A few weeks ago my firm flew me to St. Louis to attend The Ritz Carlton Experience training. This opportunity is an arrangement my firm has with Ritz Carlton where they provide us with the same training they give their employees so that it we can enhance the client experience we provide.
But that is really saying something, isn’t it? When you are that good that other company’s, even those outside of your industry, want you to teach their employees what you do. So I have to ask, have you ever been to one? A Ritz Carlton I mean. Personally, I have had the pleasure of staying at the Ritz Carlton in St. Louis several dozen times, and it truly is the only hotel I have ever stayed in that actually feels like home when I am there.
The St. Louis property staff has less than 9% turnover annually and more than half of the employees have been working there for over 20 years. In a hotel?
Their National Client Experience Director flew in to run the training and it was a remarkable experience. He said over and over again that the Ritz Carlton guest experience is not about the trappings and visual delights in the hotel – although those are important – but that the guest experience is about the relationship each employee has with each and every guest.
The Ritz Carlton Company Credo is: The Ritz Carlton is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal services and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience. The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.
The three-step approach Ritz-Carlton Hotels have to service includes:
- A warm and sincere greeting. Use the guest’s name.
- Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest’s needs.
- Fond farewell. Give a warm good-bye and use the guest’s name.
As I was sitting there in one of their hotel conference rooms diligently making notes about ways to help my business a crazy thought came to me; What if this was a Parish?
Can you imagine? Can you imagine everyone’s delight in coming to Mass each week? Can you imagine the impressions we, as Catholics, would leave with one another as we departed each week to let our lives be a witness to Christ? How happy we would be to share with others the joy we have in our faith and invite others to experience the same? It certainly didn’t seem that hard. If a hotel can do it, why couldn’t Christians?
That thought just kept sticking with me, and what became enjoined with it were thoughts of the Church’s call to the New Evangelization. Because I feel safe in saying that there are many of us that feel the Ritz-Carlton experience when we come to Mass each week. I know one CHRP brother that does. He regularly talks about how much better his life gets the closer he is to Johnson Drive and Monticello in Shawnee. Now many of us feel that way especially if we attend the same service time, we after week, and get to know which of our friends from various ministries attend then also. It’s a great place to find a smile, a handshake, and a hug.
But what about someone we don’t know? Do we share the same love with them? Do we bring guests from outside of our Parish hoping to meet those same friends and share in the joy? I know I didn’t feel that way about our parish when I first came, and I know I’m not the only one. It’s a big parish with lots of families. When we first came we didn’t know which end of the church to park on and which side of the sanctuary to sit on. We didn’t really know anyone there and no one talked to us.
Now much has changed in our experience within the parish since then, and CRHP has had much to do with that. However, I can’t help but always wonder if there are other first, second or third timers who would benefit greatly from a simple warm and sincere greeting? Or even a warm good-bye?
Or better yet – Are there folks like that in my neighborhood? Are there folks like that in yours?
The Journey Home
Once upon a time in my life such a simple gentle greeting created a significant impact in our entire faith experience. We had just moved into our first house and were flirting with the idea of starting to attend church again. We had been married for a year or more then. Being an ecumenical couple we had always left our faith posture hanging out there as unresolved, but the time had come to take some kind of a step forward. So we started shopping for a church. After a dozen or more “experiences” and sampling from Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches, we eventually found a home.
What was the unique and defining experience that grabbed us and made us feel at home there? It was a loaf of bread.
Common in many protestant church’s is the practice of registering your attendance. You fill out a couple lines inside of a booklet that lists your name, address, and membership affiliation with the church at the beginning of the service. These booklets are then passed to the end of the aisles and an usher collects them. This particular church went through those booklets, identified local visitors to their services, and had volunteers drive to their homes during the service and leave a loaf of bread with a note at their front door. The note simply said, “Thanks for attending our service. We enjoyed having you as our guest and we look forward to having you come back.” So this is what you found waiting for you when you got home.
Now given the wide range of experiences we had while looking at churches – everything from regularly being ignored; to being openly stalked because we were obviously the youngest couple to pass through the entrance of one church in decades – we found that little loaf (not much bigger than two cup cakes) to be enchanting and extremely welcoming.
So we went back. We attended that church for many years, and we only left because we moved to Shawnee. We made life long friends there that we still have today. We had a child there. We volunteered all the time. It was our home away from home. I joined a Discipleship Team that spent nine months of every year in intense Bible Study; which I did for three of the years we were there – parenting ultimately demanding my time back.
All of those experiences came from a small loaf of bread and a note.
Our shopping experience at a Catholic Church at that time was with some friends of ours that attended Holy Cross Catholic Church in Overland Park, KS. I’ll never forget when we asked them if we could come with them to Mass one day and the way they looked at each other. You would have thought we had asked if we could use their bathroom and neither of them could remember when the last time was it had been cleaned. Clearly, no one ever asked them that before, nor had they ever considered inviting someone.
After attending Mass with them one Sunday we all went out to eat together and talked. When I questioned them about certain aspects of the service (and the faith itself) they just grew increasingly more embarrassed as they had no idea how to answer much of what I was curious about. Sadly, instead of inviting us back, or even inviting us to take our questions to the priest (which is what my wife suggested to me after we left), they took a much simpler approach. This couple just tried to convince us that the Catholic Church probably wasn’t a good fit for us as Catholics don’t worry about such things as being important. My wife, God bless her, felt more sorry for them that I even asked about such things, than any real concern for what we were looking for. The whole experience was bizarre and uncomfortable.
Ironically, my conversion into the Catholic Church eventually came through the invitation of a priest. Father Francis Hund certainly did not beat me over the head with a Bible or engage me in a battle of apologetics to win me over argumentatively. Father simply smiled, shared a loving hand of friendship, and made an invitation to come back and see more. What I learned from Father is that connecting people to Christ isn’t about doing anything at all. It’s about being open enough to allow someone in, then getting out of the way and let Christ take it from there.
Now being introduced to a parish and the Catholic faith through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) process is a wonderful, but yet very formal, revelation and acknowledgement process that has been refined over thousands of years. But lets key in on one important thing I just said there. It’s a process. RCIA is not a program. A program is something others do for other people that we are not a part of, or that we are connected with. A program is how something gets done so we can focus on what we need to focus on. But again, it’s not a program; RCIA is a process. Where does the RCIA process start?
One of my favorite protestant authors is Mark Batterson. Mark is a Pastor of a Mega Church in Washington DC that began as a Homeless outreach center. Mark has an amazing view of the Holy Spirit and a passion for Christ. Batterson wrote a book I love entitled In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, how to survive and thrive when opportunity roars.
The theme of the book is centrally based on the Old Testament passage; 2 Samuel 23, 20-22:
Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, a valiant man of many deeds, from Kabzeel, killed the two sons of Ariel of Moab. Also, he went down and killed a Lion in the cistern on a snowy day. He likewise slew an Egyptian; a huge man. The Egyptian carried a spear, but Benaiah came against him with a staff; he wrestled the spear from the Egyptian’s hand, and killed him with the spear.
So who was Benaiah in the greater scheme of things? When David was surrounded by the Philistines and was being starved out, Benaiah was one of the three men who volunteered to fight their way into the Philistine encampment and bring water back for David. Benaiah later became the head of David’s bodyguards.
So why does Batterson find this guy so interesting? Why was he allowed to be one of those selected to fight their way into the Philistine encampment? Reputation.
How did he get that reputation? God put people and events in his life that made him who he was. God knew David was going to need someone like this, so the Lord raised someone like that through life experiences to fill that need.
But at the same time, Batterson sees Benaiah as a spiritual warrior. He sees Benaiah as a man who fights for the Kingdom and has achieved spiritual maturity. Or as Batterson put it himself, “In essence, success is making the most of every opportunity. Spiritual maturity is seeing and seizing God-ordained opportunities.” This is what Batterson calls in his book being a Lion chaser.
Batterson later argues that we miss this these opportunities because we don’t right-size God. “Our biggest problems can be traced back to an inadequate understanding of who God is. Our problems seem really big because of God seems really small. In fact we reduce God to the seize of our biggest problem…..Maybe it’s time to stop creating God in your image and let Him create you in his.”
In other words, we miss opportunities to be an active participant in the growth of the Body of Christ and a participant in Christ’s ministry here on earth because we are too tied up in making God as small as our own problems. If we could right size God, and be seeing and seizing God-ordained opportunities, we build out Christ’s ministry here on earth; here at Johnson Drive and Monticello in Shawnee.
Brothers, are you Chasing Lions?