In Scripture and the early church
We read in the Bible about the small communities of Christians who gathered in their homes to follow the teachings of Jesus:
‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ instruction and the communal life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Those who believed shared all things in common. They went to the temple area together every day, while in their homes they broke bread. With exultant and sincere hearts they took their meals in common… The community of believers was of one heart and one mind. (Acts 2:42, 44, 46; 4:32)’
Sharing at home then participating in collective worship in the Temple mirrors our faith-sharing and participation in the Eucharist at Mass on Sunday (Romans 16:11-16, Acts 2:46). While the Eucharist feeds us for the week ahead so sharing in the word of God sustains us and prepares us for our time together as a parish.
Christ’s promise that ‘where two or three are gathered in my name I am there among them’ (Matthew 18:20) is an echo of God’s words to Israel (Genesis 28:15). Christ’s presence and that of the Holy Spirit strengthens us, as does the trust and fellowship built by time with each other. The challenges and difficulties that life presents are made easier to bear if the burden is shared (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
After Vatican II
Small groups (communities) have always been part of the tradition of the Church. We have always started small and branched out. After the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) contemporary small Christian communities (commonly referred to as SCC’s) have evolved in all parts of the globe quite spontaneously, frequently agitating for social change and helping to serve situations where there was a lack of priests.
These base communities or small communities share the Bible and discuss its meaning for their community, undertaking common projects in response to local needs. In 1998, Pope John Paul II recommended small Christian communities as a way to re-establish human relationships in church communities:
‘It seems timely, therefore, to form ecclesial communities and groups of a size that allow for true human relationships (in) the parish to which such groups belong and with the entire diocesan and universal church. In such a human context, it will be easier to gather to hear the Word of God, to reflect on the range of human problems in the light of this Word, and gradually to make responsible decisions inspired by the all-embracing love of Christ (Ecclesia in America, 141).’
In 2003, the Diocese of Westminster started a period of diocesan renewal entitled At Your Word, Lord. This programme helped form hundreds of groups many of
which still meet. It is in service of these groups that the diocesan Agency for Evangelisation runs events each year and produces the exploring faith series of booklets.