The Receiving End of Mission

Once in a while you get to see people assimilate a value from a different culture. It’s an enriching experience for everyone concerned. Recently I observed this phenomenon at close range and came away heartened at the openness and generosity of the receiving group, as well as at the cultural gift bestowed on them.

A Catholic parish in an American city, which shall remain nameless, has found itself divided over the leadership style of a relatively new pastor. The story is not new, and from the outside it’s futile to ascribe blame for the situation. In fact, all sides in their better moments tend to agree that no bad will is involved in the impasse—just differences over the exercise of authority.

For the purpose of these regular reflections on community, what is important is the way in which a segment of the parish finds itself dealing with the situation. Under good lay leadership, several dozen women and men have set out to satisfy their need for spiritual nourishment. While consciously remaining part of the parish, these good folks have gone out and sought lay, religious, and clerical ministers who can supply for them what they find lacking in their own pastors. To one of these "outside ministers," their experience resembles closely that of the base ecclesial community phenomenon of Latin America.

In the late 1960s, church leadership in Latin America began to appreciate the potential for parish and diocesan life that lay in the local, grassroots groupings, or base communities, of people there. Pastoral workers—lay, religious, and clerical—were instructed to journey with these groups and, when appropriate, point out the gospel values being lived among them.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1998
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