Friday, June 16, 2017

Blessed John Henry Newman Irvine And The Problem Of Small Communities

My regular correspondent sent me a link to this photo of the Queen of Life Chapel at the Busch law firm offices in Irvine, CA, where the BJHN group meets.

It's significant, though, that this particular photo is located on the chapel's own website, not on the website or Facebook page of BJHN -- and the chapel site mentions weekday masses held there, but it makes no mention of the BJHN group. Clearly these are separate entities, and BJHN is there at the pleasure of the Busch firm. I'll get to this.

My regular correspondent notes,

The website has an excellent picture of the interior of the Queen of Life Chapel, used by BJHN, Irvine, although in their case the altar would be set up for an ad orientem celebration. Communicants receive kneeling, despite lack of an altar rail. No lack of Catholic devotional objects here! And Fr Bartus has a collection of truly impressive fiddleback chasubles in all colours including blue and black. Venue has pleasant social space, indoor and outdoor, and lots of parking. Big drawback is its size, it would seem to me. I have a theory that people do not like to worship regularly in a place that is more than 3/4 full, regardless of whether that represents twenty people or five hundred. So if he wants parish to grow he has to keep adding Sunday masses, and he now has three, plus Pasadena on Sunday night.
My guess is that each of those pews can seat eight adults, though this would be tight, so full-up capacity would be 64 -- though using my correspondent's ideal of 3/4 capacity, this would actually be 48, which would put best-case three-mass weekend attendance at 144. I suspect it seldom reaches this.

My other regular friend notes this regarding yesterday's post:

[P]lease be careful about disparaging small faith communities. Many large parishes suffer greatly from becoming too impersonal — places where the clergy cannot get to know the majority of the parishioners, and where parishioners don’t get to know one another either, so that visitors are often completely unnoticed and lost in the crowd rather than greeted in a spirit of Christian hospitality and made to feel welcome. The Christian life is often depicted as a wheel in which our Lord is the hub and the four spokes are (1) worship (or prayer) (2) learning (or study), (3) fellowship (or community), and (4) mission (or ministry). Here, worship encompasses both liturgy and personal prayer, learning encompasses both group classes and personal study, fellowship is about members of the community coming together to build one another up in faith, with both spiritual and social components, and mission is outreach most notably to the unchurched, which also may have both spiritual and social welfare components.

. . . . For better or worse, the fact remains that Our Lady of the Annunciation has its own church building — which is something that many ordinariate congregations still lack — because its founding core brought that property with them when they came into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. The fact that the congregation does not completely fill the church is good, as it means that the community has room to grow in its current facility. I’m somewhat frustrated by the lack of public indication as to whether this community is actually growing or not, or even replaced those who left when it decided to enter the ordinariate, but that will come to light in due course.

I certainly agree that a living parish encompasses the four spokes my friend mentions, although at the very low membership levels we see in the OCSP, I question whether every community has enough individuals with the talent and commitment to realize all of them. Also at very low membership levels, we have the problem my regular correspondent raised yesterday, that drop-ins are very conspicuous, and greeters would need to exercise extreme tact in allowing new people to merge at their own pace. I think of a church lady with her camera and cringe.

Actually, I think my correspondent's rule of thumb preferring 3/4 full naves is a little like the laws of physics, where size makes a difference. The much larger nave-transept at our diocesan parish is typically 90-100% full at the 9:30 and 11:00 Sunday masses, such that if you want a good seat, you'd better be 15 minutes early. Which model would a bishop prefer? Also, the ready availability of numerous activities like Bible study, fellowship, and adoration does in fact allow the new members to ease in without being conspicuous and find what's preferable among a wide range of options.

Finally, whether a community owns or just has the use of a small space on other terms, there are problems that won't go away. My friend pointed out not long ago that membership alone is only one criterion for making a full OCSP parish. Others include stability and payment of the cathedraticum. A potential problem we might see with BJHN is that its use of the chapel space is entirely conditional, and it almost certainly doesn't have to meet utility and maintenance expenses there -- or if it does, these would still not be comparable to expenses of ownership. If Mr Busch were to be hit by a truck and some other faction of the family or firm were to take over, the group could lose the space on very short notice, and this would be simply a major crisis.

But the BJHN group also faces the same hurdle as the Annunciation group in Ottawa: whatever wiggle room they have on a small scale, significant growth will represent a major threshold they'll need to cross. They'll need to find a larger venue if they grow past 50 or so at three weekend masses, but the expenses connected with this could still be much greater than the group could accommodate.

I believe the only Anglican-based community that's ever crossed this threshold successfully is Our Lady of the Atonement, but it's worth pointing out that it did so within five years of its founding.