An ad hoc solution that I and a group of friends (including Mark Shea) tried in Seattle in the early 90’s was the famously Nameless Lay Group. Here is my brief description of the NLG followed by Mark’s memories:
That why our experiment with the Nameless Lay Group was so powerful. We had lots of young adults, but middle-aged and retirement age as well. Married and single. Parents of big families (8 kids) and the childless. The Baptist spouse of a Catholic, converts, and cradle Catholics. People from different parishes. Some of us were close friends outside the group but we were truly open to whoever showed up. We even helped a Protestant family in New Zealand enter the Church long-distance!
What united us was intentional discipleship as Catholics and our awareness of the need for *both* formation and personal support (no either-or mentality.)
It wasn't complicated and could be easily copied. So monthly meetings with a potluck and speakers and a prayer time in a Eucharistic chapel, a newsletter, the occasional party, (Epiphany, Mardi Gras, etc.)
After we disbanded (after three years) because certain members of the core team (like myself) returned to grad school, members talked of the experience nostalgically for years as the best experience of Christian community we'd ever known.
The NLM was the unwitting sparkplug of the Catherine of Siena Institute. When Fr. Michael Sweeney became aware of what we were doing, he said that he was finally seeing the theology of the laity in action.
The Nameless Lay Group was a fundamentally lay initiative, undertaken for the express purpose of trying to encourage one another, not in our *feelings* but in our lives as *disciples*. It was paraliturgical in that there was a loose sort of format of (if memory serves) a common meal, prayers (often drawn from the liturgy of the hours and including singing together), a presentation on some topic related to the life discipleship, and discussion, followed by closing prayer.
Attention was paid as well to aesthetics (there was a fondness for candlelight, as my gauzy memory looks back) but much *more* attention was paid to a combination of intellectual and spiritual substance with what is best described as "Christian friendship". We read, for instance, Josef Pieper's book on the Four Cardinal Virtues. We tried to make our needs and struggles known to one another and support one another with prayer and mutual discernment. We were conscious that we were experimenting, but we were equally conscious that we did not want to *innovate*. We were trying to live on the creative edge of the Tradition, rooted in the Tradition rather than in reaction to it as so many post-conciliar experiments have wound up being.
For myself, I can only say that this period of intense creativity, love, friendship and challenge within the context of the Tradition during the 1990s at Blessed Sacrament has left an indelible stamp on who I am. I don't believe in living in the past and crying "O Moment! Stay!" But I will be grateful for that time and those people till the day I die.
We started the Nameless Lay Group in order to pursue *discipleship*, not fellowship. And discipleship, it seems to me, is bound up with mission. We found that as each person pursued their particular work of mission in the world, they grew in a sense of common purpose with one another.
Conversely, when the parish at large would sit down and periodically have a "How can we build community with each other?" gabfest it typically ended as a gripe session where people just talked about whatever it was they felt the parish wasn't doing enough of. It was the difference between looking somebody in the eyes and saying "Let's have a really good talk!" (followed by awkward silence) and two people looking at something they both admire and then realizing, "You too? I thought I was the only one!" (followed by much happy conversation).
Finally, I think it is important to note that mission and witness are intimately bound up with the sacrament of Confirmation. The gifts necessary to the work of mission are given to us in baptism and, particularly, in Confirmation.
The Nameless Lay Group did not give me a sense of mission. What it did was school me in the friendship of God through Christian friendship. Friendship, as distinct from eros, is supremely the love that is the consequence of a shared vision. Eros looks into the eyes of the Beloved. Friends stand side by side looking at something else. You cannot make friendship happen, any more than you can make eros happen. But you can prepare the ground for it and ask God to give the seed. That was what the Nameless Lay Group was, an attempt to "make straight his path" in the hope and prayer that God would then come and walk among us. And He did, for which I am grateful.
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 we’d love you to be part of the conversation. For more information, go onto Intentional Community: Post the Third.