In the evangelical circles where I first cut my teeth as a Christian, hit-and-run evangelism was a sore topic. A mission team might swarm into town, preach the Gospel, hand out tracts, and pray with new converts . . . but then what? When the team goes home, who’s left to be the Christian community the new believer needs?
(If you are new to this corner of the Christian sub-culture, visit the Lark News parody site for some gentle humor to give you feel for what I’m talking about.)
Before we get sidetracked with debating this or that type of overseas mission, let’s look at a more pressing question: Is there a supportive Christian community at your own parish? And if there isn’t, is there anything you can do about it?
Community = Living Together
Write all the parish slogans you like. Organize a church picnic. Station greeters at every door, and even persuade them to smile and say, “Good morning.” Those are nice starts, but they aren’t what creates a community. Communities are created by one thing, and one thing only: Living together. The more living you do with someone, the stronger your community. The less living you do together, the weaker your community.
This is why we can have online communities: When people devote an hour or two every day to talking, catching up on news, and praying for one another, it creates a community. We instinctively know, however, that an online community will always be limited by the fact that there’s no flesh-to-flesh interaction. We can do some living together keyboard-to-keyboard. But we can’t do all our living on the internet.
In the same way, we can have a limited parish community simply by showing up to Mass together. One of my favorite things about my parish is seeing all the faces that gather on a Holy Day of Obligation. It is like a solemn family reunion: Here I am. Haven’t seen you in so long. But we’re still coming together. We’re united by the thing that matters to us most.
It’s beautiful, but it isn’t sufficient. A community that only lives together an hour a week is not a strong community.
The Case for Piano Lessons and Grocery Store Clerks
My daughter takes piano lessons from our music director. Every Sunday, they see each other at Mass. And then an hour every other week, they sit together and work through the beginner piano books on a Tuesday morning. I usually take about five minutes of that time to catch up on life: How are things going? What’s new? Occasionally I torment the poor musician with a rant about church music. She humors me.
This is community. This is living together. You chuckle, because it sounds like such a small thing. Well, it’s double the living-together that we get to do with most anyone else from our parish. Our little musical community is twice as strong as it would be without piano lessons.
Another example: For the longest time, one of the guys from our small faith-sharing group worked at my favorite grocery store. Most weeks I could count on seeing him on my way into the store. As luck would have it, his job was one that allowed him to chat with customers. I had to make a point not to put any perishables in my cart before I passed his work station, because if I hit him at just the right time, we could spend a good twenty minutes talking theology and family life while he set up or took down.
Unfortunately he was very good at his job, and got promoted to a position at another store. He’s alive and well and so am I, but that bit of communal living passed away.
Not Just Community. Christian Community.
A Mass-friend once said to me as we chatted on the playground after church, “What are we here for, if not for community? That’s what church is all about. The relationships. The friendships.”
Nope. That is not what it is all about. The Catholic Church isn’t a billion-member social club. The holy sacrifice of the Mass is not a Sunday-morning mixer, and the sacrament of Confession is not a sacred chit-chat time.
We are Christians because we are here to worship Jesus Christ, our God and Savior. We are here to be redeemed. To prepare for eternity. The bouncy house and snow cone stand at the parish picnic are means to an end, not the end itself.
I have belonged, and do belong, to many different communities. Some of those are intentionally Christian — my parish, for example. Others are accidentally Christian, dint of geography and history — my neighborhood, my camping club. Some are not Christian at all — my alma mater, State U, kindly mothered me right out of the Church and into the secular world it endeavors to promote.
This fall, I had the most surreal experience at my parish homeschooling support group: Some three or four babies were born or conceived in the space of a few months, and not once did someone say, “Was that planned? When are you going to be done? Let me tell you about my husband’s vasectomy . . .”
What a breath of fresh air, to find a Christian community where parents can do what parents are created to do, and each new life is greeted with, “Congratulations! I am so happy for you!”
What a pleasure to have a place where we can just be Christians. Living together, growing in our faith together, helping one another in small ways. Unquestioned. Supported. Able to live our lives in peace.
Copyright © 2014, Jennifer Fitz