Making a Crowd into a Community

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly






The evangelist Luke records that when Jesus fed the 5,000, He instructed the disciples to rearrange the crowd into small groups of about 50.  Then He blessed the loaves and fishes and distributed them to the small clusters of followers.   Even for the Lord it was apparently unwieldy to minister to the whole crowd.


            Beginning this fall, our parish, like many others, is following the example of the Lord in ministering to people in smaller clusters.   We are participating in RENEW 2000, a nationwide program, to spiritually prepare American Catholics for the new millenium.


The heart of RENEW is small groups.  Not the clusters of 50 people that Luke mentioned, but living room sized groups of six to ten.  But the idea is the same. 


 It is simply impossible to minister to the whole "crowd" of the parish in any meaningful way.  But when we are broken up into small groups we can not only can we get to know each other, but we can "minister" to each other.


Like the theme song from "Cheers" said, we all want to go where "everybody knows your name."  In many American Catholic parishes that just can't happen because we are too big.  For example, my parish, with 620 families and 2,000 souls, is only considered "medium sized." But there is no way I could meaningfully know everyone.  Compared with many Protestant churches, our parishes are huge.  For example, we are engaged in RENEW together with a neighboring Episcopal church which has about one-third as many people.


If we operate on the "filling station" model of ministry, just distributing the sacraments to crowds of people, perhaps we can function for a while.  But we cannot really come to know one another.   We remain alone in a crowd.  Our joys and sorrows, hurts and triumphs, needs and gifts also remain unknown.   Sometimes nobody even knows our name.


 It is impossible for any one person, including the priest, to know everyone.  Even the Lord could not personally come to know each of the 5,000 people who followed Him to the hillside in Galilee.  But it is possible for small groups to come to know each other.


This is where the small groups of RENEW come in.  For six weeks each fall and spring we divide up into small discussion groups of 6-10 people.  The groups meet in someone's home once a week at a time convenient to the participants.  We will do this for five seasons, each time rotating groups a little. Gradually we will come to know each other better.


People seem to like this idea.  In our parish about 280 people signed up for RENEW discussion groups.  We have over 30 groups of all types: young adults and seniors, Spanish and English speaking, mornings and evenings.


The great thing about these groups is that they turn a "crowd" into a "community."  We will come to know each other and minister to each other.  By praying together, we are organized around the real work of parish life, prayer.  By studying the scriptures together, we are doing what the multitude in the gospel did, listening to Jesus.


Great things can come from small groups.  After all, the Lord started with twelve.