Archbishop Nicholas Chia, together with the Senate of Priests, has decided to cease the usage of “Small Christian Community” or SCC in favour of “Neighbourhood Christian Community” or NCC. Parishes and diocesan agencies are requested to adopt the change of terminology in their communications and publications by the second-half of 2011.
An Emphasis on Community
In Catholic teaching, community is indispensable for Christian discipleship. This emphasis on community is evident in the teaching of our Lord that the love of God and the love of neighbour are closely connected (Matthew 22:36-40). Faith is to be lived through community life. The Second Vatican Council echoes this emphasis in the Constitution on the Church:
“At all times and in every race, God has given welcome to whosoever fears him and does what is right. God, however, does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather, it has pleased God to bring all together as one people.” (n. 9)
Community comes from God’s own inner-life. The intimacy between God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit is reflected in human nature in our desire to love God and one another. We are created in the image and likeness of God who is Holy Trinity.
Historical Usage of “SCCs”
The 1980s and 1990s saw the growth of many small neighbourhood groups in the Church. Because our parishes had grown so large, these small communities were seen as a way to continue fostering a personal experience of the Church for Catholics. These groups also made it possible for ordinary Catholics to witness Christian living in areas where parish organisations could not reach. Many of these groups became the Small Christian Communities (SCCs) that the Pastoral Institute promoted and supported.
However, many priests and lay Catholics had their own understanding of what the SCC was. Different perspectives on the SCC began to emerge, and eventually there was confusion on how the term Small Christian Community was to be used – nearly any group seemed to fit into the category of the SCC.
Alongside neighbourhood communities, other lay associations were flourishing in the parishes, such as the Legion of Mary, the Charismatic renewal, bible sharing groups, prayer groups, choirs, and so on. These also began to consider themselves communities and asked; “Can we call our groups SCCs?”
In addition, trans-parish or diocesan groups, family associations, and covenant communities began to establish themselves as well; such as Focolare, the Neo-catechumenal way, Catholic Family Social Movement (CFSM), Couples for Christ, Earthen Vessels, and many others. They viewed themselves as a kind of Christian Community too.
The Decision to Use the Term “NCC”
On 12 and 19 May 2010, the Singapore Pastoral Institute conducted two study days with all the priests to review the effort made so far in the promotion of Christian communities. After the Study Days, ongoing discussion and reflection were conducted among the priests at the district levels and in the Senate of Priests. Archbishop Chia eventually decided in the December Senate meeting to uphold the promotion of communities that are neighbourhood-based as the way forward, and to call them Neighbourhood Christian Communities (NCCs).
In brief, an NCC is:
1. A group of Christ’s disciples located within a particular neighbourhood
2. Small enough for close relationship in Christian community life
3. Inclusive enough to recognise and admit different kinds of people who bear different gifts from God
4. Affiliated to the parish by an active connection to the ordained pastor
5. Where Catholics live out their eucharistic faith; sharing life and contemplating the Word of God together
When we refer to Neighbourhood Christian Communities (NCCs) in the Singapore context we are primarily speaking about groups of Catholics who gather in the residential areas to do what the Church does. NCCs are where ordinary baptised Catholics respond to Christ’s command to love God and neighbour. Catholic families living in a certain area come together in an NCC as a social network of faith; they are a community of disciples that tries to bring about the Kingdom of God in that particular place. Members of an NCC understand their primary vocation as lay Christians to respond to God in daily life, becoming leaven that transforms the world.
There is a need for all Catholics to understand why the Church needs NCCs. We are required to grasp the values, the approaches, the structures, the methods, and the challenges of the Church in the world today. The Singapore Pastoral Institute is tasked with the responsibility to assist us in this ongoing reflection.
Jesus called the Church to make disciples of all nations. This work rests primarily on the shoulders of Catholic laypeople. Although priests and religious bear some of this burden, it is the laity with their numbers and experience of operating in the world who can be most effective in bringing Christ’s Good News to all. NCCs are platforms where Catholic laypeople can carry out this witnessing of Christ, not merely as lone Christians, but as a community of friends rooted in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. n
For a further explanation of NCCs, please refer to the April issue of the Singapore Pastoral Institute E-newsletter. http://catholicspi.org/eNews/enews%202011-04.pdf