Theological Accompaniment of the Laity in Africa – From the Perspective of Small Christian Communities (SCCs)

By Joseph G. Healey

A Book Review of Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, (ed.), The Church We Want: African Catholics Look to Vatican III. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016. Nairobi: Acton Publishers, 2016 by Léo Lushombo in the March, 2018 issue of the important American theological journal Theological Studies has this very challenging statement:

If the model or paradigm of the future is that of Small Christian  Communities, as the book argues, then there is a need for the SCCs[1] to undertake consistent theological formation[2] because the laity do not have opportunity to access theological formation in many African countries.

  1. Comments/Responses in the “Forum” Section of our SCCs Facebook Page

Some comments/responses in the “Forum” section of our SCCs Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/www.smallchristiancommunities.org):

  1. “Right now we have 98 students in our SCCs Class at Tangaza College in Nairobi, Kenya – all seminarians. In a recent SCCs Workshop at Christ the King Major Seminary in Nyeri, Kenya there were 307 participants — all seminarians. Yet the laity are 99% of the members of SCCs in Africa. How are they going to receive theological formation?”
  2. “That’s food for thought because it poses a big challenge. For me lay leaders/animators/facilitator/coordinators can get the basic skills to empower them if the institutions (Hekima College, Tangaza College, CUEA and Daystar University all based in Nairobi) offer SCCs courses that specifically focus on how nonprofessionals and women can be part of evangelization. Can there be classes meant especially for the lay people so they can share similar pastoral experiences? Can basic theological reflection skills be integrated into leadership training and youth studies? These courses can be attractive to laymen and laywomen. With support from dioceses or parishes, lay people can be able to access these courses just like the way we take our catechists for training.”

3.“Just as we have catechist training centers and programs, we need lay leadership training centers and programs that focus on the theology and practice of SCCs. We need simple, user friendly booklets in English, Swahili and other languages on the “content” of SCCs, for example, the theological foundation of SCCs.

4.This is a real challenge. We have in place the training of SCC lay leaders/animators/facilitators/coordinators in animation, facilitation and coordination skills including collaborative ministry. Now we have to focus more on the “content” side: Ongoing formation and training of all SCC members on the meaning and importance of SCC, theological formation and pastoral formation on the specific SCC Model of Church, Bible Sharing/Bible Reflection, family catechesis, justice and peace issues, Jesus Christ’s methods of evangelizing and mission outreach.”

5.“This is a statement that must be echoed across the diverse sectors of our Catholic communities in order to build and grow evangelization in every heart of our people. However, until we consider building the capacity of the laity (the context upon which Small Christian Communities happens) as a matter of priority, the aspiration to motivate many more lay faithful to participate in the work of evangelization will remain an unachievable dream. As the main pilots of SCCs that we consider a valuable vehicle of parish and spiritual renewal, we must invest in building the capacity of the laity in order to equip them with skills and techniques so they can improve and expand the quality of the outcome of evangelization in an African context. This is a valuable conversation we must emphatically undertake because the future of our Church depends on it.”

6.“This is an excellent comment, but there is a disconnect here. When AMECEA talks about Capacity Building Workshops for laity, they usually mean training in skills in management, office procedures, financial planning, etc. This is important, but we need to emphasize “theological accompaniment” of the laity (for example, how to do pastoral theological reflection, how to use the steps of the Pastoral Circle/Cycle/Spiral) if they are going to understand and carry out the Eastern African SCCs Model of Church in theory and practice.”

7.“Indeed! In the theological formation of the laity the content should consider the concrete spiritual and social conditions of the laity and must not be overcrowded with ‘hard wired’ theological perspectives out of reach for the ‘ordinary laity.’ The laity must be involved in designing such capacity building contents and processes. The time for this conversation is right now.”

8.“Yes, the African laity in SCCs on the ground/from below/from the grassroots should help design the specific content, not inherit a Western theological curriculum designed for seminarians.”

9.“A good example of the theological formation of lay people in Eastern Africa is the Prayer Intention of Pope Francis for March 2018: ‘Evangelization: Formation in Spiritual Discernment.’ That the Catholic Church may appreciate the urgency of formation in spiritual discernment, both on the personal and communitarian levels.

10.This is crucial to our SCCs being the pillar of the church that AMECEA emphasizes. This is why AMECEA came to form SCCs. We are much ahead today compared to Vatican I where lay people had no chance to do anything in the church. According to me, there should be the introduction of theological training for lay people for the betterment of our Catholic Church in Eastern Africa in the future.

  1. A “Theology for the Laity” Course in Africa From the

Perspective of the African SCCs Pastoral, Ecclesial Model of Church

What would a “Theology for the Laity” Course in Africa look like from the

perspective of the African SCCs Pastoral, Ecclesial Model of Church as the paradigm of the future. A new way of teaching and a new way of learning. Four emphases:

1. African Ecclesiology from a SCCs Perspective:

a)  Adding a new model to Avery Dulles’ Models of Church.
b) Building on Vatican Two’s Communion Ecclesiology.
c)  1994 First African Synod’s Family of God Ecclesiology.
d) Father Robert Schreiter’s “local theologies constructed with the local community as theologian.”

2. Equipping African laity with reflection tools to theologize on the SCCs Model of Church from the grassroots:

a) Pastoral Theological Reflection Process.
b) Pastoral Circle/Cycle/Spiral.
c) “See,” “Judge” and “Act” Process.
d) Basic theological reflection skills.
e) Prayer Intention of Pope Francis for March 2018: “Evangelization: Formation in Spiritual Discernment.”                       In the context of synodality.

3. African laity theologizing in SCCs:

a) African SCCs Reading of the Bible.
b) African SCCs reading “the signs of the times” and theologizing on them.
c) John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation The Church in Africa under “Living (or Vital) Christian Communities”:                    “These small communities reflect on different human problems in the light of the Gospel.”
d) Doing theology with African lay people on the ground. Examples of theological circles of lay people.

  1. As part of a SCCs Pastoral, Ecclesial Model of Church, this plan would emphasize a New Model of Teaching and a New Model of Learning. The SCCs life experience of the participants would be the starting point of some of the sessions. Some of the theological sessions would take place in actual SCCs on the ground/in the local neighborhood rather than in a classroom setting. As an ecclesiology from below/from the grassroots we would try to create the path by walking as the famous Spanish proverb goes.

 

Rev. Joseph G. Healey, MM
Maryknoll Society
P.O. Box 43058
00100 Nairobi, Kenya

0723-362-993 (Safaricom, Kenya)
973-216-4997 (AT&T, USA)
Email: JGHealey@aol.com
Skype: joseph-healey

 

Updated: 2 January, 2020

NOTE: Many ideas and examples in this paper can be found in:

Healey, Joseph, Building the Church as Family of God:  Evaluation of Small Christian

Communities in Eastern Africa, Eldoret: AMECEA Gaba Publications – CUEA Press

Double Spearhead Nos. 199-200 (Print Version 2012 and 1st Reprint 2014). 163 pages. The Online Digital Version, regularly revised and updated from the 2012 print version, is available as a free, online Ebook containing 1,115 pages as of 2 January, 2020 on the Small Christian Communities Global Collaborative Website:

 

https://smallchristiancommunities.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Build_new.pdf

[1] There is an interesting shift here. The emphasis is not on theological formation, education and training for or to the SCC lay members (as if they were the objects or receivers), but the SCC lay members themselves doing some of the theological formation (as subjects and protagonists). This is part of the “newness” of the SCCs being a new way of being/become church and a new model of church.

 

[2] American Maryknoll missionary priest and theologian Father John Sivalon, MM has this clarification and insight in an email to the author dated 19 December, 2018: “I react a little against the word formation. It sounds very much like a top down approach or an elitist kind of approach to theology. I think it better to use a word like accompaniment or something else that would put both academically trained theologians and the lay theologians living in SCCs on an equal footing. All of them listening to the voice of God in the world and struggling to understand that voice.  I wouldn’t think you would want to move this whole process into a classroom but rather do it right in the context of an SCC.”

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