Saturday, October 17, 2009

Catholicism and Fellowship

I'm not sure if you have a similar background to mine. I spent years attending non-denominational churches and during that time, attended many, many home groups and Bible studies. There were times when I switched churches and one time I actually moved away to another state, causing me to leave one beloved group of people and launching out toward another. It is this last transfer of church membership I'd like to talk about.

This church was an integral part of my life for years. I served on the board of directors and initiated some of the ministries that continued after I left. I say this only to demonstrate that I was close to church leadership, considered church leadership, and gave much of my time to developing relationships.

Then, I moved to another state.

I made sure the decision to move to attend a ministry school in another state was covered with much prayer and counsel from my pastor. I wanted to receive a blessing when I left, already having witnessed several founding members leaving on a bad note. My pastor took these leavings very personally and I certainly didn't want to hurt him. However, I felt at that point that I wanted to attend a more formal school for spiritual growth, and was briefly evaluating Bible colleges and seminaries before deciding to pursue something a little different.

I was accepted to a new ministry school in Charlotte, North Carolina; and although my pastor was sad to see me go, I was sent off with a very nice "going away" party. I cherished that event and knew I'd miss everyone. Still, I expected to keep in touch with everyone.

Well, kinda sorta. My pastor's wife kept in touch with me for the first few months and then stopped writing or calling. The same happened with the music pastor and his wife. It wasn't as though we had a falling out. I just no longer was traveling within their sphere of influence. But it made me sad as I realized this happened over and over again, throughout many of my church experiences with relationship.

We were created for fellowship. God instilled in us a need for belonging and understanding. Within a church community, these needs are abundantly filled. But when someone travels from church to church, sometimes those needs go unfulfilled. Throughout my years in non-denominational churches, I made lots of friends. I was highly involved in "church life," attending Bible study groups, ministry groups, and participating in a variety of church events. But after I moved to another church (or moved to another state), I noticed that my relationships dissolved. It seemed as though "fellowship" could only exist within the framework of a shared church community. I kept thinking that it should extend to the Body of Christ at large.

Then I returned to the Catholic Church and something happened. I realized that as a Catholic, I could attend Mass just about anywhere in the world, and I would feel connected and have a sense of belonging. Perhaps my expectations for fellowship were aimed in the wrong direction. It occurred to me that as a Catholic, if I met another devout Catholic, we would instantly have a shared connection. Voila. Fellowship. This type of fellowship is borne not from a bunch of social events, but by sharing the Body and Blood of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. It put "fellowship" in a whole new light for me.

I have always felt my "alone-ness" very keenly, and as such, treasure the times of fellowship and relationship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. But interestingly enough, I do not feel as alone when I'm with my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. There is something deep that knits us together and I know it is the liturgy and the Sacraments.

This is topic I've pondered quite frequently. What are your thoughts about Catholicism and fellowship?


X said...

I guess that is one reason why I blog!

Andrew K said...

I feel you!!

I studied abroad in Germany, and just attending Catholic Mass made me feel an instant connection with literal strangers!