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.

Over the years PAX members have interiorized the message of a Christian faith that must be apparent and operative in the 9 to 5, Monday through Friday world they inhabit. One can imagine what that means for a group of people whose professional work takes them to the seats of power in and near Washington.

The founders of PAX have had the grace to incorporate new leadership into the life of the community. Over the years the original members have joyfully turned over the responsibility for community life to newer, younger members. Another generation now keeps the original vision alive, while modifying it to suit the needs of today.

For example, originally the structuring of Sunday liturgy was left to the celebrant and one or two others. Now the community could not conceive of such limited planning. Teams of five to eight persons—always including the celebrant—gather weekly to reflect on the theme, general lines of procedure, music, and homily for the next Sunday. These teams revolve voluntarily as the liturgical seasons unfold.

Governance in PAX rests with a steering committee of four persons. They rotate by twos through yearly elections. Most of their tasks are ordinary, such as oversight of money expenditures and accountability for an orderly process in selecting and judging celebrants. However, from time to time larger issues require their attention. For example, the choice of appropriate worship space has to be reviewed occasionally, as does the community’s relationship with the institutional church.

PAX has settled the latter question for the moment. Its desired continuance in the Catholic tradition happens through the use of ministers ordained in that church as eucharistic celebrants.

Now at its 25th anniversary, PAX can look back with satisfaction on a unique, serious, and thus far successful experience. No doubt new challenges await the group, such as how to be faithful members of the church while breaking new ground in and around it; and how to be more Christian than American in a part of the country that can too easily blur those distinctions.

Whatever the future holds, a remarkable group of people rightfully celebrates a history of striving to be truly Pilgrims After Christ in this time and place. Sojourners wishes them all God’s blessings.

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