Our Church is supposed to be a family and a community but so often it is simply the place where we go to Mass and then go home.
One common solution to this is to attempt to turn the Mass into a social connecting time. This is a serious error for this reason: Mass is for worshiping God and becoming closer to Christ through participation in the Liturgy of the Word and in receiving the Eucharist. Our unity as a community comes through our unity with God and to change the Mass is to downplay this essential aspect. Keep the Mass for focusing on the Holy. Ultimately this focus is the basis for ALL efforts to build a Catholic Community.
A BETTER solution to the lack of community in the parish is to consider the programs and weekday activities that are available or could become available. When people bring their skills and interests to the parish and find ways to share those gifts with others, community is built.
First, these efforts must be CATHOLIC in tone and without apology no matter how many non-Catholics join in– this is supposed to be Catholic Community building so NO compromise on the Catholic nature of prayers, music, etc. Even if a particular activity really hasn’t much religion in it.
Second, think deanery or multi-parish wide because efforts to build a Catholic community do not need to limit themselves to a single parish. While some activities will lend themselves to a single parish others might have a more universal appeal. Don’t think that just because your parish is mostly Hispanic and the activity is making skull candies for All Saints/All Souls, or making tamales at Christmas, that these are not of great interest to Catholics from all over the area.
That said, how about some examples?
There are a lot of gifted people out there. Think outside the box and see what YOU have to offer–could you do a Saturday workshop of some sort? Can you teach a skill? Is there some activity you would enjoy doing with other people? Could you find time to share your favorite past-time with other people AT the parish and thus find new friends to share your passions AND your faith? We can ALL build community in our parish even if teaching catechism isn’t our particular gift.
Are there people who enjoy playing instruments gathering at the parish to jam together? I play autoharp a very little, but it would be a wonderful thing to join with a couple of other Catholic folk instrument players and learn to play some good traditional Catholic hymns and a bunch of Christmas music– not to use our instruments in the Mass (folk instruments lack proper dignity for the Mass no matter how many guitars are being used!) but instead, to become a welcoming place for people to connect over their love of music without the pressures of belonging to a performance oriented group. It also serves to encourage the hobby musicians to learn Catholic music. A place to build community between Catholic musicians of all sorts.
Are there people who are skilled in sewing their own clothing? Perhaps they might meet at the parish monthly to share their skills with anyone who might want to learn to make their own clothing. Talking about appropriate clothing for Mass as well as modesty in general, and fabric choices for the local climate, and helping others discover their own styles and helping them to become skilled enough to make their own clothing. This builds community.
Is there a 4-H group meeting or a Scout troop at your Church? Do you have any skills to offer to them? This builds community too.
Outdoors men/women? Fishermen? Why not do a monthly workshop on making lures or tying flies? Information on local hiking trails? Get togethers of people who want to try a particular hiking trail and go do it? Maybe a deacon or other catechist will go along and lead meditations on God’s handiwork during rest breaks? This could be a beautiful experience and builds community!
Is there a Deanery-wide weekly gathering of Catholic Home School families? The Catholic Schools have activities outside of school hours that serve to build community and there ought to be some similar activities for Catholic Home Schoolers too. Support of parents should go beyond the parochial school or religious education and include a group led by home schoolers for home schoolers. This would increase their community connections within the parish (or better yet Deanery) by meeting their unique needs. Otherwise all their support comes from non-Catholic home school groups, many of whom require signing creeds contrary to Catholic teaching. This is a serious need.
What about a group getting together to host dance workshops and gatherings for ballroom dancing? This makes for still another social within the parish where people gather for fun and to sit around and chat. People don’t know HOW to socialize without booze or sports, they no longer understand how to use exercise as a medium of social connectedness. Adding this kind of social activity which can be done from young to old age is healthy and can encourage whole families to socialize together.
As you can see, my suggestions are not specifically religious in nature. By adding non-religious activities to the parish people will have more reasons to hang out there, and will be more likely to find an interest in one of the Bible studies, or other ministry. This will also increase familiarity between people in the parish and perhaps increase the numbers of marriages that are between Catholics– thus avoiding some of the difficulties of mixed faith marriages.
Still another benefit of building social community connections through interests and sharing of skills is that this becomes a resource for the local parish school, for local scouting and 4-H groups, for home school parents, and for adults who simply want something new to try out.
I have religiously oriented ideas too, but those can wait for another post.