I like to think of St. Austin Church as an evangelizing parish served by the Paulists deep in the heart of Texas. To be “evangelizing” means many things, but at a minimum it means to be welcoming. That barely scratches the surface of being an evangelizing community, but without a genuine sense of welcome, no evangelization efforts are going to go anywhere.
A welcoming attitude is comprised of many small things. It starts in the parking garage (or on the street or around the blacktop) and continues on the passage to the church doors, entrance to the church, how people are greeted and welcomed, being able to find a place to sit without having to walk over half a pew’s worth of people, finding a worship aid and hymnal, directions on how to find the hymns, and many other small practical bits and pieces that together make for a welcoming and inviting atmosphere.
One of these pieces is the simple physical process of entering into the church. And frankly we could do better. It would seem natural to a first time visitor (I did this myself when I first got here 5 years ago) to go to the main center doors at the front of the church to be able to enter. But usually you cannot come in that way. There are no handles on the front center doors, and no indication how you do get in.
Once you’ve figured out that you must enter the front of the church at either of the side doors, then you can enter. That is, IF you can get the door open. Especially with the south side door, it is difficult to get the latch to work, and to open the door and enter. The doors are now over 60 years old, and being that age myself, I understand how they can be wearing out. The lock mechanism on the south side door in particular has been repaired numerous times, and now just won’t work well. These lock mechanisms are no longer made, so replacing them would be very expensive.
Therefore we are having new panic hardware installed on the inside of the two side doors, the type with crash bars that you see all over nowadays. There will be simple pull handles on the doors and no latching mechanism. That will be inside on the crash bar. When the door is unlocked all you have to do is pull and it will open.
Likewise, pull handles will be installed on the center doors. When the door is unlocked all you have to do is pull and it will open. The door closure mechanism at the top of the door will pull it closed again.
While this will cost us about $2,600, I think it will be well worth it to make our church building a lot easier to enter, and hence more welcoming. It is a small step in the right direction.