Shepherd's Voice October 2018

The Seven - Step Gospel sharing – Heart of Small Christian Community

At a recent Colloquium for Bishops on Small Christian Communities held at Pune (September 17-20) I had the good fortune of participating in a SCC meeting of the St. Jude's Neighbourhood unit of St. Xavier's Parish, Camp. It was such a memorable experience of members from different linguistic and socio-economic backgrounds sitting and mingling together in one united fellowship and sharing the Gospel in Hindi, English, Tamil and Konkani, and amazingly all seemed to understand each other like the early Christian community filled with the power of the Holy Spirit! I just couldn't believe my eyes and ears at what I was seeing and hearing. This was certainly a miracle of the Small Christian Community witnessing to the presence of the Risen Lord in their midst — and the children and youth were as "anointed" as the elders. The task they set for themselves at the end of the meeting was to visit the people who do not attend the meetings and enquire from them the reasons for staying away so that the hurdles, if any, could be removed. This was suggested by a young boy in the community and readily accepted by all. There was the solemn enthronement of the Holy Bible and wonderful animation through the seven-step method of Gospel Sharing.
In the recent decades one of the most beautiful happenings in the Church is the formation of the Small Christian Communities in which the People of God actively participate. The true understanding of the mystery of the Church as communion and which became the hallmark of Vatican Council II is practically realized in the Small Christian Community. The Small Christian Community at the grassroots level presents the most basic reality of the Church. The members are bound together in the Lord by the Word of God expressing their unity in inter-personal relationships and a sense of belongingness. The members of the community share the Word of God and integrate it into their daily lives and proclaim it to others. Like the early Christian Community (cf. Act 2:44-47; Acts 4: 32-35) it is in the basic community that the Church becomes tangible and experiential. Therefore the Small Christian Community can even he termed the "microcosm" of the Church. It is not a sect but indeed the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in the neighbourhood.
All the Small Christian Communities in a Parish are in communion with each other and together form the Parish Community; and all the Parishes form the Diocese and all the Dioceses the Universal Church. At every step of the way the unity of the Church is realized in the Eucharist, the Word and Mission.
Our Christian life is essentially marked by an encounter with Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who calls us to follow him. The Word of God is the basis for this encounter and of our spiritual life. Holiness happens only when we are personally committed to Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Bishop Ignatius Mascarenhas of the Diocese of Simla-Chandigarh who is also the Chairman for the National Service Team of the CCBI for the Small Christian Communities beautifully explained the Seven-Step Gospel Sharing Method which is the essence of the Small Christian Community. The Word of God and the SCC are essentially interwoven making possible the renewal of the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God is the greatest treasure of the Church and this treasure is the Risen Lord himself who comes fully alive in and through the proclamation and sharing of the Word of God by the community.
If there is no Gospel Reflection and Gospel Sharing there is always the danger that Christian activities can take a turn that is not in accord with the values and principles of the Gospel and not conducive to realizing the Kingdom of God on this earth as Jesus Christ has taught us.

The Seven Steps of Gospel Sharing

The First Step:We invite the Lord. Once the group settles down in the SCC meeting, the facilitator asks the participants to volunteer to "invite the Lord" which underscores the presence of the Risen Lord in our midst always.

The Second Step:We read the text. The facilitator announces the text, preferably the Gospel passage of the following Sunday. When all the participants have found the passage and are ready, the facilitator invites a participant to proclaim the text. As per the need, three or more volunteers may be invited to proclaim the text prayerfully and meditatively according to the version of the Bible they carry or according to language. Then a moment of silence follows which is of utmost importance.

The Third Step: We dwell on the text. Here the facilitator asks the members to pick the words/phrases/sentences that have touched/impressed them and read them aloud three or even four times. In doing so almost the entire text is listened to again. The participants are encouraged to repeat what has touched them silently to themselves. It is extremely important that a moment of silence is kept after each person has spoken, allowing the message to "soak in". As a result of this step, "simple" words often take on a new meaning.

The Fourth Step: We listen to Jesus' voice. What is most important in our life of discipleship is to listen to His voice and follow in His footsteps. After spending some time on the individual word/phrase/sentence the entire passage is read again slowly. Then the facilitator announces a time of silence, giving the exact length of time, for instance three minutes. The facilitator advises the people to spend this time in silence before God with similar sentences: "We are open to God"; "We allow ourselves to be loved by Him"; "We let God look at us".A helpful practice during this silence is to repeat or chant a specific word. Here we are with God; we are simply open to God. We wait for him, "In fact he is not far from any of us" (Acts 17:27).

We need to awaken the capability of listening to Jesus all the time and vibrate with the Good News. In order to listen we need to be quiet so that God can speak to us in silence.

The Fifth Step: We share what we have heard in our hearts.After this time of quietness and silence, the facilitator announces the next step i.e. to share with each other what we have heard in our hearts. We share with one another, without any shyness and hesitation, our faith experience so as to nurture one another in faith and help one another to grow in it.

This faith sharing of God-experience is a testimony of what God does and has done in our lives and, in the process, other faith-lives are enriched and strengthened.

The Sixth Step: We do an honest examination of our lives in the light of the Word of God.The facilitator invites the participants to challenge ourselves, in the light of the community and as the Body of Christ. We do this in an atmosphere of prayer, trust, openness, mutual understanding and confidentiality. The participants freely and openly share their opinions and viewpoints on spiritual, intellectual, psychological, physical, social, cultural, political, economic and environmental needs, issues, problems and challenges which they wish to resolve as a community or find a solution through a common discernment without hesitation and inhibition.

The participants may also discuss everyday concerns such as:

  • Someone needs help in the neighbourhood,
  • Children need instructions in the faith,
  • Who will proclaim the Word during the Sunday Mass?
  • How can we settle a discord that has arisen in the neighbourhood?
  • What can we do about getting the street lamp repaired etc.?

The Seventh Step: We pray together. The facilitator now invites the participants to pray for various needs of the Church and the world. The words of Scripture, the various experiences of God's Word, the daily concerns and problems — these all become fuel for prayer. Some find this form of sharing in prayer the easiest way to communicate with others. The participants are encouraged to incorporate in their personal prayer whatever has been of special importance to them during the meditation and the Gospel Sharing.

Only at the end a formal prayer known to everyone is recited.
The SCC meeting may conclude with a hymn to Our Blessed Mother e.g. the Salve Regina.

Certain golden tips of the SCCs:

  • Leaders in the Small Christian Communities only facilitate the Gospel Sharing. They do not dominate the interactions during the sharing. Their responsibility is only to create a healthy environment for members to actively contribute to the Gospel Sharing and to draw out a common action plan and to participate in the action plan at the end. They set the model of servant-leadership.
  • Gospel Sharing is SHARING, not discussion or preaching.
  • The seven-step method does not end with theoretical exercise of sharing. It encourages the members to practice the Word of God through doing good deeds.
  • The members who attend the SCC regularly come closer to each other, building a strong well-knit community centered on the Word of God and the Eucharist.

Let us endeavour to build these strong evangelizing communities in our Archdiocese for the living of an authentic Christian life of discipleship and for a credible witness to the Kingdom of God.

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