Much of Ignatian Spirituality focuses on deepening our intimacy with God and responding to the mission that relationship sets forth for us. The reality of the faith journey as we know it, though, also relies upon the experience of being part of a community of believers and working together to participate in the Divine mission. Any experience of true community can be deeply rewarding but also challenging and difficult at times. We have an experience of faith community here in our CLC, where our differences enrich our experience and we are inspired by the journey of one another.
For many people of faith, the spiritual journey is not just a personal one, but also takes place in the context of a larger church community. Often, our sense of belonging (or not belonging) in a church shapes our faith experience and our understanding of God. We have spent significant time in these meetings exploring vocation, discernment, and community. This meeting is an opportunity for us to explore what it means to be part of “church,” how we understand this experience of a faith community, and the diversity of expressions of church among people of faith. We visit this topic at this point in these meetings knowing that often times, transitions in life also lead to transitions to new faith communities, which can be difficult.
The Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church focused heavily on the idea of “church” and developed further understanding of the Church as the community of believers. This meeting relies upon the work of Avery Cardinal Dulles, who was a Jesuit theologian active in recent decades. His “Models of Church” is an important insight into how many different understandings of what “church” is are necessary for church to truly be what it professes to be. The important thing to remember is that all of these different models are valid. One is not better than another. They work in concert with each other and make community life more vibrant and faithful.
It is important in facilitating this meeting to create a safe space where people can be honest about challenges they may have in relating to the larger institutional church and to also be affirming of people’s different experiences of church, especially if people come from different denominations.
A fun way to introduce the group to this topic is to ask them to complete this online quiz before the meeting. This will help the group be able to move more quickly into conversation about people’s understanding of church rather than spending too much time for each person to try to figure out which model resonates the most for them.
Consider using a formal prayer from a faith community, like the Hail Mary, the Our Father, or a prayer from the liturgies of a church. (Be mindful, though, if members come from different denominations, people may need printed hand-outs of the prayer.)
If you and your church were Facebook friends, what would your relationship status be?
Prior to the meeting, have everyone complete the online quiz about their own model of church. At the meeting, hand out the summary of the Models of Church. Ask each member to read about his or her own model and prepare a brief report for the group about that model. Also invite each member to include how they think this model resonates (or doesn’t) with his or her own understanding. They can also include any experiences they have had with church that have been formative or significant to them. If more than one person is of the same model, they can work together. If there is a model which no one claims, the facilitator can present on that to the group.
- What do you find meaningful about being part of a church?
- What do you find challenging about being part of a church?
- Where do you see yourself in five years in relation to your church?
- Which model of church would be most difficult for you to embrace?
- What vision do you have of a church you want to belong to?
- Do you envision having any role in serving or helping create this type of church?
- What has struck you as you have been listening to others share? Do you notice any patterns or similarities?
- How have you been feeling throughout the meeting? Comfortable? Anxious? Curious?
- Is there anything you would like to share after listening to another person share?
- What is remaining with you? What do you hope to return to in prayer at another point in the week?
Talk with one friend outside of CLC about what “church” means to them and what they find most meaningful or challenging about their experience of participation (or lack of participation) in the church community.
Return to the prayer that you used for the opening of the meeting.
“Union with Christ leads to union with the Church where Christ here and now continues his mission of salvation. By making ourselves sensitive to the signs of the times and the movements of the Spirit, we will be better able to encounter Christ in all persons and in all situations. Sharing the riches of membership in the Church, we participate in the liturgy meditate, upon the Scriptures, and learn, teach and promote Christian doctrine. We work together with the hierarchy and other ecclesial leaders, motivated by a common concern for the problems and progress of all people and open to the situations in which the Church finds itself today. This sense of the Church impels us to creative and concrete collaboration for the work of advancing the reign of God on earth, and includes a readiness to go and serve where the needs of the Church so demand.” (CLC-USA General Principles #6)
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.
If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?
As it is, there are many members, yet one body.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-20
“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:25-29