Updated: Nov 29, 2022
Jesus knew something that we tend to forget in our culture which prizes individualism. He knew that we human beings are wired to be connected to one another. We cannot thrive, we cannot become all that God intended us to be, alone. Why is this important? Because so many people think they don’t need to come to Church…or belong to a parish…that they can handle all of this “God stuff” alone. But it’s simply not true. We need each other. We journey with God and to God together.
Did you know that recent research conducted by the University of South Florida-Manatee (disclosure, my daughter works for USF but in their health services division) revealed that religiously observant people coped better with the isolation caused by Covid19 restrictions because of their sense of belonging? (Emphasis mine) This is one of those good news moments where research bears out what Jesus has already revealed to us. I just love when that happens, don’t you? It’s so hopeful!
Why is this important? I think there are at least two important points to be made here:
Jesus is right.
Parishes can, if they so choose, organize themselves in such a way that belonging to the Body of Christ assembled in that location can make a significant impact on the well-being of its participants.
Jesus is right!
Jesus is right. And we have knowledge to support that assertion. We have faith-based knowledge: that we are made in God’s image, and God is a community of persons, a Trinity. As a result we are hard-wired for community…we are hard wired to belong. Our culture’s overemphasis on individuality actually goes against our very nature. So there’s very good news to share! Belonging to a parish is a deliberate counter-cultural choice that is GOOD FOR US! Why? Because through the parish, rightly organized, we will continue to nurture our relationship with Christ as we build loving relationships with one another. This will serve us well any time we have to be isolated: pandemic, other illness, old age or infirmity. And lest we be too naïve, the Center for Global Development has modeling that indicates the “next pandemic could be much sooner and more severe than we think.” Time to organize ourselves in hope…to journey together!
The parish must choose to journey together
The challenge for all of us, parishioners and leaders, is to go about structuring our parishes so that all who join us are invited to belong. What do I mean by structures? I mean the way the parish is organized: to welcome and invite, to form and mentor, to connect and journey together, to love without judgment, to be a haven for sinners, a rest for the weary, a home for those who don’t belong anywhere else. And let’s be honest…too many parishes aren’t like this at all. They are more like religious country clubs where belonging takes a long time, and where some are never really welcomed.
Share this on your website or social media as the introduction to a listening session about belonging in your parish!
The challenge for all of us, parishioners and leaders, is to go about structuring our parishes so that all who us are invited to belong. And let’s be honest…too many parishes aren’t like this at all. They are more like religious country clubs where belonging takes a long time, and some people never really do belong.
Since this is true, it falls to everyone who is part of a parish to consider how to help people feel they belong. One caution here: so many people say, “Just get involved and you’ll find you belong.” That puts all the onus on the outsider to force themselves “in”, and friends, that’s hard for many people and VERY hard in parishes where, from the outside, there appear to be firmly established cliques within the parish. I challenge you to consider what the parish/active parishioner side of this equation looks like. What might those who “belong” undertake to open wide the doors?
Parish leaders, listen and find out from others who do feel as if they belong, how that came to pass.
What steps did they have to take in order to connect to the parish? To a ministry? To other members of the parish?
How long did it take to make connections?
What happened that made them feel as if this is where they belong?
Now for those in leadership, here are some helpful questions as you consider belonging:
How does the parish let the wider community know who is welcome? And before you hide behind, “everybody’s welcome”, remember elements of our Church make it clear that divorced and remarried people are not fully welcome, those who have had abortions are less welcome, and those who belong to the LGBTQ+ population are even less welcome. Many parishes, especially in the Northeast and Midwest US, find it very hard to welcome the immigrant and people of color. And for what it’s worth, my daughter is married to a Christian who practices in another denomination. There’s no welcome for the two of them, and no help for her to raise our grandchildren in the faith and serve her music ministry. So who is really welcome?
Once someone approaches the parish, for any kind of service, how are they treated? Is there an attempt to listen to their story and hear their needs? Any attempt to connect them to others in the parish who will walk with them? Are there parishioners even willing to undertake this work? Are simple needs met with kindness, expedience, and prayer?
How is the community being formed to understand its commitment to work for the good of others, even to their own detriment? For example, does the community gather for funerals, even if they didn’t know the person? Step forward to be sponsors for initiation? Walk along with the grieving for as long as it takes? Make sure to meet people they do not know, every single time any part of the community gathers? Staff necessary ministries with skillful joy?
How easy or hard is it to join something in the parish? Are there agreed upon welcome periods? Clear processes for how to join and what it will entail? Constant invitations to join? Work whose intention is very clear? Mentors? Exit strategies?
There’s Good News!
We have good news to share! Belonging to a parish and engaging in its various actions serves as an effective antidote to the epidemic of loneliness we are currently experiencing. #participation Jesus told us we are made in God’s image and so are made for community. Jesus has also entrusted us with creating communities that expressly live out part of his command to love one another as he loved us: with inclusivity, companionship, teaching, mission, healing, nourishment and worship. This is how we journey together…how we create beloved communities that sustain us throughout life. But it does not happen without deliberate intention. So be intentional! Ask those questions above. Be honest with yourselves.
We have good news to share! Belonging to a parish and engaging in its various actions serves as an effective antidote to the epidemic of loneliness we are currently experiencing.
Share this with your parishioners: bulletin, website, email, social media!
Remember, what got you here will not get you there…so be open to change! To be synodal means: journeying together, asking hard questions, creating beloved communities, being open to change, trusting the Holy Spirit is guiding the way! And being prepared to go!
Want to talk about this some more? Contact us at email@example.com and we’ll get together!
“Study: Religious service participants faced less isolation- related anxiety during Covid19.” February 10, 2022. https://www.sarasotamanatee.usf.edu/news/2022/religious-service-participants-faced-less-isolation-related-anxiety-during-covid-19.aspx Accessed 5/23/22
Eleni Smitham and Amanda Glassman. “The Next Pandemic Could Come Soon and Be Deadlier.” Center for Global Development. August 25, 2021. https://www.cgdev.org/blog/the-next-pandemic-could-come-soon-and-be-deadlier Accessed 6-2-22.