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I recently read an article on NPR about the Catholic community in Hyattsville, MD. I thought the article itself was fairly evenhanded, but I was curious about what NPR’s readers would have to say in the comments.
There were some pretty sharp criticisms in the Facebook comments. Readers claimed it wasn’t Christian to cut yourself off from society. I think there are two mistakes there. The first is that the people in Hyattsville aren’t cutting themselves off from society. No one is being denied entry. They aren’t in a secluded part of the world. They haven’t decided to go off the grid. Secondly, the criticism ignores the need for community or, perhaps, misunderstands what exactly it is.
Humans are social creatures. Our mental health is threatened when we are isolated. And for community to work, there have to be commonalities. There have to be things binding the members together. If you are a practicing Catholic or a church-going Christian living in an urban setting, it’s likely that you are a bit of an odd man out. You are attempting to be in the world and not of it. Your values and opinions are at odds with pop culture and pop philosophy. Even if you have other things in common with people you meet, even if you like them very much, chances are, they just aren’t going to be on the same page as you in terms of your worldview and values because Christianity shapes your perspective and understanding of the world. There is an unavoidable divide that is very isolating.
Another criticism noted in the article is that “…the risk in people choosing deliberately to live in a like-minded community is that it may not equip them well to deal with the challenges and opportunities of a pluralistic society…” It’s not safe to assume that if you surround yourself with people who have the same beliefs and similar worldviews that you will be unaware of other perspectives. Hyattsville is not entirely populated by practicing Catholics and mainstream culture is almost impossible to avoid. If you turn on the television, you are going to be exposed to mainstream culture and ideologies.
Choosing to live near “like-minded” people is a way to gain real community. It’s important to know that you are not alone and to have encouragement from people who share your beliefs and worldview.
While some parishes are doing a great job of providing their parishioners with a community, in general Catholic parishes are falling short in this department. The work of creating groups that help facilitate community often falls to the parishioners. If your parish doesn’t have groups and you are able, I strongly encourage you to start a group. It could be anything that interests, or you could try to work with an existing organization (although you’ll need to talk to your pastor). I would like to note that I don’t think you should feel that the group needs to be oriented around theology or prayer. I think book clubs, movie nights, young adults wine and cheese nights, older adults wine and cheese nights (really I’m just pro wine and cheese), or a chess club are all perfectly lovely and perfectly acceptable ideas. The point, it seems to me, is community and do not forget that “…where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
If you are interested in working with an existing organization, the two I know anything about are Theology on Tap and Catholic Moms Group. I have no personal experience with Theology on Tap, but my sister used to attend and had a positive experience. It targets Catholic adults in their 20s and 30s. Catholic Moms Group currently only operates in Canada and the majority of the groups are in the Greater Toronto Area. If that is where you are located, it is a wonderful resource. I used their “find a group” function to find the closest group to me. I had a really lovely time and intend to become a regular.
I’ve spent some time trying to find a similar registry for groups in the US, but I have yet to find one. If you know of one, please let me know in the comments. Don’t forget to subscribe!