SINGAPORE – Archbishop Nicholas Chia has asked Small Christian Communities (SCCs) to be aware of realities confronting society and act in the light of Gospel values "to promote goodness and eradicate evil".
"Small Christian Communities deepen the faith... and build Christian communities to be beacons to spread the light of the Gospel," the Singapore archbishop said in his opening address for the second Archdiocesan Small Christian Communities Day, held on Oct 11. The first took place in October last year.
The archbishop said the neighbourhood church communities need to see and be aware of what is happening locally and in the world, "judge these realities" against Gospel values and reach out to the less fortunate – the poor, sick and elderly, the lonely and all those in need.
The half-day event, which the Singapore Pastoral Institute organized, drew 180 Catholics representing 13 of the archdiocese’s 27 parishes. The oldest SCCs in these parishes have been in existence for 25 years, while new ones are still springing up. The archdiocesan institute has in the past two years promoted SCCs within parishes as "a new way of being church", as opposed to more traditional activities centred on the parish as a whole.
Father Patrick Goh delivered the keynote address at the Catholic Junior College based on the 1988 apostolic exhortation "Christifideles Laici" (Christ’s faithful laypeople), subtitled "On the vocation and the mission of the lay faithful in the church and in the world."
The Holy Family parish priest said SCCs help to experience the church as "communion and mission", but he urged them to transform from exclusive groups that gather for prayers, fellowship and meals to small communities aware of their social mission. He also offered suggestions to enable them to carry out their mission in their respective locales, such as through reaching out to people displaced by urban redevelopment.
He encouraged the communities to get to know the people living in their area in order to recognize, assist and support those in need – latchkey children, youths at risk, elderly and physically or mentally disabled people, and all
who are marginalized.
The SCC day included group sharing on how the small communities can better identify persons with special needs and contribute to their neighbourhoods.
Homemaker Joanne Goh, 47, started the Elliot Small Christian Community in Holy Family parish to "bring into the neighbourhood a practical way of living out faith". She has found the SCC to be a good way to get to know people and have a more vibrant neighbourhood.
Another homemaker recalled that anger prompted her first participation in the local SCC. She went to share her woes, telling group members that one neighbour’s dog left droppings on her doorstep every day that she had to clean up, and a neighbour above her would throw dirty water down on her freshly laundered clothes.
The members of the community listened to her, offered some advice and invited her to pray with them for her neighbours. In a matter of weeks, she noticed a change in her neighbours’ behaviour and even started to exchange smiles and pleasantries with them.
Another woman shared how being in a small Christian community in her neighbourhood had helped her cope emotionally with being the sole breadwinner of her family, taking care of two elderly parents as well as her children. She also thanked the community for helping out with her housework.
Wendy Louis, director of the Singapore Pastoral Institute, pointed out that "not any gathering of people that feels close or has a common interest is an SCC". She defined the four marks of Christ-centredness, communion, mission and inclusiveness as necessary.
"We can measure our [Christian community] against this scale and see where we are," she said, observing that some groups call themselves SCCs but fall short. "Our aim is to encourage the neighbourhood groups to achieve the four marks of a true SCC."
Difference between a Small Christian Community and a parish-based ministryPlace
SCC: Willingness to be disciples, no specific skill or interest Ministry: Specific skill or interest
SCC: To represent the church at the grassroots level, to reach out to poor and needy marginalized, and lapsed Catholics
Ministry: To render specific service to the community
SCC: Share the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Jesus in all that is said and done in the neighbourhood
Ministry: One or two specific functions
SCC: Not specified
Ministry: Weekly to monthly
SCC: Centred on Bible, Community, Mission
Ministry: Centred on task
SCC: Held based on interests and needs
Ministry: Held once or twice a year
Ministry: Ad hoc
Value and place
SCC: Being the presence of the church at the grassroots level; concrete expression of church in communion and mission
Ministry: Essential for worship or services of parish; serves parish needs
SCC: Basic cell of church
Ministry: Backbone of internal church programmes
SCC: Limited only by capacity and commitment
Ministry: Limited to those with similar interests
by Daniel Tay