Growing up, our church had three Sunday Mass times — 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., and 11 a.m. My dad worked as a high school principal and is an early riser, so our family attended the bright and early 7:30 Mass nearly every week. There were not many children at those Masses, so my brothers and I found ourselves on the altar-serving schedule on a regular basis.
In college, a priest was my hall rector and Mass was celebrated every Sunday night in the chapel of our dorm. I was in a community of more than 200 other college guys, most of whom were also Catholic. Dorm Masses were an opportunity to gather in prayer and thanks, concluding a fun weekend and preparing for another busy week of classes, exams, and papers.
College is a time when many people drift from their faith, but at a Catholic university with a crucifix in every classroom and a chapel in every dorm, it was easier for me to remain committed and attend Mass regularly.
After graduating, I ended up working at my alma mater and still knew many of the guys who lived in the dorm, so I continued to attend those Masses as often as possible.
Adulting led to finding a new parish
Eventually, my younger friends graduated, I moved to my own apartment, and I defaulted to attending the church less than a mile from my new place. I could leave at 9:25 a.m. and still make it to 9:30 Mass on time.
For the first 24 years of my life, I never had to think about choosing a parish. When it finally came time to decide for myself, I went to Mass at the church that was closest to where I lived, but never felt truly connected.
But maybe that was the problem. I went to Mass at that parish for convenience.
Shortly after my (now) wife and I met, we began attending Mass together at her church. It may have been the parish community, or perhaps it was simply me beginning to fall in love, but I quickly felt closer to God and at home at her church. My new girlfriend was part of a weekly bible study, and many of her girlfriends also attended that parish.
We began going to Mass there together every Sunday, and though it took me a few weeks to learn everyone’s name, I was quickly immersed into a community of other young adults and new friends whose faith was an integral part of life.
One Sunday after Mass, the parish community was stunned when both the pastor and assistant pastor announced they had been reassigned by our bishop. Both priests were very well-liked among the congregation. They gave rich, inspiring homilies that challenged and motivated us to live out our faith, even in a world where that can sometimes be seen as a radical lifestyle. While we were happy for their exciting new opportunities, it was hard not to feel mixed emotions about them leaving. We continued to attend Mass at that parish for a few months, but had a tougher time relating to the new priest.
We decided to explore other parishes, and with the natural inconsistency of summer travel, we hopped from church to church over the next several months. Fortunately, we live in a city where you cannot drive more than a few blocks without spotting a Catholic church.
Stumbling upon, then deciding on our new parish
One week, on the recommendation of a friend, we decided to go to Mass at a church that was a bit out of the way from both of our apartments. After a beautiful liturgy, almost in unison, my girlfriend and I said to one another, “Did we just find our parish?”
Still, we both felt torn about leaving a parish based largely on the priest. A few days later at Theology on Tap, we asked another priest what we should do. He gave us a simple and honest directive: “Go where you are fed.”
In just one Mass at the church we had attended earlier that week, we knew our faith would be nourished and this parish community would provide what we had been seeking.
The choir was wonderful. The priest was young and energetic, and his homily left us inspired to be better people and better Christians. We were surrounded by a welcoming community of families, older couples and fellow young adults alike.
While I’m not nearly the extrovert that my wife is, we both enjoy socializing and wanted to find a parish with a lively community of young adults. From trivia nights to BBQs in the backyard of the rectory, we feel blessed and grateful to have a pastor who is always finding fun and creative ways to evangelize the congregation and build relationships.
We have been at our parish for almost a year now and could not feel more engaged and at home. Last week, we even had our portrait taken for the parish directory.
Evaluating your parish choice
The journey to finding a parish is not an easy one, but it is a critical decision in your spiritual growth. You probably did not sign your apartment lease or decide on your college without first exploring a few options.
Think about what it is you are seeking from your faith community. Do not assume the parish down the street or the one with the most convenient Mass times is the one that’s right for you. Like any big decision in life, be patient, ask friends or family you trust for their advice, and take some time for thoughtful contemplation and prayer. While religion is a largely personal subject for many of us, community is an essential piece of our Christian identity.