At the start of a three month sabbatical I am spending eight days on retreat at the Ignatian Spirituality Centre of St Beuno's in North Wales. Here are some reflections from my time at St Beuno's.
I arrived at St Beuno's on Friday afternoon, and after dropping off my case in my room I made my way to the Chapel for the evening Mass, which is held every day at 5.45pm.
The Catholic church has recently revised its Mass, and the responses which were very similar to the Anglican Communion Service have now changed, so it is easy to be caught out. For example in response to the words 'The Lord be with you', the response in the Anglican liturgy and old Catholic liturgy was 'And also with you.' But now in the Catholic Mass it is 'And with your spirit.' This is just one of many little changes to the Mass.
Although I have attended Mass on many occasions in the past with my wife, I am not very familiar with the new Mass, and on this first evening at St Beuno's was very conscious of the fact that it may be obvious to others that I wasn't used to the new liturgy. That first evening, I felt as though everyone in the chapel new the responses by heart, and I was the only person present who needed an order of service at hand to follow the responses. I felt very conscious about standing out from the crowd.
That first service at St Beuno's made me aware of how unnerving it must be for people going into church for the very first time. For those unfamiliar with going to church, everything can seem unfamiliar and strange, including the words and music we use, sharing the peace, even the building we gather in. It made me realise what a big thing it is for people to come to church for the first time. No wonder at services which attract a lot of visitors, such as weddings, baptisms or funerals, you often see people standing outside the church looking so nervous. People are anxious about standing out, doing the wrong thing. People worry that if they do something wrong they will get disapproving stares from other people.
We want to encourage people to come to church, but I think we often forget what it is like to go somewhere new for the first time. How terrifying it can be for some people to step into a church building, because they don't know what to expect, or maybe because they've had bad experiences in the past. It is important to place ourselves in their position, to realise how hard it is to go somewhere new for the first time, and to go out of our way to welcome people, and put them at ease.
As for my experience at St Beuno's, I needn't have worried, because at the meal after the service I found myself sitting next to a retired Anglican Bishop, an Anglican Vicar and a Quaker, I quickly realised that St Beuno's is a place that welcomes Christian's from all backgrounds, and that I wasn't the only person who would occasionally struggle with the new responses.