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A Community’s Self-Understanding

Director’s Reflection

Dear Companions on the Journey,

There is a story of a vibrant young religious community founded by likeminded folks in, of all places, Boston.  Eager to follow Jesus’ teaching of feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and healing the brokenhearted, they thrived for many months, taking on new, eager members.  Animated by charismatic song leaders and talented dancers and singers, “unremitting joyfulness” was the only way to describe their community.  Happy were they in energy, creativity, and blessings.

It so happened that a wealthy member gave them a beautiful spit of land not far from Marblehead, just twenty miles north of the grit of downtown Boston. The new two-acre area was marked by spectacular views of Massachusetts Bay and other coastal communities north and south.  Good stewardship required taking care of the land, and, alas, some restrictions as to who could use it.  So good stewardship and the good feelings of fellowship moved them to erect some fences.  Enlightened care of their common legacy made it difficult for many of the downtown folks to make it to the North Shore, but good stewardship required that more and more of the downtown community’s resources be shifted to maintaining the beautiful getaway which was held in trust for all…even if all couldn’t take advantage of it. 

Slowly those who had been around a long time, often reminding the newcomers that maintaining this special getaway was a particularly cherished part of the community’s self-understanding.  Some of the newcomers did not understand this, but they accepted it as part of the whole landscape.  Those who challenged the way things have always been done eventually tired of the issue and moved on. 

I was reminded of this unfinished story as I reflected on the columns from the last two weeks, also reminding me of Diana Butler Bass’s observation that “Hospitality is the practice that keeps the church from becoming a club, a members-only society.” The social forces signaled by the data in the last two columns and the internal perennial temptations to atrophy are always the companions of Christian community.

So it is no surprise that we at the Paulist Center Community are tempted in the direction that Butler Bass warns about the community that takes care of its own and accepts that “this is the way we do things here”: a message to any newcomer that her/his insights are going to have an uphill fight.  Anyone who reflects on the data I shared with you over the last few weeks has to ask, I believe, the question “What kind of outreach community are we going to be?” and not, “How can we preserve the community that I depend on to nourish me?” 

Jesus’ view of his followers, which we have been following in the Gospel of Luke this year, is one that is always reaching out beyond its comfort zone to invite others to be part of this wonderful, but not-yet perfect community.  The danger of becoming a club, a place of refuge from the world, is perennial for the Christian community.

Our roundtable discussions of 5-6 October are moving us to think in new directions.  The Pastoral Council is continuing thinking in this direction…

What do you think?

And let us pray for/with one another.
The Paulist Center