Strengthening the small Christian communities



COLUMBIA — As part of an initiative to reintroduce small Christian communities (SCC) to the Diocese of Charleston, Paul Schroeder, diocesan director of Evangelization, Initiation and Catechesis, invited church leaders to hear Paulist Father Patrick Brennan address the topic recently.

The event, held May 20 at the Holiday Inn Northeast, was co-sponsored by the Institute for Parish Leadership Development.

Father Brennan is currently the pastor of an innovative parish in Chicago and was once the director of Evangelization for the Chicago Archdiocese under the late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin. He came to the Palmetto State on two prior occasions by the invitation of Schroeder, who has been “impressed with what Father Pat has done in evangelization.”

Bill Dietz from St. Peter Church in Columbia heard Father Brennan speak before and looked forward to the workshop. “Father Brennan speaks from experience. He is living what he is speaking, and it makes it real for me,” said Dietz, who also provided music for the gathering.

“Following the inservice, I am going to send a ‘letter of invitation’ to people attending the workshop and pastors regarding SCC,” said Schroeder, who hopes the event will be a kickoff for his efforts in bringing SCCs to the diocese.

Although he admits that his SCCs continue to suffer from growing pains, he is still pleased with its constant evolution. Father Brennan feels the purpose of SCC is to gradually move people from self-nurturing study and charity work to what he considers the greatest call, social justice work. According to Father Brennan, these Christian communities, which are small units of people within a parish that meet regularly to ” pray and play together,” should be mirror images of the larger faith community.

He also stressed the importance of having a cohesive network of SCC group leaders so they will become symbols of unity for the parish. Without connection, groups can go off in separate directions, according to the Paulist priest. He recalled how one entire SCC left the Catholic Church and joined a fundamental congregation.

In order to increase participation in SCC at his church, he has sought the aid of professional marketing experts. He started with a core group of leaders and turned all the ministries into a SCC, calling them “communities.”

“People could no longer just do a job and get their card punched,” said Father Brennan, adding that they should met weekly or biweekly, follow their individual community covenant, “break open the Word” and “be church.”

Father Brennan spent a great deal of time answering questions from the participants. There were concerns of keeping the small communities connected to the parish and the universal church. Others wanted to know specifics on how to get started and work around resistance. As Father Brennan tried to address the issues, it was apparent that as each individual is unique, so is a parish and much of the work with SCC is trial and error.