Sunday, October 24, 2010

Choice: Groups or Gatherings

Had a gathering of three of us the other day, not a group.  We held the spiritual focus of conversation well.  Questions surfaced, begging clarification of why groups and subgroups tend to detriment over the one sure group: the Body of Christ.  Have read more about Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.  People gathered about Him, although He held to high expectations and demanding condition of following Him. 

But we turn to the question of how a parish might flourish as the Body of Christ, without groups and subgroups.  Example given:  The pastor calls a meeting of the Parish Council.  He says any and all are welcome to show up Tuesday night at 7.

One person in our small, present moment spiritual discussion gathering said, "It will be chaos.  Lots of people will come."  I respond, "Good.  The meeting will be moved to the church, where Jesus in His Tabernacle will remind people of His Holy Presence.  The pastor will be led by the Holy Spirit in what to discuss, as Jesus had no problem talking with and feeding 4,000 and 5,000 gathered.  And, if there is some issue to be discussed and solved with selection of a solution, there will be many people offering ideas, and all the more deciding upon the solution, whether by consensus or actual vote."

Another person said that no one would show up.  I respond, "Then the meeting was not necessary, and the pastor can simply be led by God to decide on the issue and implement the decision.  However, if it is a parish in which there are a number of persons 'running' for election to the parish council, their photos and qualifications printed on ballots issued at the ends of pews, surely all those people who 'ran' for Parish Council will want to come to an all-included, open-membership meeting."

What is difficult about this approach? Nothing.  Only requires Christ's way, and faith, hope and love.

Example: Someone mentions their pastor's approach as positive.  He sets out a paper and asks people who want to be on parish council or various other groups/committees to sign their names and give phone numbers.  Sounds good thus far. Then when people have had sufficient time to do so, pastor chooses group members from the list.  What is missing here?  The open door to inclusive gathering is closed by the pastor's eliminating persons he chooses not to be in the gathering.  It immediately becomes a group with all the propensity for inherent domination, dilution of spiritual purpose, exclusivity risks.

Example: Someone learns of a way to help cancer patients in homes and hospice centers, by sewing what is called "Cancer Pads."  The person advertises a time and place in the parish bulletin.  Anyone and all are welcome to come and help.  The people gather, pray, sew, talk while sewing, have a desert they take turns bringing if they want, pray, and depart.  This is a gathering of people for a spiritually beneficial cause for the sick and dying.  It can continue for years in this simple mode.  

Example: A committee is formed to plan the upcoming parish mission.  The members are asked by the pastor and include his parish council president, also on other boards, as well as other council and committee members.  They know one another due to being on multiple boards and councils, as well as are of same socio-economic background.  They hire a mission speaker who is personal friend (knew each other in college) to the parish council president (and on other boards, etc.).  Other details decided, such as pot-luck, advertising posters, bulletin announcements.  Parishioners are unaware of this committee, their meetings, their members.  

Not all group members attend all mission functions.  Why?  One member who attended one out of seven said speaker not dynamic.  Any pre-referrals sought?  Any team members do previous scouting, listen to speaker at other missions?  Pre-assessment of parishioners' spiritual levels and needs?  No, no, no.  Group has developed aspects of dilution of spiritual purpose, domination of same members in closed, exclusive membership, with pre-established leaders based on leadership in other groups.  Not a healthy organ of the Body of Christ based upon low parishioner participation.

Example: Start-up traditional religious order begins with mid-age priest, his friend and sponsoring older bishop, and a young follower.  They seek young men as postulants. A female component of the order is accepted.  The superior and two others are women in elder years. They then decide they want young women to join.  Christ-like gathering or exclusive group and sub-group?

Example:  Bible study developed.  Time and place announced. Anyone welcome. This can go into group or sub-group mode or be a gathering.  If group, the person or sub-group forming it will determine the Scripture to be studied.  There will be leader and asst. leader.  It may develop into more positions such as refreshment leader, treasurer if study guides sold.  If the study goes on indefinitely, sub-groups in personality and discussion style will form within the group--those who discuss or remain quiet, those prepared or unprepared, those of varying socio-economic status and other distinguishing factors as marital, age, gender, education, employed, retired.  Group eventually risks those not of majority or dominant traits to feel excluded, subtly or overtly.

Example: Bible study developed.  Time and place announced. Anyone welcome.  Pastor (or designated) facilitate at least during first gathering.  People discuss and agree upon Scripture to be studied.  Spiritual objectives and purpose stated, along with beginning and ending time frame for gathering to meet objectives.  Refreshments shared venture or people bring own drinks if desired, or no food necessary.  Pastor or shared designated facilitator get discussion started in subsequent gatherings.  Objectives include staying on spiritual focus as well as inclusion of all with awareness of love one another.  Those gathered remind one another of this.  At conclusion of study, when book or topic covered, gathering ceases.  If another study desired, process begins anew.

 We now see literally and essentially, how the Body of Christ can be quickly (and probably most often is) denigrated from spiritual gathering to temporally limited group. It does not have to be this way.  We say, "We have no control over how groups and sub-groups develop in our parish!"  Well, perhaps after praying and reading the Gospels with this viewpoint in mind, we could explain to the pastor how in faith and practice, there really are no need for groups, but that gatherings can produce fruitful outcomes for parish decisions and functions.  

But even if that does not resonate, we always have abundant graces to alter our own way of being and doing.  In our families, work relationships, friendships, encounters with strangers, we can learn to hone our spiritual focus to the spiritual objective, even if the external issue is temporal.  We can promote gatherings rather than groups and sub-groups, for at least among all Christians in this world, we are already in the one group necessary, the Body of Christ.

Further reading and pondering Jesus' teachings and modus operandi in the Gospels allow us to learn how He facilitated inclusive, holy gatherings, from one-on-one to multiples to crowds.  I'm hearing Him say:  Go and do likewise!

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