The Ground of the Community
The parable of the sower is most often used to illustrate the hearts or lives of individuals. The discussion centers on whether or not the Word will take root and thrive in a person. But with the community being an important part of Christian life, perhaps the parable should be applied in a slightly different way.
The Hard-Packed Ground
“And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.”
A Parish that has existed for decades can be an incredibly stable place. The families know one another; the people have grown up together, and the community functions smoothly and efficiently.
Sometimes, however, a well-established community can become dysfunctional. New thoughts and ideas are shunned and cannot take root. In fact, they can almost seem to fall on deaf ears. And to many people, being ignored is worse than being criticized. Parishes like this may appear to be peaceful places, but it is the peace of a militant mindset that forces newcomers to get in step or leave.
The Rocky Ground
“Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots.”
Some Parishes are in a constant state of upheaval. Things never seem to level out, and conflicts proliferate. The “rocks” that abound in this environment can be anything from gossip to outright animosity. The community does not see itself as a single “we”, but as “us” and “them” – or perhaps a number of “thems.” The parish ends up with small, vocal factions all pushing their own agendas, while the majority of the congregation simply shows up on (most) Sundays but never really gets involved.
In rocky parishes, new ideas can sometimes sprout up. The prospect of something fresh can catch on quickly, inspiring people who have grown tired of the negativity. But these ideas never truly take root, for the pessimism runs deep in the heart of the community. The slightest turmoil and the fresh, new ideas are washed away and all but forgotten.
The Thorny Ground
“Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.”
Occasionally one may find a parish that, on the surface, appears to be open and welcoming, but in truth longs for the stability of the hard-packed parish. They will welcome people with open arms, encouraging participation and the expression of new ideas.
However, expressing these ideas is just about as far as it gets. With smiles on their faces, these parishioners will slowly but surely choke out the ideas of the newcomer. The ideas will be postponed for various reasons, or people will promise to follow-up then never do. Whatever the means, rest assured that, like the thorn bushes choking out the new seeds, the status quo will be maintained.
The Rich Soil
“But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”
And then there are parishes that can only be described as fertile soil. They are truly open and welcoming, and are always on the lookout for new ways to spread the Good News. When you visit a parish like this, you know it at once. You can almost feel it in the air. It is obvious to anyone that the Holy Spirit is actively working through the community.
So what is it about these parish communities that allow them to be fertile soil? Is it a well-loved priest who exudes personal charisma? No. That would be a cult of personality. Is it core group of people who are, themselves, fertile soil? Well, that’s probably closer to the truth.
To be truly “rich soil,” a parish community must be open to the teachings of Jesus. They must be open to God’s Word. And they must be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They cannot presume to know the best way to do anything. A parish that is truly “rich soil” does not assume an idea that makes them uncomfortable is automatically a bad one. And they will not resume business as usually merely for the fact that “it’s always been done that way.”
It is not an easy way for a community to be. But no one ever said that God’s way was easy.
“Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
How would you classify your parish community? What type of soil is it?
What type of soil are you? Why do you think so?
How would you explain to someone what a “rich soil” community is like?
Original article by Brandon Jubar, 2002 – 2020.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.