Not Quite Hug Ready
Allison Gingras looks to Jesus’ evangelizing examples of extending invitations and creating community following an awkward church outing.
I may not be hug ready, but I miss my church community enough to be people ready. After a year-and-a-half of not being together, Deacon Kevin and I were thrilled to attend a deacon event. It was so wonderful to be with the Deacons, Deacon Candidates, and (some of) their wives present that day. While I was thrilled to see our friends, I still was not ready for physical contact — no handshaking and definitely no hugging.
Aware of the possibility of some super awkward moments, I prayed for wisdom, as St. James recommends in his letter, on how to handle this situation. To any incoming hugs, I quickly responded, "I'm not hug ready," diffusing any discomfort with a laugh. Everyone was very understanding and kind, which is another reason I love our Diaconate community so much.
This situation had me thinking about the emerging restart to our Church life. While I've learned to evangelize from behind a screen for over 15 years, I also know the beauty of in-person relationship and community building. Our parish has begun to meet and plan how we can offer events and opportunities to welcome back (and beyond) parishioners. We are embracing Bishop da Cunha’s encouragement to recognize this time as a unique and important opportunity to emerge from the pandemic, not only better people but a stronger faith community as well.
As we continue to welcome back people, we need to take into account many may feel like me, missing the community but not completely ready to be embraced by the Church — see what I did there. Our approach must be slow, warm, inviting, patient, comforting, and focused on meeting people where they are at — just as Jesus would do. Following Jesus' example of invitation witnessed with the woman at the well (John 4), when He dined with the sinners (Mark 2), and in His invitation to the Apostles to "come and see" (John 1). Like Jesus, we, too, need to be available and provide opportunities for people to interact in our faith community. It seems reasonable to assume a Triune God, Himself in community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, would desire a relational life for His children, made in His likeness and image, as well.
Jesus, the greatest evangelist of all time, gives us not only His example but journeys along with us, offering grace and hope. Imagine how those around Him felt on Good Friday, perceiving the end, but instead, they witnessed the most victorious moment of the Church. Believe it or not, we, too, stand before a victorious moment in the Church if we remain faithful, hopeful, and prayerful.
Like Apollos and Paul, we are the planters and the waterers. God, alone, is the one who reaps the harvest. We would benefit greatly to live the response Mother Teresa offered when questioned how she planned to possibly succeed in her mission to help the poorest of the poor — we are not called to be successful but faithful. When I first entered women's ministry over 15 years ago, I remember praying about my insecurities in this new adventure. There was no way, I told Jesus, that I could be any help in shepherding His people. I will never forget the response that entered my heart almost as quickly as the words fell from my lips. "Sweet Allison, I am not calling you to be a shepherd, just a sheepdog." Awesome, Lord, that I can do!
Jesus’ assurance not only made me genuinely laugh out loud but also reminded me that He is the one who makes all things come to pass. My role is to cooperate with His will and lean on His love. I do not doubt that someday I will again be "hug ready," but in the meantime, I will pray, be faithful, and do whatever I can to help my parish (and diocese) become welcoming and inviting.
Copyright 2021 Allison Gingras
About Allison Gingras
Allison Gingras works for Family Rosary, Catholic Mom and the Diocese of Fall River as a social media and digital specialist. She is the author of Encountering Signs of Faith (Fall 2022, Ave Maria Press). Allison developed the Stay Connected Journals for Catholic Women series including her volumes—The Gift of Invitation and Seeking Peace (OSV). Podcast host of A Seeking Heart with Allison Gingras and a co-host of Catholic Momcast.