Do you sometimes struggle to gain a clear focus on your faith, even if you’re a regular churchgoer? If so, participation in a small Christian community could be just the solution.
Small Christian communities — also known as SCCs — gather for reflection, faith-sharing and prayer support. They’re offered through many diocesan parishes and were especially active during the recently concluded Lenten season.
“What better way (as a Lenten initiative) to discover where and how God is calling me than in a community of believers who share a similar goal, who are eager to break open God’s word and uncover its implications for daily living, loving and serving?” remarked Sister Mary O’Brien, CSJ, pastoral associate at St. Catherine of Siena in Ithaca.
Sister O’Brien noted that two new SCCs were added at her parish this Lent to join the 11 already in existence. And, at Church of St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads, winter-bulletin notices encouraged parishioners to join one of six active SCCs for Lent.
SCCs can congregate at parishes or in people’s homes. A typical gathering begins and ends with group prayer, with substantial discussion and reflection in between, usually based on the upcoming Sunday’s Scripture readings. Ann Kozlowski, who oversees SCCs at St. Mary Our Mother, observed that through these preview sessions “you attend the liturgy much more ready to hear the word.”
Kozlowski said SCCs at St. Mary Our Mother range from women who meet at lunchtime at the rectory, to a daytime group of retired men and women, to past groups of young mothers. She added that SCCs are a mix of veterans and newcomers.
“We have new people joining all the time. In our group (she and her husband, Ted, host an SCC at their home) we have six new people,” Kozlowski said. “Personal invitation really works. I think a lot of people, don’t you think, are just waiting to be invited?”
Sister O’Brien said SCCs at St. Catherine of Siena meet “anywhere from weekly, to biweekly, to monthly or seasonally.” Advent, as well as Lent, is a prevalent period for SCC activity to increase.
The SCC model also offers the latitude to vary in content. For instance, the SCC at St. Gabriel Parish in Hammondsport met on Lenten Sundays after the 11 a.m. Mass, when participants explored different faith-based books. The final session, on April 1, was on Sustaining Heart in the Heartland:¬†Exploring Rural Spirituality by Miriam Brown. Dan Williams, who led that gathering, said the Lenten meetings averaged approximately 12 people per session.
“There’s always a group of people that’s interested in delving a little bit deeper, and it’s not going to be everybody,” said Williams, who serves as St. Gabriel’s pastoral minister and is due to be ordained a permanent deacon June 2. “We really enjoy the fellowship we spend; we’ve developed a little family of our own here.”
SCCs are key components of RENEW International, a popular parish-based spiritual-renewal program In the Rochester Diocese, SCCs began in earnest after being named one of the top priorities of the diocesan synod that concluded in 1993. The diocese committed itself to supporting formation of these small branches of parish communities, and thus many parishes still have SCCs 14 years after the synod.
“These for the most part would not exist if it hadn’t been for the synod,” Father Joseph Hart, the diocesan vicar general who served as synod director, said in a 2003 Courier story.
SCCs function primarily as adult groups, but are open to people of all ages. For example, the model has been employed in faith-formation curriculum at Schuyler Catholic Community (St. Mary of the Lake, Watkins Glen, and St. Benedict, Odessa.)
Another variation of SCCs can be found through Disciples in Mission, a program that’s in its second year at Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County and its first year at Immaculate Conception in Ithaca. Disciples in Mission is a three-year process marked, in part, by Lenten faith-sharing groups of eight to 10 people.
Kozlowski said that no matter what form an SCC takes on, “whatever we do is always Scripture-based.” She also emphasized that conversation during these sessions can become quite personal, so confidentiality is a must. Such intense sharing often spawns deep, lifelong friendships, she said.
“Any time you share faith, that’s a lasting relationship — because it’s something you don’t always share with people you meet,” she explained.