Small Christian Communities Alive and Varied

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Sociologist William D'Antonio is halfway into a study of small Christian communities in the United States and what he's finding, he said, is "a network of non-power, a rather interesting ... what?"

The findings continue as a question: "An interlocking directorate of the Holy Spirit? Maybe that's what it is. Fascinating. So we're trying to understand exactly how these communities function."

He's discovered a Catholic pastor in Florida who learned Christian community concepts from an Assembly of God pastor in Korea; a likely close tie in many dioceses and parishes between small communities and evangelization; the Renew program as a progenitor wherever he sticks his thumb in the pie and, always, the Catholic "center" -- the Eucharist.

D'Antonio, a former executive officer of the American Sociological Association, and now, semiretired, a research professor at The Catholic University of America, came by the study honestly: a mix of curiosity and circumstance. He also had a push toward a Lilly Endowment grant from Marianist Fr. Bernard Lee, a New Orleans-based theologian.

But it began because, D'Antonio said, "I had to find a way to worship that I felt more comfortable with than the large, to me impersonal, parishes." He worships with a Washington "intentional community" and wondered if there were many others.

Word-of-mouth networking with a few Washington-area SCCs -- as small Christian communities are often referred to by those involved -- led to a 1991 meeting there of 16 people from similar communities around the United States. He also had a call from Lee inviting him to a 1992 gathering on the emergence of small faith communities. Meanwhile, he had been asked to contribute "the Catholic article" to a just-released book edited by Clark Roof and Nancy Ammerman, Faith, Work and Family. D'Antonio's SCC inquiries provided him with some bedrock research for his Catholic article.

By the time Lee prevailed on him to seek a grant in 1994, D'Antonio said, he had also learned of such centers of small Christian community action as Buena Vista, the North American Forum and Fr. …