How Will You Belong? The Stranger at Our Doors

Welcome-StrangersI have often mused about the connections of being a welcoming community and hospitality. As part of that musing, I wondered about the distinction between entertaining and hospitality, surmising that it perhaps depends on your role model and the source of your ideas about hospitality. If the model is from Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, and Southern Living Magazine – then perhaps “entertaining” is a better description. As a church of believing Christians, it would be best to look to Jesus for models of hospitality. Continue reading

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What ever you do…

Whatever_you_doEarlier in the calendar year, here in this column, we talked about belonging as the gateway to a life of faith as an individual, as a family, and as a believing community. While we are prone to think the people of faith are the ones who belong, in fact, it is people who find an abiding sense of belonging to a worshipping community that become people of faith. In fact, that sense of belonging imbues and precedes almost every aspect of community life: faith, worship, stewardship, volunteering, and so much more. In the weeks since our celebration of the Mass of Belonging, consider the way in which people continue to talk about their experience of the Mass. Part of that conversation has been the experience of seeing so many people under one roof, so many voices raised in praise to God, and knowing this is family. Belonging. Continue reading

Moving fences

Franciscans34“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

It is a great passage, a great image, but… I suspect when we hear that word “yoked” a particular image comes to mind. We imagine two or more beasts of burden, a huge twin harness joining them, while they pull the heavily weighted wagon, till the fields, and perform all manner of really hard work. Yet there is some comfort in the idea that the work is shared, the harness adjusted to fit, and together with a kind of family – all geared towards a common mission and purpose. Continue reading

How Will You Belong? The Stranger at Our Doors

Welcome-StrangersLast week in this column I mused about the connections of being a welcoming community and hospitality. As part of that musing, I wondered about the distinction between entertaining and hospitality, surmising that it perhaps depends on your role model and the source of your ideas about hospitality. If the model is from Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, and Southern Living Magazine – then perhaps “entertaining” is a better description. As a church of believing Christians, it would be best to look to Jesus for models of hospitality. Continue reading

Belonging Renewed

Belonging_crI want to renew and continue the conversation we began about belonging in this column space from the beginning of this year. There has been lots of feedback about it — it seems to have struck a deep cord with people. In a previous column I wrote, “The creation of that good soil church begins when each one here begins a conversation with, ‘Hello, my name is….’ and continues each week as the conversation grows, bearing fruit, when someone suggests, ‘You know what we should do?’ Then in the doing, faith grows, purpose becomes clearer, prayer comes more naturally, forgiveness more easily.” Since then, it seems to me, that people are a bit more engaging with people around them, there are some new “pew communities” forming, and people are beginning to ask about the welfare of folks when they are missing from Mass. All signs of the beginning of a deeper belonging. Continue reading

Belonging: pew communities

Belonging_crSix weeks ago I started a series in this column space that began to explore what it means to say “I belong to Sacred Heart.” I hope you have been following the flow of musings and thoughts – if not – let me touch upon a few points. There are almost 3,000 households that are registered, but then “registered” is not the kind of belonging we are thinking about. There is a group of 500 (or so) households that volunteer, serve, minister, open parish emails, give in an identifiable way, and contribute to the annual appeal. This smaller group certainly demonstrates more of the characteristics that would seem to point to a greater sense of belonging. But along the way, we made the point that all these great external characteristics are the result of belonging, not the precursor to belonging. Continue reading

Belonging: a good soil church

Belonging_crToday’s column is the fifth of a six-part series about belonging and engagement as individuals and as a parish. The previous columns have revolved around the primacy and importance of the individual’s sense of and belonging to a community of faith. It was not a discussion about membership, but rather a discussion centered on core, intrinsic dispositions and behaviors of the Christian person. It is “belonging” that is the catalyst that leads to spiritual commitment of the individual. People became spiritually committed because they were part of a spiritually healthy, engaged parish. Continue reading

Building belonging

Belonging_crHow do we build a sense of belonging? Today’s column is the fourth of a six-part series about belonging and engagement as individuals and as a parish. Here is where we are in the discussion: although many people would suggest a range of characteristics as being the most critical to have an engaged parish that is “good soil” in the lives of the faithful who call this their spiritual home – many studies have shown that “belonging” is the critical characteristic. There were nine statements that best described people who are spiritually committed and have a sense of belonging to their parish:

  • My faith is involved in every aspect of my life.
  • Because of my faith, I have meaning and purpose in my life.
  • My faith gives me an inner peace.
  • l am a person who is spiritually committed.
  • I spend time in worship or prayer every day.
  • Because of my faith, I have forgiven people who have hurt me deeply.
  • My faith has called me to develop my given strengths.
  • I will take unpopular stands to defend my faith.
  • I speak words of kindness to those in need of encouragement.

Studies show that 18% of people with a faith/church affiliation are spiritually committed. But in parishes in which there is a strong sense of belonging, almost 39% of individuals are spiritually committed! But what about people not in parishes? Can’t they be spiritually committed? Is belonging really critical? That’s a fair question.

We live in an age when we are more likely to hear: “I’m spiritual, but not religious…” meaning they do not belong or affiliate with any organized church. Commentators tell us that this is the “fastest growing segment” in “post-Christian America.” The conclusion is that churches just weren’t “spiritual enough” and should not be surprised at their declining attendance. Yet, there is a huge industry of books, videos, seminary, programs, and the like all focused on deepening individuals’ spiritual lives. It is hard to imagine a time when there has been more emphasis on individual spiritual growth and commitment than is true today. Yet we increasingly hear, “I’m spiritual, but not religious…” Yet….the same studies note that only 5% of people with no faith/church affiliation are spiritually committed.

But if the nine characteristics above are indeed the measure, then only 5% of people without a sense of belonging to a family of faith can truly say “I’m spiritual, but…” and point to the intrinsic effect it has in their lives. Again, it points to the importance of belonging to a community of faith.

Belonging is when people speak of their communities as “family.” Those churches/communities are places where an individual knows he or she is valued – and not just by parish leadership. Places where a person’s gifts are recognized and nurtured to enable the person to make a meaningful contribution and be part of something greater than themselves. Places where their sense of belonging creates the environment that draws people to want to belong. Places where spiritually committed persons come together to make an engaged parish. How do we build a sense of belonging as a family?

I don’t have an answer for that as of yet, but I do know that there are four outcomes that are the most relevant indicators of a parish’s spiritual commitment/engagement: its parishioners express a fuller satisfaction in life, invite others to join them in worship, give generously of their time serving inside and outside the parish, and make giving to their community of faith a priority. One looks at those outcomes, and it can be said, “That is a good soil church. People who plant themselves there take root and blossom.”

How do we build a sense of belonging as a parish? We need to prepare the soil.

Previous post in the series:

1: Musings about belonging

2: What are you looking for?

3: Do you belong? Are you spiritually committed?

Fishers of men

Jesus-boat-storm2Two weeks ago we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord, when our gospel has that great image of Jesus plunging into the waters of the Jordan, into the water of Baptism, plunging into the midst of our lives, all-in, showing us he belongs to us in his full humanity – and to show us a life with a higher purpose – fulfilling the deepest desire of God: that all might be saved. Continue reading

Do You Belong? Are You Spiritually Committed?

Belonging_crThis is the third of a six-part series on my musings about belonging and engagement as individuals and as a parish. Last week I wrote about the way we consider our parish to be thriving – after all, by any measure (Mass attendance, sacraments, ministry, offertory, etc.) we are indeed thriving. We are people who “believe in, sign up, show up, and chip in,” – and so our instinct is to say that believing, volunteering, attendance, and contributing are all things that lead to a sense of belonging and engagement in the faith community. As was noted last week, it turns out these are well-studied things and, in fact, it is belonging that leads to increased believing, volunteering, spiritual growth, and financial support. It raises the question: what are the indicators that individuals and the parish community have a sense of belonging? Continue reading