A Conversation so Big, We Named It Thrice. Like so: Community, Community, Community!
Back in November, I was involved in a multi-post, weekend-long conversation (here, scroll down to November 15, 16, 17) at Mark Shea’s Catholic and Enjoying It about the critical role of genuine community in nurturing intentional discipleship and stemming the tide of Catholics who leave for the evangelical world.
Dozens of people wrote in to say “me too”. Some were converts from evangelicalism, others just lonely or isolated cradle Catholics struggling to make a go of it alone. Some excerpts:
“Gotta admit, this rings painfully true...I joined the Church in 2004, but since then I've felt very disconnected from any sort of church life, and I've been tempted to just give up and go back to the Episcopal church...
My husband and I were confirmed in a Franciscan parish in 1999, and we still can count the number of people we regard as friends currently at our parish on one hand.
It sounds like our non-Catholic brethren are vastly better at this. So-- someone who's been there, please explain!!! Who, what, where, when, why??? Surely they are just as busy as we are-- yet apparently the singles and the families and the doubtful and the sorrowful all have an active place. How is this done?
My current parish is beautiful and true in its liturgy, but the people there are so cold, critical and judgemental.
Of the four lay Catholics I interviewed last weekend, two were struggling with serious depression. They were serious, orthodox, pro-life cradle Catholics who found it very hard to believe that God loved them which they attributed to, among other things, their pre-Vatican experience as children.
The third was a woman who has been intensely involved with her parish for many years but nearly left a few years ago and gets almost all of her spiritual nourishment from (you'll love this) Joel Olsteen. She told me that she picked me to talk to because she thought I'd understand because of my background.
There is an entire underground of Catholics either heavily involved or significantly involved with Protestant churches or ministries. Bible Study Fellowship, Young Life, Aglow, the local mega church, you name it. I've talked to many hundreds of them, perhaps thousands, by now.
There are two things they mention over and over as the reasons they look to the evangelical world: lack of support, community, and spiritual fellowship in their parish and lack of "being fed" - that is, an approach to teaching the Christian faith that is *directly applicable to daily life.*
As a former evangelical, who finds the same things in the Catholic church, all I can say is I'm struggling too.
Yes, I've spent time in adoration and yes I have received the Eucharist and yes I believe in the Real Presence. But its not the same as flesh-and-blood human beings yu can have group activities with or even just to talk with and share life with. All the theologising, all the philosophizing, and all the poetizing isn't going to change that.
As a former Baptist minister, I can attest to the change in the idea of community we have experienced. Granted, we are only familiar with our own parish, but it is a far cry from what we knew as evangelicals. . . . But we have our moments when we look back and sigh, and think about all those fun and meaningful elements that were tied to such a developed sense of community and fellowship. I would be interested in what is out there to help fill this gap.
It is terrifyingly lonely when you long for fellowship, and find yourself increasingly isolated.
I am one of those who knows "nobody" in my parish despite 9 years of faithful attendance and participation in various committees.”
I(Sherry W) wrote at the time:
I'm struck by the fact that so often we emphasize that God instituted the sacraments because human beings need a physical encounter with God - the sacraments were instituted to give us a truly human as opposed to an angelic way.
And yet, when it comes to relationship, so many Catholics insist that our spiritual journey through this world can and should be angelic - that although God declared at the very beginning "it is not good for the man to be alone" - that really, it shouldn't matter if we are. But relationship too is essential to the human person and to the spiritual life.
We need both. We were created for both. As it is, ordinary Catholics too often feel as though we must choose.
During that conversation, I proposed a national gathering here in Colorado Springs to address this topic. And so I want to announce that it is going to happen and that we’d love you to be part of the conversation. For more information, first read Intentional Community: Post the Second, and then Intentional Community: Post the Third.