heard other than aboard Ship. Does it really last an hour?

    I have a quick slurp of coffee and clear off. Most relationships I have these days are outside of my local church and the Christians I tend to hob nob with come from a range of different churches and backgrounds.

    But we are all different.
  • Perhaps the question is whether you are suited to this particular parish rather than to Catholicism per se. If you were in an RC parish which did have something of a more conducive social life would you still be asking yourself that question?

    If you were to return to Anglicanism - and parishes and churchmanships vary of course - would you be doing so for social reasons, theological ones or a combination of various factors?

    Thank you for your reply (I'll try to manage to respond to as many as I can, but this thread seems to have taken on a life of its own!)

    I suppose there is always an element of chicken and egg here. I think it's a well known phenomenon that people can to some degree adapt themselves to the surroundings in which they are made to feel comfortable. I don't suppose many of us choose a religion in an entirely open-minded and rational manner. A lot surely depends upon family and social context. So I suppose if I'd found my parish to be more welcoming I perhaps would have been more inclined either to accept certain aspects of Catholicism without so much questioning or to be prepared to turn a blind eye to some misgivings. I think it's also always harder for a convert. I know cradle Catholics who are happy to bend the rules all they like because for them Catholicism is simply the tribe into which they were born and they feel an entitlement to belong even if they don't stick to all the rules. As a convert I do feel that I am required to give my complete and absolute assent to everything that the Church teaches, otherwise I feel that it is intellectually dishonest to claim to belong.

    If I were to return to Anglicanism it wouldn't be for social reasons. If the social aspect were paramount I'm sure I could find some Catholic parishes that are more active (although these would tend to be some distance from home). I was drawn to Catholicism by the ecclesiology and by aspects of the teaching of the then reigning pope, John Paul II, such as the dignity of the human person, the culture of life, the dignity of work, and so on. I had come from an Anglo-Catholic background in which union with Rome seemed the most logical next step. On the other hand, I had always been theologically and socially liberal, very much influenced by people like J.A.T. Robinson, Don Cupitt, Richard Holloway, and John Spong, and always very much at home with ordained women and LGBT Christians. Yes, you may well wonder how somebody with well thumbed volumes by Holloway and Spong on his bookshelves ends up joining the Catholic Church!

    And I am of course very sorry to hear of your wife's illness. I hope and pray that it remains under control for as long as it possibly can.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate
    Interesting, Tiber Swimmer. I converted to the Roman Catholic church when J-P II was Pope. In southern Africa back then, liberation theologies had tremendous influence and I did post-grad work on the social encyclicals. Back then I don't remember the polarised and somewhat crass positioning of fellow Catholics as 'Trads' or 'cafeteria Catholics'. Many older Catholics I met had known the Church during the more clerical and triumphalist 1950s and expressed little nostalgia for the years before Vatican II. The revelations of widespread clerical sexual and paedophile abuse and the cover-ups were yet to come -- and that was challenging for many of us, as was the anger of many Catholic women around ordination or ministry.

    Assent or acceptance of doctrines and practice has been a slow process for me, not abstract or purely intellectual. As someone who had attended convent schools, my formation was more influenced by French Catholicism than missionary Irish Catholicism and I was drawn to literature written by Catholic novelists and poets. What helped me to understand church teachings at a deeper level was practice and the felt life of the church, the lived experience of being a Catholic: retreats, the daily Mass, confession, shared prayer and experience of community.
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that my RC relatives are only there for social reasons, though I do not mean the coffee morning or whatever.
    They have many RC friends with whom they socialise, but rarely go to church.
    My grandchildren have been brought up as RC, following in their mother’s, grandparents’ and many generations’ footsteps. The youngest is shortly to be confirmed, purely to complete the formalities and tick the boxes, to safeguard his interests for the future, whatever that may mean. He is not sure what he believes at 13 which is no surprise, his older sister states she is not a believer any more, and their mum, by her lifestyle, is the antithesis of a Christian life. I really do not know how to react to this.
    The fact that as Anglicans we are not able to partake of Communion if we attend any of their services is another issue, of course. I have attended First Communions and Confirmation, but it is almost too much to bear now.
  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    I think that there are many Anglicans who fit into exactly the boxes which Puzzler has just described. I would say that many, many people have that sort of relationship with the religious community with which they most closely identify.' Safeguarding one's interests' might have meant in the past that one could have a religious funeral and that includes the Anglican church and indeed most of the so-called traditional Christian communities, as well as those of other faiths.
    If you are happy to be Anglicans, and it seems that you are, then you surely do not need to be worried about what happens in a community which you do not wish to belong to. Each 'tribe' has its own rules and regulations and indeed language. For example 'partake of Communion' is not a phrase which I have ever heard of in a Catholic context.
    If ,as well as being Anglicans,
    you also claim to be Christians, you should welcome the fact that your RC relatives wish to maintain some level of contact with the RC church - just in case, of course ! -that is also assuming that you accept the RC church as a 'Christian' body.
    Please accept that I do appreciate the pain which you feel when you attend RC ceremonies. Those of us who are believers want to concentrate on what we share together ,which may well be our faith in Jesus Christ, and see beyond the tribal separations.
  • sionisaissionisais Shipmate
    The RC parish my sainted aunt did much to sustain was of the church plus social club model. That part of West London was short of meeting places for working-class Roman Catholic men, and suitably policed by the clergy and others who made sure they didn't blow all their wages, it kept the church afloat. it was a useful venue for wakes, weddings, singing and dancing and all the clubs and organisations the Catholics run. At times it was an overflow building for the Parish-run primary school. The joke was that it was difficult to schedule cleaners because there was so much going on!
  • I have had just the opposite experience as I grew up attending Catholic schools until I was twelve years old. I grew up in the Northern Virginia suburbs, about fifteen miles from D.C. We had much socializing in our church with bazaars, prayer breakfasts, rummage sales, visits to nursing homes, visiting sick parishioners, caroling, church plays, folk mass, etc.
    Yes, worship was a serious business but I always felt as if God was really present in our merriment as well. That sense of community is one of the things I most miss about being part of a church. I want to join an Episcopalian church because I can't hack the anti-Gay/anti-woman policies in the Catholic church and the Episcopalians, for the most part, are the closest to Catholicism in rituals.
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    You are no doubt wiser than me, The5thMary, but from my experience be sure you are running towards something beautiful and not just away from something. I found that the foundation of running away from some hated beliefs became a poor foundation which turned to wet sand and collapsed.

    The Catholic parish near me has a very friendly coffee time after Mass. I was even invited to a talk. If only I weren't so damn socially anxious I'd make it my home. I do miss Eucharistic services, even as an observer.

    The Anglicans were very inquisitive as to who I was and where I came from, this being a small city.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Interesting thread. I became a Catholic fairly recently and have had the opposite experience - to the extent that it sometimes seems more like a social club! Maybe it’s because I live in a city, but there are lots of social things going on, such as meals and retreats and walks and prayer meetings and barn dances and barbecues and all sorts. The various Catholic churches in the city are connected, and meet up for these social things, so you easily get to know the whole Catholic community. They all have coffee after Mass, and will often have a party afterwards if someone has a special birthday or something to celebrate. The weekly newsletter is full of all the things going on in the various churches. I have felt more welcomed than I have in many evangelical churches. I can see how it might be different in a small town or village, though I think that is also true for some C of E churches.
  • I live in rural Ireland. It's always been the case of out the door and away. Coffee and tray bakes? Get your own. Sure, as the older ladies say, the Protestants are great bakers, altogether.
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