In the Archdiocese of Boston, an interesting rebellion is going on. The Archdiocese decided to close some churches, and the parishoners not only objected, but have staged vigils (sit ins) to prevent the properties from being sold. One church, St. Frances, has been on vigil for 1,533 days. The various reasons for the parish closings are complex, everything from priest shortages to wanting to cash in on prime real estate, but this particular parish is having none of it.
St. Frances, that guy from the Middle Ages, would approve, I think. Although he's commonly portrayed now as a harmless eccentric who loved animals and nature, he was a thorn in the side of the Catholic Church of his time. He raised funds and campaigned to restore disused churches. He openly criticized the church's acquisition of wealth. And he was very much about building common community.
The members of the Boston St. Frances community are reaping a peculiar gift from their rebellion. That sense of common community has grown in them as they've been united in this goal of saving their home parish. And they have learned that they can minister to each other. They've learned that they have spiritual power as individuals who can serve each other's needs. A quote from the New York Times online article that I link to above:
Many of the St. Frances holdouts describe being transformed from passive Catholics to passionate, deeply involved members of a spiritual community that they say could be a model for the future of the troubled Catholic Church.
This is not the model of evangelical "emergent church" that is so popular these days. The popular emergent church model seems to be based on hostile evangelism, in which adherents are united not in ministering to each other's needs but in battling what they perceive as the evils of the world and smiting the evildoers around them.
Perhaps the passionate engaged community will only last as long as the vigil. It could be a temporary phenomenon, similar to the commraderie shared by strangers on long bus trips. I hope that the parishioners of St. Frances keep this lesson of spiritual empowerment and use it to better their little corner of the world even after they win or lose their struggle to keep their parish. I hope that whatever happens with the parish, they will emerge as spiritually stronger, empowered individuals and community. That's the gift they're giving each other in the vigil.