After Vatican II, every Christian is called to feel with the Church and to live the Church realizing his or her vocation through baptism in the ministries of the Church. Though almost half a century has passed, the reality is, very often, it is the ordained ministers who dominate the scene or are struggling to fulfill the task. The clearest sign of a mature faith, according to John Paul II is, the evangelizing activity of the Christian community, first in its own locality, and then elsewhere as part of the Churchs universal mission. The Small Christian Communities (SCCs) have emerged in response to the pastoral needs of the local churches and assisted the Christian communities in the process of maturing of the sense of faith in day to day lives. The emergence of SCCs is to be considered as a gift of the present times to live the Church and to build Christian communities.
Living as small communities is not something new; for men began to live as communities from the beginning of humanity. But coming together in the name of Jesus in order to share the gospel message is the what makes the SCCs different. While some consider it as a movement in the church some others state that it is a church on the move. From the backdrop of the SCCs being considered as Communion of Communities, New Way of Being Church and viable means to make the Church participatory, we are called upon to have a thorough search of its origin and development so that we would know the path by which it walked.
Phenomenon of SCCs in the Church
An SCC generally consists of 15 to 20 families. They get together weekly or monthly to listen to the word of God and let the Word enlighten their day to day lives. They share the good news as received by them and respond not only in prayer, but also in various ways the Spirit inspires them in their daily contexts of life. They generally follow the seven step of Gospel Sharing method to reflect together as a community and discern God’s will for them in their concrete neighbourhood situation. According to the latest count (in 2012), we have around 68,000 SCCs. SCCs grow as people live together. In other words, it is movement with a gradual development. One can find SCCs which is smaller, others which meet more often or less often. There can be different forms of SCCs, but they have some main characteristics.
Some common characteristics (expressions) of SCCs
SCC can be described as the smallest cell of the Church in terms of community. It is not just part of the whole. It is the whole Church in a concentrated form. It is a germ or seed, which has within itself all the essential elements of the Church, and can, truly bring that Church to birth locally. It is the same Church, the universal sacrament of salvation that continues the prophetic, priestly, pastoral mission of Christ, resulting in a community of faith, worship and love. It is another way of ecclesial expression.
SCC (also known by other names like Basic Christian communities (BCC), EBC, BECs etc) is really a local church where people come together as the first Christian communities did (Acts 2:42; 4:32). This is the realization of the universal Church in a given locality. It takes up the mission of Jesus Christ and bears the responsibility of carrying it out under the guidance of the bishops, in communion with the universal Church all over the world. In SCC the human person lives his fraternal vocation in the heart of the local church in communities that make present and operative the salvific design of the Lord lived in communion and participation.
Biblical Foundations of SCCs
In the Old Testament the people were formed as people of God at Mount Sinai. You are my people and I am your God (Ex 19:6). The Israelites considered themselves not as individuals, but as a corporate personality. The people were divided into small groups and the leaders of the groups were commissioned to deliver justice to the people (Ex. 25: 18-24). These leaders helped Moses to share the responsibility in decision making and executing it.
NT Household churches
In the early Church various dimensions of SCCs are found in those who believed and accepted Jesus as their Saviour. Primarily it was a household church. The early Christians gathered in the houses of individual Christians. In fact the Church was formed for the first time in a large upper room of a house where the apostles, Mary and the others prayed together for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1: 13f; 2: 1f). On every first day of the week they gathered in various houses for breaking of the bread, given the size of the community (Acts 2:46; 5:42). Such kind of Christian fellowship in houses became normal practice of the early Christians. For instance, Peter, after escaping from prison, went to the house of the mother of John Mark, where a large number of Hellenistic Christians gathered for prayer (Acts 12:12-17). Later the Jews who were determined to arrest Paul and Silas in Thessalonica searched the house of Jason where the Christians customarily met (Acts 17:1-9).In Pauline communities, as indeed in all the early Christian groups, it was people who were important; organization and buildings were secondary. We find a number of references to the meetings of Christians in houses of individuals such as: Stephanas (1 Cor 1: 16), Prisca and Aquila (1 Cor 16:19; Rom 16:3-5), Philemon (Philem 1), Aristobulus (Rom 16:10), Narcissus (Rom 16:11), Caesar (Phil 4:22), Nympha (Col 4:15).
The household churches promoted an atmosphere of a family of God and a household of faith (Gal 4:5-7; Rom 8:15-16; Eph 2:19; 5:1; 6:23). It created a favorable ambience for the Christians to develop an intimate relationship with God and fellowship among themselves. United in love as one family, they listened to the Word of God, prayed together, celebrated Eucharist and shared the common meal called agape. Obvious as it may be, people from all walks of life and strata of society, namely Jews and gentiles, men and women, free men and slaves assembled in the house Churches, despite the fact that there arose at times some friction among them, as found in the Church of Corinth. This fellowship enabled the house Churches to be also at the service of the travelling missionaries and ministers.
Pauls letters are full of praise for the men and women who assisted him in his missionary endeavours for the spread of the Gospel of Christ. He remembered with much appreciation and gratitude his collaborators such as Phoebe (Rom 16: 1-2), Prisca and Aquila (Rom 16: 3-5), Urbanus (Rom 16: 9), Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25), Philemon (Philem 1) etc. Pauls letters and Acts mention almost one hundred persons in association with the ministry of Paul. Hence, it is visible to note that in SCCs the people gathering in a home or a common place imitate the household churches predominant in the early Church.