Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Size doesn't matter, right? God is! God is at work among us! Big things are happening, big things will happen within your small Synodal Catholic community.
There are some essential important questions for us to continually ask ourselves:
1. Is our community culture healthy?
2. Is the Holy Gospel being taught and lived?
3. Is there a vision for reaching people?
4. Are lives being changed?
If we can respond 'yes', then keep up the good work. While we all desire size, size is ultimately up to God. Our responsibility is to serve and to lead well will all of our being, the rest is up to God.
However, in small community we often get stuck with our struggles and difficulties of ministry. So, let's breathe!
There are five qualities of a small community of faith that have a big impact:
e) and Favor.
UNIQUENESS: Regardless of the size of your community, there is "something" that makes your community special. It might be described as your 'secret sauce,' or your unique DNA. What is it? Learn to lean into it. Perhaps it is the wonderful liturgies celebrated, the compassionate culture experienced and shared eagerly, or a particular or specialized ministry that you have taken up together. You can't force it or make it up. It's already present and will always be there.
AGILITY: Small is the new big! Small communities are able to move and turn fast. They are not bogged down by the complexity of their own systems. Small communities are not aircraft carriers, but much more like speed boats. We tend to make decisions quicker and respond to needs more easily. In small community, we sense what God is up to with us and we jump in wholeheartedly. It is easier in our experience to experiment, unafraid to try something, to experiment, but we keep our list short.
INTIMACY: In our communities, we easily experience closeness, connection, and fellowship. It's fantastic simply because people feel 'at home' and cared for among us. We remind ourselves to be genuine and generous in our welcome of all people. We relish making friends and inviting them to liturgy. It's not a program with us, rather it is our lifestyle.
SEEDS: We learn to be a sower of seeds, many seeds. Love, kindness, compassion, generosity, and encouragement: which of these are you? Which of these are you good at? Which of these do you need to add? Big church seeds in a small community are vocations, missions, and ministry planting. We are always blessed when we give ourselves away, sometimes foolishly in the eyes of our detractors, but always wisely in the eyes of the Kingdom of God.
FAVOR: Do not be fooled in thinking that blessing only lies in large communities. God is looking for the humble and the available to reach out to the spiritually unresolved. There is a sense of Divine Mystery that we can neither demand or strategize. Ask God to bless your community, be patient in waiting upon God's slow work among us, and be faithful to the right things. Favor is Divine Touch that brings the supernatural into the natural. It provides life change and momentum, grace and 'Kingdom' power. Favor is a Holy Presence that makes hard work into fruitful results.
There is great and sacred beauty within a small community of faith. What are your beauty marks, your characteristics? In my personal pastoral experience, they can be numerous:
a) We are relationally-driven.
b) We prefer informal channels: coffee versus formal meetings.
c) We work as a whole.
d) We celebrate our synodality. The community is the church, not the pastor alone.
e) We tend to describe ourselves as family because there is a depth of relationship that has taken time to develop.
f) The proverbial 'grapevine' is a blessing for us, not a curse, for it is a sign of close-knit people.
g) Traditions and heritage undergird our structure, our ministry, and our culture. Traditions are stories and bonds,not ruts.
h) We are easily inter-generational because everyone is involved and we like being together. We resent any split or segregation among us, even children's church!
i) We focus on people over performance. We tend to keep people in a particular position even if there are more qualified folks.
j) We deeply value a 'place for everyone'!
k) We relish inter-relatedness. We love relatives!
l) We value generalists over specialists as we tend to multi-task roles and responsibilities. Yes, I do windows and bathrooms!
m) We celebrate a place for everyone and everyone has a place. We notice and feel absences. Place is a symbol of belonging and security in a world that is insecure.
n) We tend to have our own calendars, which tend to be seasonal and connected to the local employment base.
o) Our people are givers, strong in their sense of ownership. We are need-based rather than formula-controlled.
These are just a few of our beauty marks, our distinctives, or our 'quirks' that make us who we are. Rather than easily defeating ourselves by clinging to a 'size-envy' syndrome, we can flourish in the verifiable sacredness of our own small Synodal Catholic community, united to other small Synodal Catholic communities. Explore and name your identity, be proud of your own unique beauty, sacred purpose, and joyful life embraced together.
More than thirty years ago, I was taught a Latin phrase to be said upon return to the sacristy after every Mass:
Presbyter: Prosit. [May it be fruitful.]
Acolyte: Pro omnibus et singulis. [“For all and for each”]
This simple acknowledgement of the presence of God is my prayer for you and your community as you continue to build up one another around the sacred table.
As the Presiding Bishop of the Communion of Synodal Catholic Churches, I have been called forth by the Communion to serve with our Bishops as "first among equals" to represent the Communion, to articulate the vision and mission of the Communion and to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.