It used to be that people had many social and spiritual connections naturally. Everyone in your life lived in the same neighborhood, went to the same school, and even walked to the same church. Two and three generations of a given family often lived in the same neighborhood or even in the same house. Because of this, most everyone was connected rather organically to several other friends and family members in an average parish setting. However, those days, for the vast majority of Americans, are long and gone. Because of changing economics, values, pace of life, and job markets today, it is impressive if all the members of even one’s immediate family live in the same city and almost an anomaly if all are gathered in the same neighborhood or even side of town.
Because of this cultural shift coupled perhaps with the great technology boom and social media explosion of recent times, Americans increasingly are feeling disconnected and lonely. Really this is a trend we have seen develop throughout the entire western world. Mother Theresa framed the situation like this:
“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
We would be naïve to think that this reality of loneliness and isolation has not touched the lives of Catholic parishes and other Christian communities amongst us. We are all familiar with the experience of going to Sunday Mass week after week, sometimes for years, and never actually connecting with anyone else in the pews beyond the sign of peace. However, being part of a community is an essential part of being a Christian. God made this quite clear way back when in looking at Adam all alone in the garden and reflecting, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). Later on God did not choose Abraham to enter into a private relationship with him, but in a relationship centered on being the “father to many nations” (Gen 17:5). This pattern continued when God sent his only Son among us to live as part of a family, to grow up as a part of a village, and then to gather twelve disciples around him to share, invest, and grow with them in an intentional way. He then commissioned them to go out and make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:19).
Following the pattern of our Lord throughout all of time, we launch this Ministry of “Small Groups.” Recognizing that the social structures that once effortlessly connected people in the community and at church have mostly faded away, we realize there needs to be new structures to fill that void. Our Small Group ministry looks to provided opportunities to connect in a deeper way with 10-12 other people who are in a similar place in their lives. These groups will focus on giving the members chances for to share their faith, to explore with others how God is at work in their lives and how he is challenging them to enter more deeply into their Catholic faith, and to mutually encourage one another’s hunger for God (see Romans 1:11-12).
Maybe at this point you are thinking, “Wait a minute! Isn’t ‘Small Groups’ a Protestant thing?” Well Yes. And No. Yes, this has become a big, successful part of the structure of many Protestant and non-denominational churches. But is having a Small Group foreign to the Catholic expression of faith? No! For the original Small Group is God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! And Jesus himself gathered a group of twelve around him, holding three in particular as confidants. So there is a rather strong precedent for us to follow! But even laying that consideration aside, just because it is a common Protestant practice, should we shy away from it? On January 22, 2014, reflecting on the worldwide week for Christian Unity, Pope Francis spoke these challenging words:
“It is good to recognise the grace with which God blesses us and, moreover, to find in other Christians something which we need, something we can receive as a gift from our brothers and sisters […] The Canadian group which has prepared this Prayer Week has not invited the communities to think about what they might give to their Christian neighbours, but rather has exhorted us to encounter one another to understand what all communities can receive from time to time from the others. This requires something more. It requires humility, reflection and continual conversion. Let us follow this path, praying for Christian unity and an end to this scandal [-the division of Christians].
All things considered, please consider becoming part of this ministry. Please pray that this ministry may help build up our community of faith and draw people into Small Groups where hunger for God may be nurtured and Spirit-filled relationships may give many a taste of God’s goodness. God Bless You!
If you have any questions or comments about the Small Group program, you can e-mail Lise Galle, the small group coordinator.
Beyond Your Group
Are you looking to get involved in parish life beyond your small group? There are many opportunities that fit in among the topics of our small groups, and also groups and events to experience something new within our parishes! To find ways to connect to the parish please feel free to contact Lise Galle via email.
"Our vision in this "Small Groups" ministry is to facilitate deeper fellowship and faith-sharing among Catholics on the Eastern Shore. Through the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit we pray that this endeavor will be a blessing for all!"
Director of Family Ministry & Evangelization
St. Lawrence Parish, Fairhope, AL