Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Intentional Disciples: The Parish As a House of Formation for Lay Apostles

I've gotten a number of very good comments and questions in response to my "Immodest Proposal." Rather then deal with them in the comment box, I thought I would address them here.

Sherry W over at Intentional Disciples has an interesting post on "the parish as a house of formation for lay apostles." She begins by quoting the (Roman Catholic) "Deacon James Kennedy's thoughtful essay in Envoy":

Where real Eucharistic community exists, one sees fruit in bold public witness. If I think my Catholicism is private, I would be unwilling to risk my job, profession, or, in the case of politicians, an elected office, in order to stand up for what is true. Why should I risk all only to find that no one is there to help restore my life and pick up the pieces when my witness to Christ has been rejected and I am fired or lose an election. Barring negligence or fanaticism, it should be the rule of the Catholic community to support any layman spiritually, economically, and emotionally when authentic witness to the Gospel costs him or her dearly in the secular world. Without such a community rule, who would reasonably risk public sanction? The Pope informs us that "all the members of the People of God — clergy, men and women religious, the lay faithful — are laborers in the vineyard. At one and the same time they all are the goal and subjects of Church communion as well as of participation in the mission of salvation. Every one of us possessing charisms and ministries, diverse yet complementary, works in the one and the same vineyard of the Lord" (CL 55). So we need to first develop community through sacramental worship, charitable service, and formation in the Word of God and then send people forth to be leaven in the secular world
I think Deacon James does a much better job of putting into words what I have been trying to say here (and yes, I think that fidelity to the biblical and patristic witness would demand from us that we be ready to offer not only emotional and spiritual support, but economic support as well).

Sherry also quotes some of our discussion here. She points out that
Much as I resonant deeply with writers like Russell Shaw, James Kennedy, and Fr. Gregory, it seems from their writing that they are describing an ideal whose need they see very clearly - but which they either have not seen happen in real life or have seen only rarely (for instance, Kennedy's reference to the vibrant adult Sunday school in his parish).

To which I offered the following observations:

Your comments about what I'm describing are pretty much on target. When I was a mission priest in northern CA, the parish I pastored actually was structured along the lines I describe. In a part of the world where 75% of the adult population had NO religious affiliation, I received at least one new adult into the Church every month for almost 7 years.

In addition to those who came to Christ, that time the parish produced 3 seminarians, 1 monastic novice, and 3 iconographers. Members of the community were also instrumental in founding 4 other mission parishes.

What you and I and others have been talking about can be done (I'm looking forward to following the links you provided). I've seen it done, I've done it (thanks be to God!).

But again, your are right, the communities that do this are few and far between--and sadly even less so in the Orthodox Church.
Sherry concludes with links to several Roman Catholic parishes that are stand out examples of lay formation. These sites I think offer the Orthodox Church not only some interesting models of how to reorganize our parishes, but also maybe even potential partnerships.

Anyway, if you have not done so, please go over to Intentional Disciples and look around. There's much food for thought there.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory