September 13, 2013

Religious Education Supplement

Small church communities help Catholics grow in faith with pastoral component

St. Monica Parish members Todd Kowinski, left, Charles “Nick” Georges and Dan Bedillion, three of the eight members of a St. Monica Parish small church communities group, respond to the message they hear in the upcoming Sunday Scriptures at their meeting at Kowinski’s home on Aug. 27. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

St. Monica Parish members Todd Kowinski, left, Charles “Nick” Georges and Dan Bedillion, three of the eight members of a St. Monica Parish small church communities group, respond to the message they hear in the upcoming Sunday Scriptures at their meeting at Kowinski’s home on Aug. 27. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

As evening arrived, the disciples gathered around the table at a fellow disciple’s home.

A prayer was said, the meal was shared, then the disciples broke open the Scripture to learn and grow in faith.

No early Church gathering from the first century, this is the scene of one of St. Monica Parish’s small church communities (SCC) on Sept. 3 in Indianapolis.

Centered on Scripture and prayer

The SCC ministry started at St. Monica Parish around 1988-89 after then-pastor Father Clement Davis attended a workshop on small church communities.

According to Anne Corcoran, pastoral associate at St. Monica Parish, small church communities are groups of eight to 12 members, most of which meet twice a month.

“In the last three years,” she says, “we have renewed the groups’ focus on prayer and being centered in the breaking open of the Sunday Scriptures.”

While using other books, documents or resources outside of the Sunday readings is not prohibited, “Scripture should always be in every meeting, and it should be the main part of your life as an SCC,” says Corcoran.

This vision is spot on, according to Ken Ogorek, archdiocesan director of catechesis.

“So long as members gather in the name of Jesus the Living Word and are rooted in sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition, these groups are prime opportunities for disciples of Jesus to grow in their Catholic faith, and to invite others on the journey of Christian discipleship.”

After reading the Scriptures, members reflect and share how the Scripture is speaking to each person and how it applies to each person’s life.

“When it’s a sharing like that, there’s no arguing,” says Mary Mathis, a member of the St. Monica Parish small church communities leadership team along with Corcoran and Father Todd Goodson, St. Monica’s pastor. “We’re hoping for it not to be a debate.”

Once the word has been read and reflected upon, says Mathis, members share their personal intentions.

“You ask [the group] to hold you in prayer. What you’re sharing is not that the neighbor down the street is sick. You’re holding up your own brokenness.

“And the other thing that does is move the group outside of the meeting, where you’re holding these people in your heart every day.”

Connected to parish and beyond

Direction, encouragement and information are shared by the leadership team with the SCCs through monthly meetings with each group’s pastoral facilitator (PF), a three-year role.

But there’s more to the PF than serving as a liaison, says Mathis.

“That word ‘pastoral’ is very important. [Pastoral facilitators] are to have their eyes and ears and hearts open to how the group is doing, especially spiritually.”

The monthly meetings connect the groups not just to the leadership team, but to the parish, the archdiocese and the Church in general.

“This year we are promoting and are in line with the archdiocese, the [U.S. Catholic bishops] and Pope Francis about evangelization and what that is,” says Mathis. “We’ve been bringing that into the [pastoral facilitator] meetings, talking about getting out of the boat and following Jesus where he goes—that we’re not all about ourselves.”

Meanwhile, SCC members have been encouraged to evangelize in the last few years by volunteering with the Beggars for the Poor ministry through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and by inviting others to join their group.

SCCs help feed the flock

Todd Kowinski joined his SCC group through a personal invitation.

“I got in right after I went through RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults]. One of the two people who was my parish sponsor, he invited me to come and join his group.”

That was eight years ago, and Kowinski has grown from the experience.

“I didn’t know Scripture at all, so I actually get to read it, discuss it and learn about it. I’m able to see how the word of God translates into people’s everyday lives.

“And I enjoy going into church the next Sunday already knowing what the readings are, already having discussed and thought about them.”

Fellow group member Dan Bedillion has found the experience crucial to his faith life.

“It keeps me on the path of keeping God in my mind and my heart. If I didn’t come, I would drift away. This helps draw me back toward the right path and a reminder to keep going.”

Charles “Nick” Georges, a founding member of the group in 1995, appreciates small church communities from a pre-Vatican II perspective.

“Back before Vatican II, there was no regularly meeting lay group you could be with where you could learn more about practicing your faith. That’s why I really suggest people join a group like this, because it gives them more opportunity to grow in faith without having to do it alone.”

Monica Markovich, who with her husband, Chip, served a meal to her SCC group on Sept. 3, appreciates the sense of pastoral community that small church communities provide, in addition to sharing the Word.

“Christ couldn’t be everywhere, so he had the Apostles. In the same way, the pastor can’t be everywhere so he has these SCCs to help him feed his flock.”

Fellow member Paula Roeder agrees.

“It’s a way that in the bigger scheme of the whole Church, we can take care of each other and pastor each other.”

For Monica, being a part of an SCC has enhanced her faith.

“It’s not just going to Mass on Sunday. I’m praying for people, I’m studying Scripture, I’m making dinner and bringing people dinner.

“I think it makes a parish come alive. I think if parishes want to grow and thrive, especially as they get bigger, this is a fantastic way to do it.”
 

(If your parish is interested in starting a small church communities ministry, contact Peg McEvoy, archdiocesan associate director of evangelization and family catechesis, at 317-236-1432, 800-382-9836, ext. 1432, or by e-mail at pmcevoy@archindy.org.)

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