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Vol 39 No 2


Kristina Keneally


Jim Quillinan

Vincent Battaglia
BELONGING, COMMUNITY, AND THE CHURCH: Some Theological and Pastoral Reflections

Lawrence Cross
THE TRINITY'S FIRST CREATION THE CHURCH: An Orthodox Bishop's Appreciation Of The West's Greatest Father Of The Church

Anthony Arthur MSC

Mark Raper SJ
THE CHURCH AS AGENT OF HOPE: What can Religious Faith Contribute to Life in Contemporary Australia?

Bruce Duncan CSsR
A NEW CATHOLIC SOCIAL MANIFESTO? The Compendium Of The Social Doctrine Of The Church



Learning new ways of evangelising


LAST YEAR, I wrote a paper about my four-year experience of participating in the Sunday worship and rituals at various fundamentalist or 'Pentecostal' churches in the large provincial city where I lived (Compass 2004/2, pp. 3-8). For several years I had heard that the fundamentalist churches were attracting increasing numbers, that they were the fastest growing churches in town. I decided to find out for myself. While continuing to worship weekly in my own parish, I attended three, then two fundamentalist churches in that city, sometimes once a month and, for a short period, two Sundays a month.

To say the least, these churches were very, very welcoming—far more so than I had expected. Their strong appeal was evidenced by the growing numbers in each of these congregations over these four years, the stability of the congregations and the number of young people, people from a variety of cultures and ethnic backgrounds who attended regularly and enthusiastically. From my experience, the notion that while numbers attending these congregations are increasing but change regularly is a myth—they are growing and people are staying on in ever increasing numbers.

I suggested that there are a number of readily identifiable reasons why these congregations are attractive alternatives to so many:
1. They are welcoming communities.
2. The liturgy is vibrant and engaging and is responsive to the particular community.
3. The simple message, illustrated by scriptural texts and events, offers certainty, hope and confidence as it answers the concerns and confusion many people feel in what many of them consider to be this apocalyptic time of rapid change.
4. The action of God in our daily lives is recognized and acknowledged.
5. A commitment to Christ is required—we are challenged to work with Christ to change our world. The connection between Sunday worship and daily life is strong and creative.

That paper has provoked quite a response to say the least! 'Why did you do it?' has been the most asked question and the comment that 'yes, but we already know that they are very welcoming' has been common. But when pressed, those who made that comment had little appreciation of the depth of that welcome. It is well known that these communities are both inviting and welcoming, but how that welcome was extended beyond Sunday worship was a surprise. Many of those who spoke to me about this experience still laboured under the misconception that people who join these communities soon leave. That is simply not the case.

The warmth of the welcome was remarkable. I was met as I entered the church. I was introduced to another member of the congregation who took me to my seat and introduced me to others around, in particular to a person who then became my 'mentor'. That person made sure I was welcome by ensuring that I had a hymn book, that I had some familiarity with the order of service. He introduced me to those around me in the church. I was to learn later that this group interacted on a number of occasions during the ceremony. My mentor stayed with me throughout the ceremony and during the rather lengthy period of refreshments at the end of the formal service.

The noisy and happy conversation—quite a contrast to my traditional, Irish Catholic view which encouraged silence in the church—the 'warm up' music played before the formal start to the ceremony…all helped to create a welcoming community. Over the next few months I found myself arriving earlier so that I could be part of this informal but very enjoyable period of welcome and exchange.
On my second visit to this community I was asked by my mentor to fill in personal contact details. Subsequently I was visited at home by that person—a brief, friendly visit, the duration of which was quite obviously dictated by my welcome and my desire to continue with this contact. In subsequent weeks I received a number of friendly visits and telephone calls. All of these contacts ended with us praying together. They were not intrusive calls as one might have come to expect from such groups.
As I wrote in the initial article, I was also surprised by the number of people who came up to me at the end of my talks at the local Bible College run by the Assembly of God church, to tell me that 'I used to be a Catholic'. I began to wonder what had attracted them or caused them to make such a change. Initially I felt that many of them were seeking simple, perhaps black and white answers to the sometimes difficult questions that face us in life—that they were seeking certainty in these times of rapid change and uncertainty and what might be called the aftermath of cataclysmic events. On further reflection, in hindsight as it were, that interpretation was too simplistic and somewhat patronising. For some that may have been true but, as I look back over our conversations and sharing of our experience of the activity of God in our lives, many of them were seeking deeper connections with others and with God. This path seemed to invite them into and provide the vehicle to facilitate those deeper connections.

New Age Attraction
In the study and reflection paper examining New Age thought and practice, A Christian Reflection on the New Age, we are urged to consider the success of New Age movements.
People feel the Christian religion no longer offers them or perhaps never gave them—something they really need. The search which often leads people to New Age is a genuine yearning: for a deeper spirituality, for something that will touch their hearts and for a way of making sense of a confusing and often alienating world. (Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age, Pontifical Councils for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue, Rome 2003, #1.5.)

While it would be unfair to consider these churches to be 'New Age', the yearning for such a deeper spirituality was very evident. It is interesting to note that spirituality is described in terms of the yearning for something that will touch hearts. In recent times the Church has begun to refocus on the importance of the heart. For example, Pope John Paul II urged pastors to honestly ask 'whether they have paid sufficient attention to the thirst of the human heart for the true 'living water' which only Christ can give…' Pope John Paul II cited the following words in the foreword to Water of Life:
The thirst of the human heart involves our basic desire to address the deep and fundamental restlessness that lies within each of us; it involves the quest to make peace with ourselves. That gnawing thirst addresses the need to establish our own identity, our basic need to find intimacy, meaning and self-worth. As far as the Church is concerned, this quest which arises from the depth of the human person, from 'the heart,' is prompted and stirred on by the Holy Spirit who sets out to move a person from within to wonder, to question, to seek greater understanding (Catechism of the Catholic Church #158, General Directory for Catechesis #92).

Finding such meaning, finding such intimacy, finding such a spirituality was addressed by the two churches I was involved with in a number of ways.

First, there was an emphasis on creating deeper connections, in the welcome itself which continued beyond the four walls of the church building, in the experience of the ceremony, in the sharing of our experience of the action of God in our lives (the Testimony of Miracles) and in providing active, tangible ways in which we would demonstrate our commitment to Christ and to each other.

It is worth noting that many who took the initial step of entering such a community were usually somewhat apprehensive. I certainly was. Such feelings were dispelled very quickly by the ready, warm and well-organized initiation. Being warmly welcomed, then 'mentored' throughout the ceremony and beyond, created deeper connections than I had experienced in my own recent experiences of parish. We have much to learn about how we welcome people into our worshipping communities. Today spiritual writers as well as social commentators tell us that there is a growing desire to belong; but that desire, I suggest, will not be satisfied by just a smile at the door of the church. For too long we have rejoiced in what might be called the compulsory community—we have felt compelled to go! Whether we like it or not, that has changed and people no longer feel they need to respond in such a way. We need to re-examine how we can make people feel welcome, how we can enable people to find connections and meaning in our Sunday experience, how we can make them want to belong to this community.

Community Involvement
The vibrant liturgies were in stark contrast to what at times I had experienced in my own Church in recent years. Indeed, the flexibility of their rituals allowed great scope to ensure that the community was involved and challenged. They included times for deep reflection and experiencing the sacred. Perhaps more importantly, however, the ceremony created connections. The music, the prayers, the ritual created a strong sense of community—we were worshipping together! This feeling of our common bond, the enjoyment of the music and the ritual invited communication with each other. The Testimony of Miracles, that skillful combination of quiet prayer, contemplation, reflection and public testifying to the action of God in my life created quite an extraordinary bond. In simple terms, we prayed in silence to recall the miracle of God's action through Jesus Christ in our lives. Then, in small groups each person was asked to give testimony to the wonders God, through Jesus, had wrought in her or his life over the last seven days. We felt privileged to hear such personal and intimate sharing. It brought closeness and respect. That ritual, which became a catalyst for a much more reflective conclusion to my own prayers at the end of each day, helped us to understand that we shared a belief in the same God, that we felt a shared solidarity in the work that we believed we were called to by our 'shared God', as it were.

In the preaching about the Word, the interpretation of the scriptures was often very simplistic. The world was viewed as imperfect; events often had an apocalyptic interpretation. Perhaps this was the hardest part for me to cope with but there was a positive element. There was a strong sense that the world is indeed in need of improvement, but in our faith-sharing teams the optimism of the participants about their ability, with God's help to make the best of their lives and to improve the world (to make a difference) was refreshing and hope-filled. Ample opportunity was provided to act on that sense of optimism with the section of the ceremony which evoked our weekly Commitment to Christ. No-one escaped this commitment! No-one! Such a commitment did not seem to deter anyone – spending time during the coming week in some pastoral activity was a given. That commitment is usually discerned individually in a small group process near the end of the ceremony or allotted by the group leader at that time. This evoked a sense of my own value and worth—I had a mission to perform, as it were. At the same time communal solidarity was created by that commitment – that this community, as individuals and as a faith-filled people, was about the work of God. The weekly commitment was a very, very powerful catalyst in creating community, identity, a sense of mission or ministry and self-worth.

Shared Prayer
The ceremony and subsequent times of shared prayer during home visits or phone calls included times for deep reflection and experiencing the sacred. These people were comfortable with shared prayer—I was in admiration of them. In my work today people keep telling me that what they want is time for reflection—time to discover the sacred in their lives. There is a great need to promote silence, deep reflection and times to touch the sacred. How we respond to people's needs in this area requires careful thought. For example, some years ago in Dublin I went to Mass twice on one Sunday—to a Youth Mass and to what was described as a Taize Mass. As this was my last Sunday in Dublin I went to both. The Youth Mass was great—great music, a very, very good homily, a great sense of communal celebration. But virtually everyone there was in my age group! The Taize Mass that night in a very dimly-lit and peaceful church was filled with long periods of silent reflection and quiet, repetitive chants. It was filled with young people! One size does not fit all—there are times in our lives, no matter what age we are, when we yearn for silence. There are other times when we need joyful celebration, when we need to feel connected. The ceremonies I experienced in these churches showed that it is possible to have both—they are not mutually exclusive.

Summing Up
I am still a Catholic! While I was full of admiration for much of what I saw and many of those whom I met, something was missing in all of this for me. Sadly, many of those whom I met who were once Catholic told me they craved something different—that the rituals and symbols seemed more important in the Catholic Church than meeting and forming a relationship with God. These communities, however, stir in us the four basic questions Pope Paul VI wrote about in that landmark document on Evanglisation:
Why are they like this?
Why do they live in this way?
What is it or who is it that inspires them?
Why are they in our midst?
(Evangelii Nuntiandi #21.)

Why indeed? Do our parishes and schools provoke these questions in those who come in contact with us? It is time to examine the ways in which we 'touch hearts'. It is also time to explore what we really mean by community. Community is not only about making people feel welcome but, even more importantly, how we can enable people to find connections and meaning in our Sunday experience and beyond. In that way they may then wish to belong to this community for it helps them in their search for meaning and purpose in life. The churches I experienced worked hard at helping people connect the Sunday experience with daily life—they worked hard at helping people in their search to feel at home, to feel that they belong, to assist them in their search to establish identity, intimacy, meaning and self-worth. All of this is deeply spiritual, deeply religious, deeply at the heart of the Gospel.

If we don't learn these lessons, people will continue to look elsewhere.

Jim Quillinan is currently Head of Educational Services at the Sale Catholic Education Office. He previously worked in Queensland. He also works in the area of teacher spirituality and formation.