By Francis Sseguya, OFM Cap
This essay describes the challenges faced by the Small Christian Communities (SCCs) especially in the parishes in Kampala Archdiocese in Uganda. In many parishes of Kampala Archdiocese this priority of organizing Small Christian Communities is lacking and has brought a vacuum between the priests and the laity. In most of the parishes the participation of the lay faithful has been limited to the paying of the tithe or making Catholic Church contributions. But when it comes to the aspect of helping them to renew their spiritual growth more especially through Bible sharing they are disregarded.
My conviction has always been that the strength of any people, community, society and even the church derives from the unity and involvement of its members in the activities that particular society or church is involved in. My observation from the parishes where I have been doing my pastoral assignments especially in Kampala Archdiocese is that involving the laity to participate in the activities of their Small Christian Communities is lacking.
In fact I call upon the clergy to involve the laity in the general life of the church affairs, and more especially, making them to be aware of the importance of attending and participating in the Small Christian Communities. This will make the lay people feel a sense of belonging and so participate fully in the mission of evangelization. That is the only way they can now perceive their Christian calling and take up their responsibility of witnessing to Christ. It follows then that evangelization is only effective when the clergy and laity plan and work together starting from the Small Christian Communities.
Let us observe some of the challenges faced by the Small Christian Communities in Kampala Archdiocese.
The first challenge can be found in the name itself “Small Christian Communities” which is translated in Kampala Archdiocese as Obubondo. If you try to observe the size of Kabondo (one Small Christian Community) you will find that it is as big as the size of a village. My home parish is St Jude Parish Wakiso. Try to see the size of the Small Christian Communities (obubondo) in this parish for example, Kisimbiri A, B and C and Kasa’ngombe Mpunga SCCs just to mention a few. The division of these SCCs followed the division that was made by the civil government while demarcating the township. These are villages (parishes) with each having a different local (civil) leader. Therefore the problem here is that the division of these groups has to be revisited so that the arrangement can truly be of a real Small Christian Community in order to yield the objectives of a SCC.
Second, the Small Christian Communities in our archdiocese are challenged due to the lack of committed and trained leadership. Lack of leadership training and formation makes the members of Small Christian Community fail to carry out their responsibilities. To say the truth, the members only meet the day of celebrating their patron saint’s feast day. The leaders visit their members only when they are collecting contributions required by the parish. The only time I saw some members of our Small Christian Community meeting was in the month of October for the joint praying of the rosary.
A third challenge is that of politicking. Most of the members of the Small Christian Communities are manipulated by determined politicians that make the community simply a cell for attaining their political ambitions. In most cases this brings division among the members and in the long run it tears the community apart.
Lack of commitment is a fourth challenge that has made the Small Christian Communities to remain inactive. Everyone claims to be busy. I think the pastors of the church should encourage their parishioners and inform them about the importance of belonging to a certain SCC. When I was in Zambia I belonged to a Small Christian Community of St. Kizito. It was small in nature and all members were very active. I can indeed say that in Zambia Small Christian Communities are well organized. Most of the Church activities are done according to the SCC and this is one of the things that make the Small Christian Communities active.
A fifth challenge for the Small Christian Community in Kampala Archdiocese is the gap between the poor and the rich. Small Christian Communities meetings are mostly attended by those who are poor. The rich people only come in when contributions are required. They prefer sending their contribution to the group than attending the meetings and so defeat the whole purpose of the Small Christian Community.
Age difference is the sixth challenge and obstacle for the Small Christian Communities. Based on the Baganda traditions, when the elders are speaking you are not supposed to intervene. Many youth fail to join Small Christian Communities simply because when the elders see them every message will be directed to them. What do you expect them to contribute when they have been silenced? I think it is better for Small Christian Communities to be arranged according to age groups in order to attract different generations.
A seventh and new challenge to the Small Christian Communities in our times is that of the marital status. These days single mothers are mushrooming and some communities are not willing to welcome them. Some SCC leaders also become an obstacle when they go on judging and selecting those to attend the Small Christian Community meetings. Many single mothers have been sidelined. I think it is the role of the pastors to direct and guide the SCCs. Otherwise if they are not directed Small Christian Communities will die a natural death.
Dominance is the eighth challenge that disturbs the Small Christian Communities more especially when that group has some ex-seminarians, charismatic members and learned people who turn the meeting into a spiritual and intellectual debate. This makes some members feel uncomfortable especially those who may lack the required intellectual ability to participate in the debate.
Hospitality is a virtue but sometimes can also be an obstacle and that becomes the ninth challenge in Small Christian Communities in Kampala since Small Christian Community meetings are always rotated from house to house. If you go to a well-to-do- family where you are fed well this can turn to be a competition among those who have. Those who have not may fail to reach the standards that have been raised high thus making the poor to run away from these communities.
Tenth is insecurity where some people fear to welcome the members of the Small Christian Communities to their homes due to the fact that not all who go to the church go to pray. Through their personal experience some members in Kampala shared with me how some people who claimed to be part of their Small Christian Community were found to be informers to some gangs who turned around and stole their things.
Eleventh is the monthly collections that are supposed to be paid by every members and that have become a stumbling block to many people more especially those who are financially challenged. Many members have run away from Small Christian community because they find it demanding a lot and they cannot pay the required dues.
As I conclude I implore the parish priests always to participate in SCCs meetings so that they can know what people are doing. This can be the only way they can direct and guide the Small Christian Communities in their parishes. If the parish priests do not take interest in helping their parishioners, the meetings of Small Christian Communities can be misused.
Deacon Francis Sseguya, OFM Cap
Order of Franciscan Friars Capuchin of St. Charles Lwanga Custody Uganda
P.O. Box 33347 Kampala, Uganda