Friday Forum: The Nature of Community
A twitter friend recently posed the question: Is it incumbent on Catholics and Orthodox to study Protestant theology? Why or why not? Starting from the impetus of this question, I thought I would share a story related to my continental shift. While I am still a student, I’ve moved abroad and hope to be calling England home for a while.
Presently, I am working on sorting out all sorts of random needs. I have found one way to get to campus, one potential place to get groceries, one lead for potential employment, and one bank willing to give me an account. In the course of my wanderings, I found the campus chaplaincy. I’m currently looking for one Eucharistic community. I thought they might be able to help me locate a specific community here (a parish I already know about but do not know its location, service times, and accessibility).
The chaplain I spoke to invited me to attend Sunday Eucharist at the chapel with, in the words of the pamphlet, “people who are Anglicans, Catholics, Charismatics, Orthodox, Methodists, Protestant, Presbyterians, Quakers — all Christian — around the altar together!” The service is advertised as an “Ecumenical Eucharist.”
Looking around the Meetinghouse a bit more, I also saw advertised a prayer meeting on Fridays dedicated to the Rosary. Specifically it offers an invitation to “discover why and how, with words from contemporary prophecy.”
I have never been one to take things at face value. Equally, I will continue to press for particular things that I need, clarifying the nature of my needs as respectfully as I possibly can. Needless to say, I had a very interesting conversation with the chaplain.
I tried my best to politely explain that I would not be attending the Sunday Eucharist service with the intention to partake. Depending on my circumstances and location, I may visit sometime as I might meet some good people on campus. The chaplain really appreciated and understood the need to do spiritual life in community. I respect him for that.
Yet, there was a part of me that wondered why Quakers would participate in the Eucharist. I know the Quakers. I have worked with them. I have lived in a Quaker community. All of life is sacramental so no particular part of that life is exalted as a pinnacle sacramental experience.
Additionally, when I learned that the parish community I was looking for suffered a rather significant fire, my heart sank a little bit. I am working on figuring my way around town. It’s proving to be a bit bigger than I expected. While I know of another parish community 8 miles out, public transportation does not provide the most direct route out. Things might be tough to find a true community with whom I can do life while I am here.
Incidentally, my current situation requires me to know some things about various theologies. Additionally, it requires that I know the framework of true community. As I am here in order to think vocationally about the poor, I think that every Christian needs to ground their experience of the Eucharist, prayer, and service in community. Unfortunately, one particular community rarely provides all three.
As a newcomer, I need to navigate to plant myself. I need to find communal options that serve as a stable ground. Communities vary in their degree of being suited to the task. But when looking for Christian communities, I must first attend to locating the Eucharist.
However, I am most thankful for the Anglo-Catholic presence in England, particularly as it relates to Evensong. Evensong is a beautiful prayer service that authentically encourages my spirit. I would be absolutely delighted to find a parish community to observe Evensong with on a regular basis. Who knows? Such an experience might be the highlight of my Tuesday nights [to pick a day and time at random]. Theologically, the Anglicans and the Orthodox have high commonality with regard to this particular prayer service. I might even try to check out the Rosary on campus because 1) I’m likely to be on campus anyway, and 2) I’d really like to learn more about this particular Christian devotion.
Do not get me wrong. I would love to find an Orthodox parish community with a vibrant life of prayer and service in the greater community. If such a place existed, it would be my absolute first choice. [And yes, I know that when they exist, we tend to call them “monasteries.”] I hope desperately that the parish a bit further out is significantly more accessible then I’m currently forecasting. I also pray that I can discuss finding the full spectrum of community with a local Orthodox priest.
Sometimes it just is hard to have to refer to the sad divisions between various Christian communities. But equally, without knowing the theological differences, it can be difficult to navigate the emotional waters of feeling like bishops and priests enforce needless division.
Additionally, I know plenty of communities who miss the mark theologically, but provide an ample witness to seemingly orthodox congregations. It saddens me that I have learned more about what it might look like to be a deacon from my involvement with various social services than from my lived experiences in my local congregations.