“Through Him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Ephesians 2: 21-22
For a long time, the Church and its members have existed in silo – each person going about doing their own thing. While there was regular attendance at the weekly Eucharist, the congregation was made up of Ministry members who performed merely a functional role – beyond doing what was needed to be done, there was little outreach beyond the functions of the Ministry, and there were many Ministry members who knew little about what was happening in the lives of the other members of the Ministry; Pew-warmers whose faith comprised of fulfilling an obligation, usually passed down to them along family lines; and a remnant of those truly fired up for the Faith and by the Holy Spirit.
The congregation would gather, nod cursorily at the Sign of Peace, and go.
The extraordinary gifting of COVID-19, has caused some disarray. The Church as we have become familiar with is no longer. Eucharistic Celebrations and Para liturgies have shifted to the online arena, ministering has taken on new nuances with the advent of new technologies.
However, much of this scrambling and dissonance, comes from how we have encountered the Church and have come to understand the Church to be.
Across the centuries, as liturgy solidified, the Church has been focusing on the Church as Institution with a structured order, roles, and practices and the Church as Sacrament – as a sign and instrument to the world. We are currently struggling with the unprecedented implications of COVID-19, for we have been channeling all our energies to maintaining the Church practices as we have inherited and have come to know them. We have been working (too) hard to maintain the regular pool of faithful congregation. Now, that the Sacraments have been taken away from us for a time, and with the presence of the embargo from entering the physical compounds of the Church, we are faltering, because we are at a lost at what to do. Pope Francis himself warns that if we the Church are not ministering to those who most need the Church at this time, then when COVID-19 passes by, we would have lost these sheep for good.
It may be salient at this point in time, to consider the Models of the Church proposed by Cardinal Avery Dulles in 1974 and 1983. Models render often abstract concepts in visual forms. These visual forms then show how something functions. When that something touches upon the supernatural, models make the mysteries more meaningful by comparison to things more naturally known.
Cardinal Dulles initially proposed 5 models of the Church. The Church is:
- A institution (with structured order, roles, and practices)
- A mystical communion (uniting members in a shared faith),
- A sacrament (as sign and instrument in the world),
- A herald (with the mission of announcing the Good News of the Kingdom of God),
- A servant (committed to social justice).
In his later writings, he added a 6th model:
6. The Church is a Community of Disciples
Pope Francis has recently introduced a 7th Model that is relevant to our age of Social Media:
7. The Church is a Social Network
For Pope Francis, the Church as Social Network, highlights the need to transform online networks, built on superficial “connections” into real human communities that mirror the image of the Holy Trinity. The connectedness of our shared faith emphasizes the words of Ephesians 4: 25 “we are members one of another.”
According to Pope Francis, “The Church herself is a network woven together by Eucharistic communion, where unity is based not on ‘likes’, but on the truth, on the ‘Amen’, by which each one clings to the Body of Christ, and welcomes others.” (World Communications Day Address, 2019)
Revisiting the idea as the Church as a Community of Disciples, we recall the persecution of 1980 as a result of the Guatemalan Civil War, which left a large area of Guatemala without priests. Many congregations however, in spite of the danger, continued to meet and gather in the churches left without priests.
During these gatherings, a lay leader would lead a reconciliation para liturgy, and the community would break together the Word of God. Once a month, the community would send a representative to travel for 18 hours on foot, to a place where it was still permitted for Priests to function.
The representatives would then celebrate the Eucharist, in proxy of their communities. In time, the authorities clamped down on the Church and closed all the churches in Guatemala, but the people continued to gather. According to a live witness account, “Native Christians have a strong sense of community. They know full well that Christ is present wherever two or more are gathered together in his name… . So they said, ‘If they forbid us to meet in the chapels, we shall gather under the trees of the wood or in the caves of the mountains.’” (Fernando Bermudez, Death and Resurrection in Guatemala)
The Church as a Community of Disciples is thus modeled upon the very first Christian Communities that we read about in Acts. They too were persecuted. They too were filled with the spirit of Jesus in a way seldom realised in contemporary Christian communities. They too were adjusting to a new style of worship and leadership that had to be developed to replace the style to which they had been accustomed as Jews.
With COVID-19, the physical buildings of the Church have been closed off momentarily, but with this is an exhortation to be the Church in Community. We have been tasked in this extraordinary time to be the Church in our domestic spheres, within the walls of our homes, in Jesus’ name to witness to our faith that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.“
Will we have the faith and the courage to witness from our homes and rooftops?
Activities to Build Community at Home
“God is not Solitude, but Communion.”
– Pope Francis
Random Acts of Kindness
Use your creative minds and available resources to come up with a way to bless others this season of COVID-19. For example to spread Easter Joy, someone filled paper bags with sweets and treats with a card saying “Something extra to show you God loves you.” and hung them in the lifts of her block with a sign to help themselves and explaining, “We planned for an Easter party for our children, but now that it can’t happen, we hope it brings cheer to children and families staying at home. We will clear these bags by 7 pm tonight. Won’t leave a mess.” The response was tremendous. Out of the 40 bags put out in the lifts, only 4 remained at the end of the day, with someone also writing back to thank the family for their kindness.
A Listening Ear
Know someone who is grieving? Use social media as a platform to help these people share their stories and connect with people who have had similar experiences. The Social Media platform would serve to help those grieving to share their story through words, prayers, songs, or art and to feel connected to others who understand loss.
If you are a trained counselor, you could also consider setting up a platform where people could make appointments with you on a pro bono basis during this time.
Meeting Knits (Needs)
During this time, foster homes and residential care settings are working overtime to meet the needs of the residents in care. You could check in with the organisations to see what is needed. Someone began to quilt and knit at home, and sent quilted blankets and knit toys to the foster homes. This provided a great source of comfort to the children who had experienced trauma.
With the congregation confined at home, perhaps you have an extraordinary gift – you lead group exercises, you know how to knit, you are an amazing baker or cook. Why not connect with your neighbourhood communities, by making a video of yourself doing these amazing things, upload them to Youtube and send out the link to your neighbours and chat groups. It’s a great way to start a conversation with the members of your parish.
A Hand-up Not a Hand-out
People have been affected by the recent pandemic. Some have been retrenched, some have been put on mandatory no-pay leave. Some do not have food. There are mothers who do not have enough for the basic needs of their infants and toddlers.
Find out the needs of your Community:
Consider giving these people a hand-up – for example helping someone who needs to commute to work by donating a bicycle or sponsoring someone’s EZ-link card for the month.
By Brian Bartholomew Tan