Up next in our profiles of Greenbelt’s faith communities (links provided below) is one you might not have heard of – because there’s no edifice or signage on Crescent Road to announce its existence. But the Catholic Community of Greenbelt is alive and well, and meets Sunday mornings at 10 in Greenbelt’s very own City Council Chambers. (In the Greenbelt Municipal Bldg.)
It’s one of 130 such “communities” around the U.S. called Intentional Eucharistic Communities or IECs – Catholics practicing their faith outside of the institutional church.
According to that website:
Intentional Eucharistic Communities (IECs) are those small faith communities, rooted in the Catholic tradition, which gather to celebrate Eucharist on a regular basis. Born in the enthusiasm flowing from Vatican II for a church of the people, some IECs were instituted in parishes, some were created as alternatives to the parish, some retain close ties with the institutional church, and some function independently. All are characterized by shared responsibility for the governance and life of the community. Through sharing liturgical life and mutual support for one another, members are strengthened to live Gospel-centered lives dedicated to spiritual growth and social commitment.
According to this report in the National Catholic Reporter,
These groups started for a variety of reasons. Some experienced a confrontation with a local bishop that sent them looking for new pastures, or came from a parish where some new pastor behaved as if it were the 16th century, according no real leadership roles to the laity. Others began simply because people were looking for a more meaningful form of worship than that commonly found in a parish.
Greenbelt’s group was formed in 1985, when it met in the Old Greenbelt Theatre before moving to Council chambers. According to its Facebook page:
Our Catholic Community of Greenbelt provides an opportunity for individual and collective Christian witness, spiritual growth, and ministry. As an Intentional Eucharistic Community we carry that out by providing a weekly inclusive Catholic Mass in a public place. A weekly prayerful meditation group in a private home. As well as book discussions, retreats, volunteer community service and charity.
We are a small community of about 30. Mostly older, white and female with a commitment to Catholic social justice that welcomes those who have felt unwelcome at other Roman Catholic Masses: LGBT, neurological diverse, divorced and former religious man and women. Decision-making is by consensus, and it is completely volunteer-staffed. The Masses, though presided over by Roman Catholic priests, feature readings by group members and a shared homily where everyone is encouraged to speak on the personal meaning of the days readings in their lives.
At the December 15 mass for Advent that I attended, the Celebrant – a local priest not assigned to any parish – was terrific, even to this nonbeliever. In his homily, after the readings, there was much mention of social justice issues, like the millions of refugees at the border and the rise of authoritarian regimes around the world, and fittingly, the topics were patience and hope. He used literary references, too, with quotes by Emily Dickinson on mysticism and quieting the soul, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and its message about hope, and a Buddhist author I didn’t catch.
Everyone was welcome to receive communion (bread and wine).
There were several opportunities for congregants to speak up and share their own thoughts about hope and patience, and later suggest people and causes to pray for. Shyness wasn’t an obvious problem with the group, which seemed quite warm and welcoming.
One member received blessings from the group on her imminent departure for the Catholic Charities offices in Juarez, where she’ll be helping refugees at the border.
Member Judy Parker told me she joined this community after moving to Greenbelt 2+ years ago and has found it to be “very intimate and loving.” Indeed, it seemed to be a close and supportive community.
It reminded me of the Washington Ethical Society, where I was a member in the ’80s and ’90s and made so many enduring friendships. I miss being part of a supportive faith community.
From Facebook, the group’s other activities include “Retreats on special topics once or twice a year, as well as brunch after mass or meals together with other members as each chooses.”
Members told me with pride about the many good works their donations go toward: Greenbelt Cares, So Others May Eat, Safe Haven, Community Cafe: a lunch for homeless and day workers, immigration lawyers to the border to help refugees, and rent help for Greenbelt residents on a one-time emergency basis. It’s all determined by consensus within the Community itself; not determined by any outside authority, including the Catholic Church.
From its focus on social justice, it’s fair to conclude that the Catholic Community of Greenbelt is progressive in its outlook. It was featured prominently in this blog post about Greenbelt churches that welcome LGBTQ members.
More Profiles of Greenbelt’s Faith Communities