A Catholic Monthly Magazine

“I was a stranger and you made me welcome …”

by Juliette Sivertsen

by Juliette Sivertsen

“Why isn’t Mum in the car?”

“She’s found someone new to talk to.”

“Dad, can’t we just leave without her? I’m starving.”

This dialogue was often heard between family members after Mass on Sunday mornings as a child. My mother’s a great talker normally, especially when she has her ‘NPR’ tuned in – New Person Radar. Mum has this uncanny ability to spot a new person to her local parish from a mile away. She really does epitomise the words of Matthew 25:35 “I was a stranger and you welcomed me into your homes.” She was forever introducing her husband and five children to new people and visitors, and forever inviting them round for afternoon tea or dinners.

I never thought much of it growing up, until I moved away from home. And had to enter a new parish. In fact, in the last five years I’ve had five or six new parishes to try and settle into. I now realise that not every parish is as fortunate to have someone with their NPR finely tuned in.

So it’s for that reason I’d like to share with you simple joy of my experience at St Mark’s in Pakuranga, Auckland.



I’d been a ‘drifter’ among Auckland parishes since I moved up here nearly two years ago, changing around each week depending on what times Mass was being held and what hours I was working. So I never really got settled into any one particular parish. I struggled with the lack of belonging – I had my regular church I would go to, but never fully integrated into the church community. Perhaps I needed someone with an NPR, but just couldn’t seem to attract one.

I moved into a new flat, and with that discovered another church closer to my new home. It was really by chance – I was trying to find an Ash Wednesday service that I could attend after work. I literally stumbled across St Mark’s.

Ash Wednesday was packed, and there was something so welcoming about the church that I decided to head back there the following Sunday. I introduced myself to the Deacon there who informed me there was a cup of tea next door and that I should stay.

So I took a leap of faith and went for that cup of tea. When you’re new, and you’re by yourself, it can take a lot of courage to put yourself into a room full of strangers.

In that room full of strangers, a man with a finely tuned NPR struck up a conversation, and over the next twenty minutes or so, I felt like I’d been introduced to half the parish. It was a welcome I’d never experienced before.

Throughout Mass earlier, the words that kept coming to me were “Welcome Home”. And sure enough did I feel like I’d come home.

Then, just to add an extra special welcome, (God never does things by halves), I bumped into a familiar face, an old family friend from back in Christchurch, whom I hadn’t seen probably since I was about 10 years old. What a joyous Sunday!

So I want to conclude by thanking God for the parish of St Mark’s for making me feel so welcome. Because that’s what every parish should be like – we don’t want to be the ‘frozen chosen’… a skeleton parish with no flesh.

It’s hard for a new person trying to integrate into a new parish. Every person is at Mass for a reason, and every church-goer needs the community of the church to help them in their faith journey…so as a church we must always welcome those who come through the doors. When we see an unfamiliar face, young or old, we cannot assume that a person has a connection in that parish. So I encourage each and every one of you to have a think about your NPR. Is it switched on? Is it on the right frequency? Is it on mute? For the NPR isn’t just about welcoming new people into a parish, it’s about reaching out to those around us, be it in the workplace, in a sports team, in your neighbourhood… “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me into your home”.   

Juliette Sivertsen is a radio journalist working for Newstalk ZB


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