By Augustine Mwape, OFM Cap
I am proud to say that I have been to different Small Christian Communities (SCCs) in six out of the 10 dioceses in Zambia. The SCCs in Zambia are stronger in urban dioceses than in rural areas. One cannot be counted as a bona fide member of the parish if one does not go to SCC meetings. It is through SCCs that most of the pastoral activities are organized such as visiting the sick, preparation and administering of sacraments and so forth. Contributions to the nature and life of the church are also done at the SCC level. Above all it is through SCCs that funeral services, Sunday Masses and other Masses for various intentions are organized. However, the SCCs face a lot of challenges. In Zambia most of the SCCs meet on Sundays. These meetings take place in homes on a rotational basis. The hosting family is given a responsibility to take charge. In this paper I am going to focus on the challenges of rotations in SCCs meetings in Zambia. The following are the challenges that come with rotation:
1. Buying of Food
The buying of food by the hosting family is regarded a tradition rather than a norm. This is a situation whereby the hosting family is expected to prepare something in the form of refreshments at the end of the SCC meeting. This practice is widespread in urban areas. It is very easy for a well to do family to prepare something such as home-baked cakes, biscuits and soft drinks. These are served on clean plates and in clean glasses. The challenge comes when it is the turn of the poor person to do the same. These poor people, without even being forced, are compelled to do something so as to follow the routine. I can recall one incident that occurred a few years ago in Lusaka where it was the turn of one poor person to host the meeting. This man struggled to raise money for snacks for about a month. He could not even raise enough money and therefore he only managed to buy juice. The “big day” came and everything went on well as usual in terms bible sharing. When the time to serve the juice came, the “rich people” started excusing themselves one by one. I later asked some members as to why the rich behaved in such a manner. They told me that they do not expect the rich to taste that ‘dirty’ juice as they cannot trust both the water and the plastic cups. The owner of the house was of course embarrassed as he was very much aware of what was going on. This practice had resulted in unhealthy competition in terms of food preparation. The consequence to this practice is that it makes some people avoid hosting SCC meetings in their homes.
2. The Question of Seats
As seen above, in any normal Jumuiya there is always a mixture of the rich and poor, employed and unemployed, active and passive members. From my own experience it is mainly the poor who are mostly disadvantaged in SCCs. Here now my interest is on the issue of seats. The poor people usually cannot afford to accommodate even 10 members on their chairs. This makes them go and borrow from the neighbors. This is also is a big challenge to some. It makes them avoid hosting Jumuiya meetings. In some sections the solution has been found: making SCC benches. However, this is sometimes not very practical as the benches have to be moved from one house to another. The other solution is buying few chairs for the men and homemade mats or sacks for the women. In some situations well to do women would not accept to sit on dirty mats. In Zambia I have seenJumuiyas meeting at a specific home with fixed seats outside.
3. Enemies in SCCs
We cannot avoid conflict in life. In other words conflict is part and parcel of our existence. The problem, however, is lack of forgiveness. Even in SCCs there are people have failed to reconcile and have gone on keeping grudges. When I was in Solwezi Diocese (North-Western Province of Zambia), I discovered one reason why some people were not coming to SCC meetings. Some members were not coming as they could not go to homes of their enemies. The hosting family on the other hand could not expect their enemies to do exactly that. From my own observation this was taken as normal. Thus no effort was made to reconcile the involved parties. This affected the meetings.
4. The Question of Trust
The rich can meet with the Christians in the parish. However, most of the rich at times do not want poor people to come to their homes for SCC meetings. At first I thought the rich poor were just being too mean. Later I discovered that they have a point to a certain extent. There is a lot of insecurity in big cities and towns. It is for this reason some families refuse to allow “strangers” into their homes even their fellow Christians. This rule is applied to especially those who are poor. They are afraid that it is these same poor people who can come at night and steal from them. Therefore, the question of security is very significant in SCCs. In other words there is a lot of mistrust among SCC members. It is for this reason that many rich people prefer to maintain privacy and avoid SCC meetings in their homes. In one of the parishes the SCCs that meet in the church premises seem to have more people. One of the reasons is that many well to do people prefer this type of SCCs due to the above reason. From my own research in St. John’s Parish in Langata, Nairobi this is also a reality.
5. The Question of Space
The other issue is the question of space in terms of houses. Some Christians have big and good houses while others have small houses. In this way it is very difficult for the hosting family to accommodate all the members of the SCC in their homes. This is the reason why some prefer to meet in a specific home where they feel all the members will be accommodated. Sometimes it has been proposed that they meet outside or even at church. Meeting outside is a good idea but is only practical outside the rainy season.
6. Problem of Ecumenisn
Some Catholics come from mixed marriages or mixed families. A Catholic member who has no authority over a certain home finds it very difficult to invite her Catholic members to meet in the home in question. There have been cases where the SCC members have not been welcomed both during and outside the SCC meeting. I am one of those who were chased by the owner of the house who happened to be a non-Catholic. His mother was a Catholic but he did not want her to have anything to do with the Catholics.
The biggest question in this reflection paper is the future of the SCCs in Africa in terms of rotations in SCCs. These problems should not be taken lightly as they have had negative effects on SCC meetings. One of the effects is the decline in the number of people who attend SCC meetings. We need to move forward as the SCCs are very vital in the very life of the church. The future, therefore, depends on looking into solving these challenges. Unless these challenges are solved the SCCs will not portray that new model of being church.
Augustine Mwape, OFM Cap is a Deacon in the Capuchin Religious Congregation. He is from Zambia and finished his Theological Studies at Tangaza College in Nairobi, Kenya in May, 2012. This paper was written in March, 2012 in the course on "Small Christian Communities as a New Model of Church in Africa Today."