What’s the Deal with Parish Shopping?

Maybe you’ve moved to a new city or maybe you’re unhappy with where you’ve been going. While Catholic families traditionally belonged to the parish nearest their home, today ‘parish shopping’ has become a frequent practice. Catholics will jump around from parish to parish for week or months, trying to find the one that feels like home. So what’s the deal with parish shopping?

“We landed at St. Michael’s when we came here because it’s more of a traditional parish, it had more of the ‘smells and bells’ of our Faith and we thought that that was a really important thing. For our kids to see the statues and the giant crucifix and incense and stained glass windows—I know those aren’t the essentials of our faith but for kids it can really draw them up to thinking of more important things,” explained Tommy Tighe, author and founder at catholichipster.com.

There is some disagreement among Catholics about whether or not parish shopping is a beneficial practice. Tighe explained that his friend encourages Catholics to try “building what you need at the community that you’re at and sort of being where God places you and seeing the value in that.” This might not always be the best option, however. “At the same time though, it can be that the parish that you’re at either is or changes into something that just really doesn’t help foster your faith. Sometimes you feel the need to look around because you’re not being spiritually fed, and I think that’s okay,” said Tighe. “The thing about our Faith is it’s universal, every parish is giving you the same Mass. And I think you have to recognize when you’re kind of missing something and the spirit might be kind of nudging you somewhere else.”

This isn’t to say that you’ll find a perfect parish that aligns completely with everything you think an ideal parish should be and you should jump ship for everything little thing that doesn’t go your way. “That’s a part of our little big of Catholic guilt – It’s not what we’re supposed to get out but what we put into it and the Mass is not about an emotional thing, it’s just about the sacrament that’s happening and the miracle of God’s grace so you should just suck it up and grit your teeth and get through it. And I think to a certain extent for some people they need to hear that message; we’re not here to be entertained. You don’t leave your parish because the music isn’t so great and you just want to look for a better cantor at a different place, I mean I wouldn’t. But we also need to recognize that there is something that we’re supposed to be getting, God’s grace is supposed to be coming to us and sometimes there can be things that happen that make it harder for us to receive that grace.”

Even if you take some time to shop for parishes, it’s important that sooner or later you become a parishioner at a parish, get involved and attend Mass there frequently. The aspect of parish community is important to our faith life as Catholics. “My wife said that she felt homeless when we were looking for a parish because you’re just kind of stopping in and nothing really feels right. … You feel lost and that can be really hard for your spirituality because we need that kind of parish center I think to ground us, you know? To really have a physical place where we can share the community of our faith with other people. And you have to stay in one place to be able to build relationships.”

For another perspective, read “The Problem with Parish Shopping”.