As she was growing up, Margaret Henry had a self-admitted shy streak. Yet the 18-year-old has grown more assertive as she enters adulthood, with her involvement in small Christian communities being vital in this process.
“I like to talk about faith. I don’t like to leave the meetings; I love being around people with my same faith,” she said.
Margaret has been a part of small Christian communities, or SCCs, since her freshman year of high school — around the same time this model was introduced into her faith-formation curriculum at Schuyler Catholic Community (St. Mary of the Lake, Watkins Glen, and St. Benedict, Odessa.) Small Christian communities exist at many diocesan parishes, primarily as adult groups that gather regularly for Scripture reflection, faith-sharing and prayer support.
The Schuyler cluster’s two SCCs are divided into grades 7-8 and 9-12, with approximately 12 youths in each group. They meet frequently during the school year following Sunday-morning Mass at St. Mary of the Lake. The curriculum is structured around Gospel readings, using as its foundation the Catholic Youth Bible issued by St. Mary’s Press. This Bible offers a variety of insightful features for teens such as biblical time lines and maps; poetry and prayers; and detail on how biblical material relates to other cultures.
“That, in essence, becomes their textbook,” said Tammy Kellogg, who serves as Schuyler Catholic Community’s associate youth minister for SCCs. Kellogg stated that many Catholic youths don’t get as much regular exposure to the Bible as they should: “This helps them become more comfortable with the Bible.”
Classes feature discussion on the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel reading and how it might relate to the youths’ lives. Participants also share reflections from the private journals that they’re asked to keep daily. Margaret said these conversations are often lively and meaningful.
“A lot of the time we talk about how we can spread God — the way we should live life to others, not by preaching but by actions. Like, if someone’s being picked on, we can intervene,” Margaret explained. “We talk a lot about high school. There are a lot of things in high school that tear us away from being Catholic and spreading our Christianity … we talk about how we can be Christian and not be afraid.”
The junior-high SCC is overseen by Susan Bleiler, a parish catechist, while Kellogg guides the high-school group. “I call myself more of a facilitator rather than a teacher,” Kellogg said.
Kellogg emphasized that youths are encouraged, but not forced, to open up. Discussion takes place in an intimate, trusting environment: “A ground rule is that what is said in class, stays in class,” she said. “They share (personal details) with one another that they wouldn’t share with general friends in school.”
This setting allows youths to talk freely about their faith. “It’s cool to be Catholic,” Margaret stated. “A lot of times I’m very hyper to get people to be at the meetings. I want them to come back the next time and keep coming back, because it’s a positive atmosphere.”
Margaret added that she has made several good friends through SCCs, saying, “If I’ve been having a bad week, I know on Sundays I’ll go to ‘group’ and we can discuss the things that went on that week … I don’t swear, drink or do drugs. When I go to ‘group’ I get a reassuring feeling that I am going in the right direction.”
Margaret plans to attend Canisius College this coming fall as she pursues becoming a special-education teacher. With a strong spirituality enhanced by her SCC experience, she embraces the future firmly in step with God.
“He’s always there for you,” Margaret said. “If you have a strong faith, anything is possible.”