Last Sunday afternoon, Guerrilla Communion met for the first time in Chicago. We had thirteen young adults, more than one might expect on a crisp but dazzling spring weekend.
We gathered in a cozy little library near the Loop. It was literally an “upper room,” lending a kind of Acts of the Apostles feel. We had soup and salad and quinoa. We also had an array of salsas and chips and homemade desserts.
While we ate, we talked about the joys and struggles of belonging to a church that has profoundly shaped us, but does not always know what to do with us. There was no agenda. It flowed naturally for three hours.
It was a wonderful thing and a simple thing. In about a month, we will do it again.
I thought afterward of the postscript to Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness. There, she reflected on everything that happened in her life, and at the Catholic Worker, because “we were just sitting there talking.”
Early this winter, I poked my nose into a colleague’s office. I asked her what CTA 20/30 was doing locally in Chicago. She said we had people who were interested, but no scheduled activities just then.
“But you could start something!” she said brightly.
Such is the risk you take when you ask what’s happening. You find out you are what’s happening.
Still, I now had an excuse to pursue something I kept hearing about at the 2013 Call To Action conference, and then again in the aftermath. It was called Guerrilla Communion. It had begun about a year before in Washington, D.C.
Faith-based organizations in the capital have long been rich with justice-minded Catholics in their 20s and 30s. But as Jamie Manson wrote in her NCR piece about Guerrilla Communion, “a large presence of progressive Catholics doesn’t necessarily ensure they will create community together.” So, to give things a little push, a group started organizing low-key monthly potlucks.
Let two of the organizers, Kate Conmy and Katie Jones, explain:
…its purpose is simple: to gather progressive Catholics around a table just to be together. Typically, we’ll have 20 people or so show up with some chili, or hummus, or a six-pack or two. We eat, share stories, get to know each other, and go home. We bring with us ties to a host of church justice organizations – Call To Action, Women’s Ordination Conference, New Ways Ministry, Catholics United, DignityUSA, Catholics for Choice, NETWORK, Pax Christi, the volunteer corps, various parishes – but ultimately come just as ourselves. There is a special kind of cross-pollination that happens over a plate of rice and beans that can be downright transformational.
“Why not?” I thought. I started sending emails. Emails begat ten or twelve people who were interested, in only a couple of days.
From there, we got a planning committee to meet at a coffee shop. We decided who was in the best position to do what. One would talk to these folks here. One would reach out to those folks there. One would get access to a space or a room. One was excited about recipes.
Then we went and did it.
If I’m not mistaken, Chicago is now the third metropolitan area with an active group, alongside D.C. and New York. From what I hear in the grapevine, we will not be the last.
In the church justice movement, we often say: “We are the church.” Just to have that realization is liberating.
But we get to a point where we must define what “we are the church” means operationally. It becomes insufficient to simply go around reassuring each other: “We are the church.” Church must become a verb.
This is important and sounds imposing. But it’s not that hard. It does not take a grand vision. It is not about consciously trying to save the world. It need not involve marching on the Vatican, though I know people who have marched on the Vatican, and I have marched on Holy Name Cathedral myself.
Nor does it require mad skills. Our planning committee here in Chicago has professional ministers and organizers. But as for me, I frankly have no particular leadership abilities, so far as is known.
What is required is the willingness to call people together for something new. Togetherness has an inherent grace. It becomes, or rather reveals, more than the sum of its parts.
I have taken note of what Dave Montrose wrote, and what my parish deacon preached, the very same weekend we met for Guerrilla Communion. Jesus showed his hands and side not to Thomas, but to Thomas and everybody gathered in that first upper room. If Thomas had stayed off by himself, Jesus would have showed him nothing.
And so it is today. We hear stories about what people are doing. We say, “Why not?” We send emails and reserve a room. We make soup and we buy chips. And then we are just sitting there talking.
After we get home, we realize: we saw his hands and his side. We no longer doubt, but believe. We start telling others. When they hear what we are doing, they look at their own cities. They say, “Why not?”
“It all happened while we sat there talking,” Dorothy Day wrote, “and it is still going on.”
For information on starting a Guerrilla Communion in your area, or to connect with existing initiatives in Washington, D.C., New York or Chicago, contact Katie Jones at katiejones (at) cta-usa (dot) org.