What’s a Parish-Hopper? Is it a Bad Thing?
Fr Mathibele Sebothoma – Since the beginning of the year I had been wondering about her absence in parish life. My anxiety was relieved when I saw her coming up for Holy Communion at a neighbouring parish.
For some time I have casually agreed with some younger priests to exchange pulpits on Sundays. As a result I try to get visiting priests to celebrate Mass in our parish. I know for a fact that parishioners appreciate such encounters. These occasions have helped me to learn from other parishes.
I was disappointed that she was not coming for Sunday worship in our church. But I was elated that she was at least still attending Mass, albeit at a different parish. Officially she belongs to our parish. Paradoxically her husband is a regular at Mass in our church. It would seem husband and wife have different preferences in their choice of parishes.
One young woman was brutally honest in her response. She wanted to get married in her home parish because it was convenient. Her chosen parish was about 30km away. She said her home parish lacked Moya. Her use of the Sesotho word Moya implied either our parish lacked the presence of the Holy Spirit and/or that the priest and the parishioners were not charismatic.
This made me think about 600 people who attend Mass consistently, every week throughout the year. Two out of 600 is a drop in the ocean, but still worth thinking about.
Many people choose a parish because it is nearer to their home-convenience. A person with a remote control has power and freedom to choose which TV programme to watch or to ignore. In the same way, there must be personal reasons why people choose a particular parish community or go church-hopping.
According to canon law (para 518) a parish is territorial, that is, one which includes all the Christian faithful of a certain territory. In this sense parishioners share common things like language, culture, and so on. It would be ideal to belong to a community closest to one’s home. But if one has some difficulties with a particular parish due to whatever problems or preferences, however, one is free to attend Mass and participate at another parish.
But in my own parish, some parishioners travel long distances to come to church – and not only on Sundays. The parish has become a home for them. Physically they live in other places, but their parish of choice is their spiritual home. In this mobile culture people are sometimes forced by other circumstances to do parish hopping. For many young people, work opportunities determine which parish to belong to. For others the age and education of their kids is a priority. It is also true that a few individual Catholics follow their priest wherever he goes – the personality cult.
The length of the Mass or the homily is an important factor for some. I am told some people prefer a 30-minute Mass with no music and preferably a five-minute sermon or no homily at all. I know that other Catholics prefer a longer service with a longer sermon.
Culture and race seem to be a determining factor in some parishes around Pretoria. With the de-racialisation of formerly white suburbs, some parishes are becoming multi-racial. This should be encouraged for the process of national reconciliation and healing. But this scenario can also be unsettling. Some people have a fear of sharing the same space with people of different races or languages. That is why some people are moving to parishes where race identity is primary.
We cannot force people to be part of our community. But more often people who are parish-hopping or their whereabouts are unknown create problems for communities. For example it is a hassle to organise a funeral for such a person. Or they come for a letter of recommendation or a testimonial for a job. What do you write if you don’t know the person?
We will have to come up with a revised definition of what it means to be a parish community. When choosing a parish should one go on geography or preference? Does one go by the priest and or parishioners? Does it really matter? Updated from 2008