I remember when our Small Christian Community met on September 12, 2001. One of our members brought a photo of the New York City skyline. She propped it against our television where we could all gaze at it while we talked and prayed. The scriptures that night seemed to sizzle with meaning for our immediate situation. Two weeks later, we met again and continued to process the events after the shock wore off. One member wrote notes of encouragement and the promise of prayers to each of us who make our living as therapists.
While I shared the tendency with others in the coming weeks to be absorbed in watching the news, I noticed that I didn’t experience the increased anxiety, sleeplessness and depression that was common throughout the nation. I attribute that to my ability to process this most disturbing of events with a group of people who have come to be core parts of my spiritual center—my Small Christian Community. Having their fellowship, support and presence during those meetings was invaluable to me. For me, this time was the embodiment of the biblical call to “bear one another’s burdens.” I thank God continuously for the blessing of the SCC in my life.
Our SCC accompanies its members through the milestones of life, as well as through ordinary times. When my father died, I called one SCC member to tell her, but I could only sob uncontrollably. She knew who I was, but she didn't know what I wanted to say. She gently and lovingly asked yes-no questions to identify what had happened. Then she reassured me that she would call all of the parishioners whom I would want to notify, and would arrange for my father's name to be printed in the bulletin on the following Sunday. I gratefully left everything in her hands. Papa’s funeral was in San Antonio. To my surprise three members of my SCC traveled from Austin to support me. Their unexpected presence uplifted me with peace and joy. I was surrounded by love.
The SCCs to which I belong use the lectionary readings to focus their prayer and discussion. This format offers us a glimpse of how the Holy Spirit works in each other's lives. Often some aspect of the readings will speak to a challenge which a member is facing. People talk about how they grapple with living out the gospel while dealing with difficult clients, or nurturing their children through rough developmental periods, or making time for God in a world consumed by busy-ness. From each other's creative witness, we are encouraged and strengthened in our own faithfulness to family, friends, God and the Church.
I am one of the 10 current members of a St. Austin Vincentian Small Christian Community, known as the VSCC. Individually and in community we strive “to see the face of Christ in persons who are poor” and “to support one another in prayer and action” guided by “norms” we developed and annually commit to embrace.
Our VSCC meets twice a month and we seek individual spiritual growth modeled on the Gospel, as well as on the spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul, patron saint of all charitable works. Each member of the community strives—in professional or outreach settings—to serve directly or to advocate on behalf of persons who are poor and vulnerable. This common focus brings us together and our mission and norms are a glue that connects us.
I do a lot of work with the poor, but I didn’t have a support community for my work. I have been challenged and enriched by the discipline of listening in community. We maintain a seriousness of purpose and respect toward one another that keeps us alert to the Spirit among us. The key issue, aside from our primary focus to serve persons who are the most vulnerable in our society, is the opportunity the VSCC offers to share with one another spiritual growth, insights, trials and tribulations.
Every other week during the school year, our family Small Christian Community meets to pray, to reflect over the coming Sunday’s scriptures, and to support each other and our children in our spiritual journeys. But this particular meeting was going to be something special. We were going to bless three of our children who were soon to be confirmed and welcome a new member to our community, baby Mary Grace Wieland. This was indeed a rare occasion – all seven of the families in our community were represented. There was a lot of excitement in the air; the kids knew that this was going to be a special meeting because my guitar stand was out and my guitar at the ready. We began the meeting with a song and then said a special prayer over Ali, Taylor and Jacob, the confirmation candidates. We talked about the meaning of confirmation, and then parents were asked to say a personal blessing over their child, sharing their spiritual hopes and dreams as they crossed their son or daughter on the forehead with water, a sign of the ‘second baptism’ that confirmation represents. Then we said a special prayer over baby Mary Grace, welcoming her into our community and pledging our support and prayers for her and her family on their spiritual journey.
Next the children blessed Mary Grace’s feet with some twigs of rosemary and prayed, “May you always walk in the way of the Lord.” Each child took a turn to bless Mary Grace, very solemnly and with great delight; some even asked to bless her twice! We ended the prayer service with a song—you guessed it—“Amazing Grace.” Then, as we always do, we had refreshments and general chaos as the children clamored for their treats, and the parents sought to catch up on each other’s lives amid the din.
After the meeting was over my husband and I reflected on how our community had truly become a second family to us, a spiritual family, our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters in Christ. Though I had blessed my daughter, Ali, for her confirmation, and Mary Grace as a new member of our community, it is clear that I am the one who has been truly blessed.
Before I became involved in a Small Christian Community, I had no idea that a hugely important part of prayer is *listening*. Through the words of one of my group members, who has a deep and personal relationship with God, I was encouraged in my budding meditation practice, and my life has been transformed as a result. I was pretty ticked off that I didn't learn how to be still and be with God until I was 32 years old. So many years wasted without a personal relationship with God!!
Being in community with others who seriously seek to put God at the center of their lives has been a great blessing and support. I have been in 2 different SCC's for the past seven years. They have been my faith family and through them I hear the wisdom of the Holy Spirit expressed in many different ways.
I am so honored and happy to be a member of my SCC which meets on Thursday mornings. We had a healing ceremony at a recent meeting; it was so beautiful and meaningful to me that words can hardly describe my joy and pride to be a member of this fellowship of loving people. I invited them all to be with me when I received the Anointing of the Sick and received my prayer blanket in the parish church. It is the solidarity and support of my community members that brings me so much comfort and support at this very special time in my life. I also invited to my reception of the Sacrament of the Sick the Eucharistic Ministers that I serve with at Westminster Nursing Home.
I am committed to continuing to participate actively with my SCC and with Outreach Eucharistic Ministry as long as, by the grace of God, I am physically able to do so. My SCC members and my Eucharistic companion ministers are a “healing medicine” that will sustain me in the days ahead when my physical abilities are compromised.
Jeff Moser Jeff died of cancer 6 months after writing this.
"Pentecost Flash Cards!" That was one response to an activity my SCC did for several years on our meeting closest to the feast. Inspired by reading a list of the gifts of the Spirit, I had written the "gifts" on index cards to distribute to the members of the group. Each person randomly drew one card and then reflected on it and its meaning in response to my questions. "What does this gift mean to you? Who do you know who most personifies this gift? Why?"
The replies started slowly, as if the members were trying to start with their (sometimes ancient) catechism lessons to define the terms. But, then the replies became richer as the stories of people who possessed these gifts (the gifts of piety, fear of the Lord, fortitude, counsel, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding) became clear to all of us through the lives of others. Some of the examples were of saints, or American heroes, but most were about individuals that history will never recognize. We heard stories of quiet courage and understanding friends, of teachers and doctors and neighbors. Each of them served as an example of a blessed life. When we began, a couple of people tried to "trade" their card for something they felt more suitable, but by the end of our exercise I think that everyone was seeing the specialness of their "flash card" and reasons to be thankful for the gifts of the Spirit in our lives.
Mary Kay Hemenway
I joined our SCC about three and a half years ago. My wife and I had been content St Austin parishioners since the mid-80's, but for at least a year or two before joining our SCC I had been feeling unsettled about my lack of involvement in parish life. I enjoyed the liturgy, the music, the sermons, our two children had both been baptized at St Austin's, but we knew very few people in the congregation. We went to Mass on Sunday and returned home afterwards. I felt peripheral to the community, a member of the audience, not a participant. My excuse for lack of involvement was my demanding profession as a pediatrician (60 hour weeks and lots of weekend and evening work) and the demands of parenting/family life. I knew that I could not commit to anything that would require a lot of time, but even so I felt a need to connect to some of the people around me at Mass beyond a quick smile and an occasional head-nod.
My initial stab at connecting to the parish was to volunteer as an RCIA sponsor. This was a great beginning. The meetings were on Sunday morning when I was at church anyway, I got to know the RCIA team a little, but most of all, I was struck by the faith journeys of the RCIA candidates and catechumens. Feeling inspired by my RCIA experience and still feeling a need to connect, I decided to visit an SCC. The only night that I could consistently attend meetings was Sunday, and thankfully there was an SCC that was centered around family-life that met every other Sunday. After attending a single meeting I made the easy decision to join the community. Over the past 3 plus years the SCC group has become an important connection to the St Austin's community and has helped to deepen my faith life. Reading the upcoming gospel in communal Lectio Divina format (opening prayer, silent centering prayer, reading the gospel, followed by individual interpretation and comments about the reading) has taught me better listening skills and enriches Mass for me on Sunday. The calm time spent together at our SCC meetings, focusing on the Word of God and listening to each other is a respite from my busy life.
Another bonus occurs the following Sunday when I hear the reading again at Mass. I listen to see if the homily echoes our groups' comments or not. Sometime it does, sometimes not. I marvel at how the same words can lead people to such different thoughts and messages. There is genius in these almost 2000 year-old writings. The Gospel and homily at Sunday Mass have turned into a continuation of our group's sharing.
Above all my SCC experience has been about finding a faith community within the larger St Austin's community. Our SCC has 9 core members, 2 or 3 additional spouses that occasionally attend our Sunday gatherings, and at least 20 children among us. We are from diverse work backgrounds and live scattered about North and Central Austin. What brings us together is the desire to faith-share in community. Our SCC has enriched my faith-life, and socially, our SCC has been a lot of fun. The oddest coincidence (TOTAL coincidence) of all is that all the members of our SCC attend the same Mass and sit in the same general section of the church. We should call ourselves the “9am Mass, Front and Left Side of the Church” SCC. I joined an SCC and met the folks who were already sitting beside me at Mass. Destiny I suppose.
Ways to Join a Community
- Talk with someone you know who is in a Community.
- Learn about the types of communities and determine which is best for you.
- Contact the Community Facilitator and tell them that you would like to attend.
- Visit a community meeting.