Recently we attended our new parish’s picnic. We figured it would be a great way to meet people. Upon our arrival, the tables were sparsely occupied. It was early, though. We sat down maybe 6 seats down from where people were entering and awaited to be joined by fellow parishioners, certain the hall would fill up quickly.
At our old parish, they held many events, most involving meals. The parish hall was always packed. Arrive five minutes after the event officially started and you’d be scrambling to find a table where there were two free seats. On occasion, we attended events in parishes where my son was assigned. It was pretty much the same although in those instances we got to sit at the ‘priest’ table.
Fifteen minutes passed and the place was still fairly empty. Half an hour later, there were more people but still there were many blocks of empty seats. We happened to be surrounded by blocks of empty seats. I spent much of the evening looking around the room at people. Barely anyone made eye contact, much less smiled. So much for meeting new people.
That got me to thinking, though. In all the years we were at our old parish, what did we ever do to make people feel welcomed? Would I have even realized someone was new and alone? The answers to those questions would be nothing and no.
Back in the old place, after entering the hall, I’d scan the crowd for my friends and make a beeline straight to their table. Other tables were filled with the usual groups of people who you’d always find sitting together. There would be some intermingling but mostly we stayed with our little groups.
Some (most?) of my friends are more thoughtful than I. They would invite people to join us. Not that they were inviting strangers. It was always people they knew but people who didn’t seem to have a place to sit.
Okay, in fairness, I’m not really the sort to walk up to someone I don’t know and start a conversation. I’m not even likely to start a conversation with an acquaintance unless I have something specific to say. After 60 years, I’m not likely to have a huge change in my personality but there is one change I will make. I am going to pay more attention to my surroundings, to people who seem alone and are searching for a place to sit. I’m going to make eye contact with them, smile, and offer the seats near us. They may then think I’m a demented loon and run for a seat at the opposite end of the room but at least I’ll have tried.