Community

Worship at the Heart: The Pax Community celebrates 25 years

Worship at the Heart: The PAX Community Celebrates 25 Years

When a community remains vigorous after 25 years, celebrations are in order. We know of such a community now planning its silver jubilee and reflecting on the lessons learned in the past quarter-century.

PAX (Pilgrims After Christ) began in the heart of a Catholic parish in Northern Virginia. For more than a decade, their worship time coincided with the 9:30 Sunday morning Eucharist of the larger Catholic community. Liturgical celebration continues to occupy the central place in PAX’s life in the years since they became independent from the parish.

The community has maintained an essentially lay quality. In selecting their eucharistic celebrants from among ordained clergy, the community approves (or disapproves) their aptitude to lead it in worship. This process has taught PAX that all ministers do not fit with the community’s style or theology. Even with the ordained clergy who do fit, frequent turnover provides a healthy mixture of personalities and gifts for the assembly.

The PAX community has never taken a corporate stand on any political question, despite prodding from some within their ranks and from some clergy who celebrate with them. The consensus within PAX has always dictated that it be as inclusive as possible—theologically and politically. Still, thanks to frequent liturgical themes on a pain-filled world, PAX members show ever increasing concern for the multifold sufferings of people as close to home as Washington, D.C., and as far away as Bosnia. Several "mission groups" have emerged within the PAX community on issues such as homelessness or Central America.

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Sojourners Magazine June 1994
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Community As Home

Without doubt most Sojourners readers have an answer to the question: With whom do I form community? Indeed we could even say that all people of faith—and probably most human beings—can name their community. It's an ominous gap not to be able to do so. Our communities may not conform to any blueprint, but we know we have them.

That's why we keep insisting in these pages that community comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes. I once knew two elderly shut-ins, longtime friends, both of whom lived alone. Every day they watched a religious program on television and as it ended each would offer a prayer for the other. They knew who formed their unique community.

The main requirement for community seems to be that the individual have a sense of forming part of a group, and that the group acknowledge that fact and act on it. A missionary from Africa once told me how they celebrated Communion in a young Christian community there. At Communion time members of the gathering would hurry from the altar with portions of the bread so that the sick would receive it at the same time as those present at the service. No doubt about membership in that community.

Why is community a near-universal experience—especially for people of faith? One person put it this way: "Community is God's strategy for reaching the world." That's a neat way of saying that as community—rather than as individuals—we model what God has in mind for humanity. Think of what community demands of us: commitment, selflessness, concern for the common good, humility, large doses of patience, forgiveness. These are New Creation values, the ones Jesus outlined in the Sermon on the Mount as his guidelines for God's reign among humans.

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Sojourners Magazine May 1994
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Graceful Transitions

Changes in membership present a community with some of its toughest challenges. Leave-takings and arrivals have negative and positive dimensions that the collective must address. This is true whether the group lives together or, in an arrangement that is much more common, lives apart and meets regularly.

The departure of a community member, for however good and understandable reasons, represents a kind of dying. It has a finality about it that requires what we might call a mourning period—both on the part of the person leaving as well as for those who remain. Too often the need for such mourning is overlooked.

The community should, therefore, ritualize the departure of a member. Time should be set aside for prayerful reflection on that person’s life in community and the acknowledgment of her or his personal and communal gifts to the collective. It is also very important that the community and the person leaving make an agreement to remain in contact. This sort of ritual celebrates the departing member and encourages him or her to go forth with the ideals and vision gained in the years spent with the group. It is bittersweet and goes far to fulfill the requirements of mourning.

Such ritual also makes the departure a positive, forward-looking experience—a missioning. God calls us throughout our lives to "launch out into the deep," something that often means leaving the familiar for new and uncharted realities. If those called to leave know that their gifts have been appreciated and that they occupy a "grateful space" in the community’s memory, they have a better chance to share the benefits received from the experience wherever God leads them.

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Sojourners Magazine April 1994
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Our Journey Together

"Sharing the Sojourn," as a distinctive section of Sojourners magazine, begins its second year with this issue. In several recent reader surveys, we have received much positive feedback on this community-building dimension of Sojourners. We thank you and pledge ourselves to continue to help in that ever-challenging task of discipleship in and through community. Now as 1-year-olds we believe it's time to report some of what we have learned since beginning "Sharing the Sojourn."

One overriding lesson emerging from the experience has to do with our objective. We cannot affirm enough that the purpose of this magazine section and the networking we do through it comes down to serving faith communitiesof all types and configurations, ecumenically or within a denomination. There is no intent to set up "sojourners-like" communities unless that is the wish of those involved.

We need to be very clear on this point. In a survey done of Sojourners readers by an independent sociologist, 45 percent of the respondents stated that they either had tried or were trying community. These groups range from Bible study circles, to parish- or congregation-connected gatherings, to discussion clubs, and so on. They are "sojourners-like" only in that they find inspiration - we hope - in Sojourners Community, magazine, and activities.

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Sojourners Magazine February-March 1994
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Square Pegs, Strong Love

INEVITABLY, all communities must deal with the disruptive personality. In most cases the problems that the difficult member presents to the collective remain fairly minor. Indeed it is usually the individual him or herself who feels most uncomfortable.

Live-in communities often have, for example, the unusually careless person who causes little uproars over lost eyeglasses, address books, or car keys in the midst of the group's daily comings and goings. Or for communities that function weekly or bimonthly, there is the rigid type who annoys the rest by insisting on absolute punctuality, unvarying meeting format, and all sorts of strictures regarding discussion processes.

We once had a community member who wanted a certain measuring cup brought back to the kitchen, insisting that the new glass one did not suit her. The trouble was that the old plastic cup now graced the washing machine and had absorbed detergent soap, rendering itself quite unfit for further kitchen duty.

Often these "square pegs" withdraw themselves from the more intense aspects of community life such as living with the group or assuming responsibility or leadership for the collective. If they participate at all in community it is usually more on the fringes. Their minor disruptiveness serves to remind them and the group that not everyone has a vocation to community.

OF GREATER concern - and far more serious consequences - are the truly obstructive types who join communities. Their personal needs go beyond what help the community can offer. They dominate every conversation and take over every meeting. Their never-ending, self-centered personal agenda becomes that of the collective; they form cliques, continually criticize the "others," and keep everyone in a state of increasing agitation.

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Sojourners Magazine January 1994
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