651 Christmas in July - “We’re celebrating Eucharist at the house" by Victoria MacDonald
Day 651 Monday, December 27, 2021
“We’re celebrating Eucharist at the house.”
I have been invited to share my own personal story this morning describing my evolving experience with three small faith communities that I have been fortunate to be a part of over the last 40 years, or so, of my life. And because our time is limited, I’d like to present my experience as four chapters in the book of my life...(so far), using a phrase to title each chapter.
Chapter 1: “It never occurred to me!”
I grew up in the early 1950’s, in a kind of Catholic “soup” where I felt surrounded by Catholics, and immersed in all things Catholic. Just like so many of you, I played with Wonder bread and Necco wafers, offering Mass using candy communion, and mirroring the Catholic world around me. Born into a large Polish/Croatian Catholic family, I attended Catholic grade school, Catholic high school, Catholic nursing school, Gonzaga University, and even got married in a Jesuit Retreat House! There were times, especially at Gonzaga University, when I felt frustrated, out of the norm, an outsider looking in on the “others,” but it was a vague melancholy, inarticulate and undefined within me. It was at Gonzaga that I met and married my husband, moved to Davenport Iowa (so I could support Steve in completing graduate school), and then later moved to California, so that I could accept a new position in the Church known as “Youth Minister” at the parish where I had grown up... the old Mission in Carmel, CA, starting this new job while being eight months pregnant!
On the day after my daughter Emily was born, in the summer of 1980, 2 women friends visited me, one a Presentation sister, the other a Catholic laywoman, both women working at the Catholic Worker community in San Jose, CA. After chatting about Emily’s birth, in the midst of our afternoon conversation, they mentioned, almost casually,
“We’re celebrating Eucharist at the house.”
I remember everything seemed to stop...I remember how and where we were seated, the clothes I was wearing, my daughter in her bassinet by my side, and feeling a “crack” in the shell of my being.
(Emmaus 2020 Retreat at St. Dorothy's Rest)
It never occurred to me! That they could do such a thing...and, that even I might do that! But a seed was planted that day.
This moment was critical, because I felt it allowed a momentary “seed space of possibilities” into my world.
For the next 7 years I worked as a Youth Minister, while it incubated in the depths of my being. Later, I left Youth Ministry, weathered a divorce and returned to working as an RN, and the melancholy of years past, had turned into a deep and defined frustration, smoldering anger and a profound soulful hunger.
Chapter 2: “See I am doing a new thing, do you not perceive it?”
(Emmaus 2019 Retreat at St. Dorothy's Rest)
Out of these feelings, came the memory of that seeded space of possibility.... I remember calling friends, inviting them, with the same words my two women friends had used, “come celebrate Eucharist at my house.” And they did! I “borrowed” a missalette and began with regular Sunday gatherings, following the lectionary, using Paulo Freire-style dialogue homilies and celebrating Eucharist, seasonal services and activities.
Our name arose without much fan fare... “little church” …little l, little c, for the small but universal group we were coming to be...inclusive right away, a few Catholics, a few Episcopalians, a Lutheran or two, some un-churched folks, and later a Jewish man! One year led into a few and we began to realize, almost by accident, that “we’re not angry anymore!” We had “done a new thing” as Isaiah said, and we realized that by “taking action” our frustration and anger was gone, and we saw that our deep hunger was being satisfied through the Eucharistic community that Holy Spirit / Mother Sophia and we had created...a community of openness, regularity, creativity and sharing. And it was around this time that one of the little church members wrote this poem:
Very scared we were
And very mad.
Complacency, displaced by action,
At Vicki’s house.
A small little huddle,
Our minds in a muddle,
We felt cheated,
From the Big Church.
Scared we were
Action, combined with a plan
At Vicki’s little house.
One token man.
We were no more
Than just a small core.
We burned the rules,
of the Big Church.
Scared we weren’t
The plan, encouraged by growth
At the little church house.
Stirring stone soup
Our hearts were free
We could just “be”
We had found peace
From the big church.
Happy we are
Growth, combined with energy-
As the little church.
Filled with hope
And ways to cope
With strength from above
Fills The Little Church.
(poem written by Pam Bonsper, little church member)
Chapter 3: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies...”
Before we knew it, our little church celebrated its 5th then sixth anniversaries, and the little church community could see, called me, even challenged me, to take a month off from my nursing position and attend a month of classes at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley...which I did in the summer of 1995, with their financial help. Of course, the month was incredible...like coming home to a country you had always known, but never visited. But after that month, that’s when everything began to fall apart.
Within a year, I had left nursing, little church encouraged and gently pressed me to move to the SF Bay Area, where I accepted a position as Program Administrator of a Franciscan Retreat Center, San Damiano. And within 3 months, I had enrolled as a student at the GTU. It was during this same time that another Eucharistic community, Fremont Catholic Community (FCC) in Fremont, CA, found me and I found them. Over the seven years that I worked at San Damiano, I became one of the pool of presiders to celebrate liturgy at their home Eucharists, and I have been richly welcomed and continue to be fed by this community. Pat Gallagher, who spoke at this gathering 8 years ago, and her daughter Mary Murray, are here today.
(Retreat 2019 St. Dorothy's Rest)
Chapter 4: “The vision must be followed by the venture...”
After leaving the retreat center in February of 2004, I set up my own Spiritual Direction practice and retreat/workshop ministry, Take-Wing, and for 4 years have been an “itinerant minister.” I am not ordained, but I go where I am invited. And in the winter of 2008, I was invited to work with a group of 40-50 people in Sonoma County, (CTA folks mostly, Renew people, and some renegade Peace and Justice folks), to facilitate their becoming an Intentional Eucharistic Community. Beginning with a weekend retreat, keynoted by Jim Callan and Mary Ramerman, of Spiritus Christi, from Rochester, New York.
I then facilitated a number of daylong retreat/workshops to dream, dialogue, design and develop what 9 months later would become “Emmaus.” Now meeting on the 2nd and 4th Sunday afternoons of every month, at a welcoming and centrally located Episcopal church hall, this intentional community is already growing...now to about 60 participants at most celebrations. Presiders arise from within the community, though outside ordained and non-ordained presiders are invited from time to time. What is so heartening, is that the vision, of what was valued, has been followed by the venture forward, and an Intentional Eucharistic Community has been born, and is growing, due to each person providing what is theirs to offer, according to their skills and abilities.
The mission statement is being finalized...but Emmaus is “on the road!” And I am happy that three other members of Emmaus are here today, Cindy and Dan Vrooman, and Jim McFadden.
So, in closing this book of my story... so far... I’d like to recap the evolution of how change has occurred in my life:
• “It never occurred to me,” It’s so important to stay open to the new, to the possibilities of what “may” be.
• “See I am doing a new thing, do you not perceive it?” Jesus, in calling the apostles, never said, “Look, see the plan, now come.” No, he said, “Come, and see; come, take action, and see where it leads.”
• “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies...” I have learned over the pattern of my life, that when everything seems to be falling apart, it is the surest sign that Mother Sophia, Holy Wisdom, is at work within me, transforming what is old and worn out, or packing up what has become too small or outdated, in order to make room for the “new things” coming.
• “The vision must be followed by the venture.” Vaclav Havel, the great Czech Republic poet and statesman said, “The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps...we must step up the stairs.” My vision must lead me to take action. Mother Sophia IS moving. And I am so grateful that she has blown me here to be with you today.
This has really been only the briefest thumbnail sketch of my experiences, but we can dialogue more in-depth and delve into more of the many details during the break-out sessions following this panel. And this evening at 8:00 pm, I am honored to facilitate a dialogue session for anyone interested in “How to go about forming an Intentional Eucharistic Community in your area.”
Good Morning. I bring greetings and love to you all from a number of Intentional Eucharistic Communities in Northern California.
Delivered by Victoria MacDonald at the Intentional Eucharistic Communities
The 2009 Gathering: Embracing and Shaping Our Future
Victoria MacDonald: Panel Presentation
May 16, 2009
National 4H Conference Center
Chevy Chase, MD
(Friends on Retreat with Greg Boyle)