Have We Lost Our Sense of Community?

Sunday Worship was a whole different thing in this country 50 years ago.  I remember looking forward to going to Catholic Mass on Sunday.  I knew and loved every song we sang, I loved the beautiful churches of the parishes we belonged to and I even remember listening to the sermons and having favorite Priests based on the appeal of some of their Homilies.  I also loved putting on my “Sunday Best” and dressing up for the occasion and I looked forward to seeing my friends, their families, and people I knew in the community every Sunday. I thought at the time that getting dressed up and looking forward to seeing friends somehow were less worthy motivations for liking Church, but now I realize, these elements are a critical part of the celebration of our faith, and they seemed to have disappeared.

Getting dressed up wasn’t just a vain, childish thing – I think it helped highlight the fact that we were headed somewhere special, and that you had to prepare – you couldn’t just “come as you are”; you had to be ready.  And now I realize too that looking forward to seeing friends, families and acquaintances is a valuable part of establishing community.

My remembrances are in distinct contrast to the experience I had just this past Sunday where people were not just in the uniform of jeans; many looked simply unkempt.And how is it possible to make Christmas hymns sound like dirges?  During the sermon most people were looking at their watches; not engaging.  I actually saw two people taking a little nap.  What are we getting out of Church now?image

Two of my daughters are on service trips with their separate universities to Jamaica, and celebrated Epiphany Sunday there. My daughter, Jocelyn Collen, is a Campus Minister at Fairfield University.  One of her many responsibilities is to prepare and lead students through this immersion experience, which she has done for the past few years.  The following is her report from Sunday.  Reading it brought tears to my eyes and gave me an Epiphany – it crystalized my sense of dissatisfaction with run-of-the-mill Parish worship.  I want to bring community back here!

WARM Love on Epiphany Sunday! ❤️ a reflection by Jocelyn Collen, MDiv

Our group left at “9am” (Jamaica Time) for Mass which was actually 9:35am in real time. The exit was rather smooth considering we were all packed into a crowded house, it is the first day, and we only had “2 minutes” to get ready since we woke up the group at 8:58am!

We had our Epiphany Mass at the Missionaries of the Poor Chapel called Bethlehem. It’s located above the orphanage for severely disabled children. Mass was over two hours long but I thought it flew by! The music was all written by the Missionaries and involves lots of clapping. Everyone knew all the words. Lots of the babies from the orphanage were able to sit with us at Mass, so it was really fun to keep passing the babies around. Other kids from the community eventually found their way to our front pews too- more hair to touch and hands to hold. The precious baby I held for the majority of the Mass was very smiley and loving. We think his name is Bob! He has only one hand with 5 fingers but two were stuck together. He had a little nub on the other side and 1 nub leg and a short other leg with a sock on- I don’t know if he had a foot. (Ed. note: most of these orphans are born to mothers with drug addictions and are deformed, so they are abandoned)

Before Mass began I went around to say hi to some of the adult communities the Missionaries run, who were already in their pews in their Sunday best. They were very friendly and glad to welcome me! I recognized many of them. The warm welcome from everyone is infectious. I felt like the message of the Epiphany- seeing the living God among us – was so tangible while I held those babies, had other kids playing with my hair, sang the songs, clapped, and watched the students take it all in. We were blessed by the whole community as visitors which felt like a treasure. The priest presiding even asked me to say something in the mic, so I thanked them for their love and hospitality. I said we keep returning to Jamaica to see God alive among us, and for love.

Mass felt like a REAL church- alive with everyone being welcomed- the brothers, the community, the people the brothers care for, the other volunteer visitors. The golden sunshine is warm and balm for my soul. I feel like all the burdens we carried here are somehow melted away in the sun. I am overwhelmingly grateful.

We had a very prayerful and wonderful reflection themed on the Star of Wonder and what we might be searching for here in Jamaica. I had little stars I gave everyone too. I hope they liked it. Everyone is getting along very well. It’s a gift. They seem to all be in good space too. I ended the refection with “3 Little Birds” by Bob Marley. “Baby don’t worry about a thing because every little thing is going to be alright…” -Jocelyn Collen, MDiv.

Now THAT is COMMUNITY — Let’s bring it back! -Jane F. Collen

4 thoughts on “Have We Lost Our Sense of Community?

  1. I’m so blessed to belong to a community of faith and fellowship at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Middletown, NY. 15 minutes after Mass is over, people are still chatting with each other. At our Christmas pageant Mass, all our little shepherds and angels were invited to come up to the very front of the church and sit on the floor around our celebrant, John Horan, O.Carm., who sat himself down on the sanctuary steps to deliver the homily. At Epiphany, little bags of blessed chalk were out by the crèche for each family to take home and bless their doorways with 20+C+M+B+15.
    Our liturgy committee is dedicated to connecting the domestic church within each of our homes to the parish community. Many who come to our church by “coincidence” wind up becoming parishioners. Working in ministry as a liturgical musician, educator, and religious ed coordinator for over forty years has given me the opportunity to both observe and participate in many parish communities in New York and New Jersey. And out of all of them, I have been so very fortunate to call Saint Ann’s in Ossining and Mt. Carmel my home. Our cherished faith is alive and well through living the gospel in empowered lay ministry in these places.
    Do many people “come as they are” instead of dressing up? Sure. But there is an authenticity to their presence at this celebration that connects us all, and I value each one of them. I have an unabashed desire to know their stories. We learn from each other! Is the Sunday Mass tradition different now from the memories that we love? Indeed! But different, over the years, isn’t better or worse; it’s simply evolution. When you worship at these places, you are truly connected to your sisters and brothers in Christ. Some are attractively attired, some are unkempt. But they’re there! Even the ones who are so tired that they catch 40 winks during a less-than-inspiring homily! What are their stories? They come because on some level that might be very different from mine, they are connected to the community, and their presence has as much meaning as the Presence on the altar. Where two or three are gathered . . . Everyone’s participation in the Eucharist is vital! And as the words to one of my favorite hymns remind me, “All are welcome in this place.”
    Come and join us! God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

    • for some strange reason I could only read this now (I called up the site on my work computer! instead of my lap top) I LOVE your comments — if my church were like this AT ALL, I would not have written that post. I am so excited that this spirit is alive in your parish. I might just have to come to Middletown to feel the love and join. jane


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