Why Community?

One of a series of short articles on ‘Why’ taken from the printed 2016-17 edition of the Anglican Religious Life Year Book

Three members of the Chemin Neuf Community give their personal answer to the question, “why community?”. Chemin Neuf, whose French name means “New Way”, is a Roman Catholic community with an ecumenical vocation. It has members from many denominations and is made up of couples, families and celibates.

The Chemin Neuf Community’s spirituality draws from the Ignatian tradition and from the charismatic renewal. Founded in 1973, Chemin Neuf is now present in some 30 countries and has about 2000 members. Since January 2014, four members have been living at Lambeth Palace, among which are the three authors.

A sign of God’s Kingdom

by Oliver Matri

At Easter 1986, the first life commitments in the Chemin Neuf Community were celebrated in Lyons’ St John’s Cathedral. On that occasion, a document rather provocatively titled “Community Manifesto” was published. It gave the following answer to the question “why community?”

“Because divisions between Christians are the greatest obstacle to evangelisation; because we believe that the prayer of Jesus Christ for unity will be fulfilled: “that they may all be one so that the world may believe”, together, Orthodox, Protestants, Catholics, without waiting any longer, we follow the humble path of shared daily life.”

This expresses very well the heart of our calling to community life: it is a prophetic sign of the Kingdom of God, “so that the world may believe”. In an increasingly individualistic society, freely choosing to give up one’s comfort and independence in order to live in community is deeply counter-cultural and does not go unnoticed.

In the case of Chemin Neuf, our ecumenical vocation means that we live this community life with men and women of all Christian denominations, seeking to witness to the unity that is possible through the “humble path of shared daily life”, despite the doctrinal and theological differences that remain. While we live, pray and evangelise together, the brothers and sisters fully retain their own identity and remain in communion with their respective churches. Being a Lutheran, I have always felt the deep respect that this implies.

As anybody who has lived in community knows, sharing one’s daily life is all but easy. On the contrary, it is a way of life that makes us realize our call to – and need for – reconciliation: with one another among fellow community members, and also as a ministry to couples and individuals.

This is why, in all of our community houses and most of our sessions, we regularly have dedicated times of reconciliation. These are usually calm times of prayer where one can ask God and one another for forgiveness and be reconciled. For some people, this will simply be through silent prayer in front of the cross or through a one-to-one conversation. For others, it might involve confession (depending on their denomination), writing a letter to someone, etc. Many other communities have similar practices, in obedience to the biblical command: “do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). By living reconciled, we hope to be a reconciling leaven in the dough of our different churches and of the world at large.

Sharing our weaknesses

by Ula Michlowicz

I am a Roman Catholic and a consecrated celibate. Very early in my life, as a young deeply committed scout, I had this conviction that to change the world I have to do it with others. The fact that the world had to change was obvious for me, growing up in Poland under a communist regime. We had this dream of living together, welcoming the poor, then the ‘adult life’ took over …

Having been living in community life for almost twenty years I still have this desire of being a world changer, but my intimate discovery is that it begins by being changed myself.

I entered into community life persuaded that I was bringing so much to the people I lived with; then, very quickly I discovered my poverties, defences and resistance to others. The narrow and painful way of sharing our weakness is what makes community life possible. We experience that the community is not built by sharing our strengths and abilities, but by sharing our weaknesses. This was my fundamental discovery and the beginning of the adventure of changing the world around me.

The people we live with are different.

They are the best way of becoming more aware of who we are, the best way of going to Christ (Le sacrement du frère, the brother’s sacrament, as they say in French) and the best way of being changed. Not only morally (becoming more christlike etc.) but as human beings as well. Coming from different races, different Churches and sharing daily life leads, through a lot of mercy and 77 times of asking for forgiveness, to being able to welcome the other, not with a sort of condescension but as an equal brother or sister for whom Christ has died.

Open to others – depending on God

by Alan Morley-Fletcher

I am married to Ione, and we are both Anglican. So for us the idea of living in a Community, and specifically in a Roman Catholic Community, was a big question. Why give up our independence as a couple with a family to join others? Our first experience of the Chemin Neuf Community was in a “Cana” week-long session for couples and families – so here already was something that spoke to us: care for marriage and the family, and deep care for the relationship between husband and wife. In addition, we found a Community that was open to Christians of all denominations, and this echoed our own desire for Christian Unity.

But to think about living in Community required more than interest in a mission and the ecumenism of a Community, it needed a deep personal conversion, to prepare me to love others in a new way.

To live in a Christian Community requires me to love the Church, the whole church, and not just my own little familiar bit, and live that out in my everyday life. It is easy to say, but living with others even of my own denomination, but then also alongside those of other denominations, and with cultural differences on top of that, confronts me with my own lack of acceptance of others. It shows me my own prejudices and propensity to judge, and brings up all the baggage and history that I unconsciously have within me that tempts me to think that my way is right and good and that other people’s ways are strange or not so good. To go beyond this I have had to learn to accept and love and live with people I have not myself chosen.

But there are big pluses too in Community. There is the support that I and we as a couple and family receive from others. The openness that is essential to good community life allows me a space to bring to others my struggles, my fears, my weakness. And this in turn helps me to come to God and deepen my relationship with him in that greater openness and realisation that I must depend on his strength.