Case Study of Small Christian Communities (SCCs)
in St. Brigid Catholic Church, Archdiocese of San Antonio,
San Antonio, Texas, USA as of February, 2015
By Belza Elia Ramos
I. FORMATION OF SMALL CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES: HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
Small Christian Communities (SCCs) grew out of the Renew Program of the late 1970s here at St. Brigid Catholic Church, San Antonio, Texas, USA. The progressive pastor of St. Brigid at the time greatly encouraged all parishioners to participate in the Renew Program and join together with other parishioners in sharing faith and growing together as a Catholic community. After Renew and as the years passed, the small communities diminished to a great degree, but found new enthusiasm around 2003 when 14 new SCCs were formed.
In early 2003, with the support of the then Adult Faith Coordinator, a Core Group organized Small Christian Communities with over 80 parishioners signing up in the winter of 2003. We asked that those that were already meeting in faith sharing groups since the Renew sign up as a group to remain together. Two groups had just formed after the Alpha course. After going through the “Twelve Steps to Building Small Christian Communities”, which the Core Team presented, there were 14 total communities. Since then there has been movement in the SCCs with some merging, branching out, and formation of new SCCs from parish- based retreats. Some have dissolved, with interested members finding another SCC to join. Membership grew to approximately 180 members.” Today, after we formed three new communities from Alpha, the New Life Course and one branch out, there are 11 SCCs meeting in homes and two SCCs meeting at church.
II. THE CORE GROUP: LEADERSHIP, GUIDANCE AND TRAINING
The Core Group started with 8-10 members. However as members became deeply involved in other ministries, the group dwindled to three with an additional five experienced SCC members helping with the formation of new SCCs. They present the Twelve Steps and “walk” with new communities until the chosen leaders feels they are ready to go “solo.” Our new Pastor, Father Stuart, has supported the continuation of SCCs, and decided that he, the Adult Faith Coordinator and the SCC Lay Coordinator would be the “Core Group” and give guidance in resolving issues that may evolve and/or suggest resources to be used in the sessions. After six annual networking meetings since 2003, all the communities only get together for special events or parish wide projects.
III. LIVING THE NEW LIFE IN SMALL COMMUNITIES
The SCCs typically meet weekly or bi-weekly in host homes; most rotate the role of hosting and facilitating the meetings. One longstanding community meets only once a month. Most of them use the Sunday scriptures for their study, but some are venturing into thematic Bible studies; studies on specific books of the Bible; Christian writings; and studies on the lives of the saints. Fellowship after the faith sharing sessions almost always occurs and is key in strengthening the bonds among the members. Music and prayers open and close the sessions with members doing communal intercessory praying.
IV. LEADERS’ ASSESSMENT OF BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES EXPERIENCED IN THE SCCs:
In preparing this report, input from the SCC leaders reveals that:
V. REACHING BEYOND THEMSELVES
The SCCs stay connected to the greater parish family and strengthen it by:
VI. GOING TO THE NEXT LEVEL
· Recently we encouraged the SCCs to sign-up as a group for “The Good News People Program” and six have done so. A modest number have started volunteering at the agencies they visited. Most facilitators for parish wide Adult Faith Formation courses and retreats come from the SCCs.
· The SCCs will come together for a “Celebration of Small Christian Communities” on 7 March 2015 including participating in mass together.
· Shortly after that we will have a parish wide information campaign and “Sign Up” opportunity for interested parishioners to form into communities.
VII. ASSESSMENT FROM FR. STUART JULEEN, PASTOR
“When I began my ministry as pastor of St. Brigid in 2010, the SCCs and their influence on parish life and individuals was ‘felt’ but not visible. Groups met in designated homes and gathered for faith sharing and scriptural study. Upon arriving at St. Brigid I was immediately invited to visit several SCCs. I did so and found communities that had been meeting for a very long time, and some that were recently established. At the meetings I attended I found the participants to be enthusiastic and eager to share. Some communities meet once a month while others might meet more often, but attendance was good and fellowship took place.
As far as the publication about the SCCs, new parishioners are given information and guided to a community that might be helpful to them. The value of being a part of a community is stressed, and those who do participate find them an aid to their own spiritual development.
While it’s difficult to discern the full impact of SCCs on the community of the parish at large, I believe that the impact has been very significant over the years and has greatly added to the vitality and spirit of our parish, and upon those who, while they might not participate in a small community gathering, are none the less impacted by what those who do participate and what they bring to larger community.
I believe that St. Brigid Catholic Parish in San Antonio Texas, (USA) is a model of what a parish should be all about. The number of activities available in the social, spiritual and faith formation is abundant, and the welcoming spirit of St. Brigid continues to be brought up when people say why they attend our parish. How did this come about? How did our parish become a place where faith is celebrated on many levels and Jesus’ prayer, ‘Father, may they all be one….’ is and continues to be recognized? There are many reasons, and I believe that the strength of our community is to be found in the fact that people encounter each other not just in the assembly, but in a warm and inviting gathering called the ‘Small Christian Community.’”
Mrs. Belza Elia Ramos
SCC Lay Coordinator for St. Brigid Catholic Church, San Antonio, Texas, USA
SCC Story Coordinator for North America, www.smallchristiancommunities.org